By Sarah McKinney Gibson
If you’re waiting out the coronavirus at home and beginning to lose your mind, now might be the perfect time to explore new ways to get the meaningful connection you crave. Here are seven ways you can foster connectivity and feel a daily sense of purpose over the next few months. The bonus? Most are intergenerational, and tap your experience and wisdom to help young people thrive.
#1 Pick up the phone and use video apps. Don’t let physical distance get in the way of feeling connected to family and friends. Social isolation and loneliness are already considered public health threats, particularly among older people, so taking preventative action during this period of “social distancing” will be key.
Pick up the phone and call a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Do it again every few days. Tell scattered family members you’d like to speak more frequently over the next few months and see if you can schedule some weekly calls. If you have grandkids or children in your life and worry about getting exposed to the virus through them, plan to connect via FaceTime, Skype or consider downloading Caribu — a video-calling app that integrates children’s books and activities, and is free during the COVID-19 pandemic. Turn your book club into a virtual event using Zoom or another video conferencing service.
#2 Check in on neighbors and friends who are more vulnerable. “The brunt of Covid-19 will be borne by the poor, elderly, and sick,” says former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a recent piece for Vox, “and it is up to us to ensure they are not left behind.”
If you’re heading to the grocery store or pharmacy, consider picking up a few things for neighbors who can’t get out. Leave items on their front porch. Drop off canned goods at a local food pantry to support families in need. Share your stash of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Let’s all keep looking for low-risk ways we can give back and help those who are vulnerable.
#3 Find a virtual volunteer opportunity. Online portals VolunteerMatch and AARP’s Create the Good have hundreds of volunteer and stipend roles that you can do from home. To capture the biggest swath of options on VolunteerMatch, enter “United States” and then “Get Started” from the homepage, then select “Virtual” in the upper-left section of the following page.
On Create the Good, enter your zip code (required) and then select “Show only Home/Remote opportunities” in the upper-left section of the page.
Both sites allow you to adjust filters by issue area like children and youth, education, community building, and more. Neither search engine is perfect, so make sure to double-check that the opportunities you select are truly virtual.
#4 Provide support via text to young people in crisis. If you have overcome mental health challenges in your own life, volunteering with Crisis Text Line could be a way to pass it on. That’s been true for volunteer crisis counselor Rainy Roth. “When young people open up to me, it brings me a comforting feeling,” she says. “I think, in a way, it’s healing to the little girl in me who struggled with unknown fear and anxiety for so many years.”
The need for support is becoming acute. A 2019 survey shows that seven in 10 American teenagers see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers.
Crisis Counselors commit to volunteering four hours per week, up to 200 hours, typically over a year. To prepare for dealing with issues such as self-harm, suicide, depression, bullying and gender/sexual identity, volunteers undergo a 30-hour online training program. (Note: Two-thirds of crisis situations occur at night, so night owls and early risers may find a good fit here.)
#5 Help low-income students with math and college advice. UPchieve is a nonprofit that connects low-income high school students with live academic support via their free, online platform. As an “academic coach” at UPchieve, you can work hands-on with students who need your help from the comfort of your home (or anywhere else with an internet connection).
There is no formal time commitment; you set your own volunteer schedule and update it as often as you’d like. If a student needs your help during a time you selected, UPchieve will send you a text notification. If this sounds up your alley, you can sign up to volunteer in just two minutes or attend a virtual webinar to learn more.
#6 Give career advice to young people. Connect with students hungry for career advice through CareerVillage.org, an online platform where students ask career-related questions and get on-demand answers from people with experience in that field. The goal: to democratize access to career information and advice for underrepresented youth.
When you create your volunteer profile, you specify the types of questions you’d like to answer. When a relevant question is posted, you’ll be notified. Popular topics include: college, career, medicine, engineering, business, healthcare, computer science, and many more.
CareerVillage currently serves over 4 million learners in 190 countries and has over 50,000 volunteers. Are there young people out there who want to be like you when they grow up? This is one way to find out — and help them make informed decisions about their future.
#7 Connect with nature. It’s important for your physical and mental health to stay active. Try to spend 20 minutes a day walking outside, communing with whatever nature you have available. Look at a tree, a hillside, a stream, a potted plant, flowers, rocks. Even a beautiful photograph of nature is better than nothing. It may help calm anxieties, brighten your mood and give you the respite you need to return to helping others.
If none of these ideas sparks your interest, monitor what disaster relief organizations, like the American Red Cross and International Medical Corps, and local organizations, like food banks and homeless shelters, are saying and doing. A donation to a worthy nonprofit is always welcome and may help you feel more connected to efforts making a difference in people’s lives.
Sarah McKinney Gibson is a storytelling and media specialist at Encore.org