In the last year, Gonzaga students have adapted to online education in order to support the well-being of the community on campus and at home. However, the community at Gonzaga spans far beyond academics and at its core is volunteering and service.
The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at GU is the hub of service projects and outreach programs both on and off-campus. Through CCE, students can volunteer with many different types of programs depending on their interests.
COVID-19 has presented challenges for volunteer programs as many of them have moved online to virtual platforms.
“This year our GAME (Gonzaga Athletes Mentoring for Excellence) was 100% virtual on Microsoft Teams. Spokane Public Schools uses the Microsoft Teams' program rather than Zoom, which as a college student I was very familiar with,” said Kehau Gilliland, a student leader for the volunteer program GAME. “Thus, using teams was a bit of a learning curve but in the end, we adapted and made it work.”
Each program has transformed in unique ways in order to continue serving the Spokane community while maintaining safety guidelines.
“There were a lot of complications and we were unable to meet live virtually with the kids,” said Alyssa Haworth, Zag Volunteer Corps (ZVC) student leader at Sisters Haven. “We were able to adapt so that all of us volunteers met on Zoom… we recorded YouTube how-to videos where we put together different arts and crafts for the kids to work on outside of online school.”
Creativity has been the key to success for many of these volunteer programs.
According to Megan Dedinsky, a ZVC site leader with the Arc of Spokane, the volunteers organized a virtual tour of GU's campus for the residents at the Arc. Student volunteers spread out across campus, logged onto Zoom, and showed the residents around different buildings and parts of campus, much like they would have done if they were in person.
Student volunteers have found plenty of unique ways to get involved and have continued to find ways to create a community within their programs.
“It is not like the community is gone, it is just a little bit different,” Dedinsky said. “Now, it is more of a group space rather than creating those individual ties.”
Connecting with others is key to building community and is a task that has become much more complicated as students find themselves attempting to get to know one another over Zoom.
“This year is not as one-on-one, but we have a small number of kids, so we are still able to get to know them on a personal level,” said Anna Komstadius, a student volunteer with Campus Kids. “Since everyone is at home, they are able to show us little bits of their life and we are able to get to know more about them outside of school.”
Bigger groups and less individual time is a theme across volunteer programs this year, nevertheless, students have been able to focus on the positive aspects of this change.
“This year our group is very small in comparison to the past," Gilliland said. "But the upside to this is that it allows us to be more intentional with our time. I get to make genuine connections with not only the mentees but also the mentors.”
Community service and volunteer programs continue to be a positive light during this time as they provide students with a way to get involved and interact with one another.
“We all do service for the community, it's nice to make those real, authentic relationships,” Haworth said.
Although student volunteers have adapted to the current situation incredibly, navigating these virtual spaces is not always an easy task.
“We went in thinking we would be able to Zoom call with some kids and have tutoring sessions set up and then be able to make the arts and crafts with the kids,” said Haworth, concerning her work with Sisters Haven that ended up being conducted through YouTube videos. “That is what [volunteering] looks like now, you have to be ready to adapt in case something changes.”
While most volunteer programs are being conducted online, around 60% of them according to Haworth, there are some programs that allow for socially-distanced volunteer opportunities.
“There are a couple of ZVC sites that are in person,” Haworth said. “Merriam's house has adjusted to being in person so they can make the meals, but they are socially distant making the meals and socially distant delivering them.”
At the end of the day, each of these GU student volunteers is working to provide for and interact with the community in the best way they can.
“The point of ZVC is connecting with the Spokane community,” Haworth said. “CCE does an amazing job of breaking the Gonzaga bubble and making it so that students can be with the Spokane community.”