In troubled times, “look for the helpers”
ELLSWORTH — Mr. Fred Rogers taught many of us that in times of crisis, “look for the helpers.”
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” he shared.
We see this time and again, from communities rallying behind their own in times of tragedy to neighbors checking in on each other and delivering home-cooked meals.
But what happens when it becomes unsafe for people to gather to help each other? Do the helpers go away? Does volunteerism stop?
The pandemic has taught us, no.
Even when people need to remain 6 feet apart and wear masks, the spirit of volunteerism still flourishes.
Jody Wolford-Tucker, executive director of Hospice Volunteers of Hancock County (HVHC), has seen this firsthand since the start of the pandemic.
When the organization, which works with over 100 direct-service volunteers to offer patient care, community outreach and bereavement support, needed to pivot its grief support programming to online portals, volunteers flocked to lend a hand. In typical years, another 100 volunteers help with mailings, event preparation and behind-the-scenes tasks.
“It has just taken off like wildfire during the pandemic,” Wolford-Tucker said of the volunteers who completed extensive training and stepped up to lead phone calls and Zoom sessions to ensure the continuation of bereavement services for grieving families.
This service has been especially critical for folks in the time of coronavirus.
Wolford-Tucker said the pandemic has forced many in the community to face isolation, loss and the grieving of deceased loved ones in nontraditional ways.
“It’s bringing up a lot of other grief for people,” she said. “There is a lot of that support going on right now.”
Having that connection, even virtually, has been imperative. In some cases, the virtual support has been a lifeline for people without access to transportation or who can more easily access the service online, she said.
While some patient care services have resumed in person on a limited basis, and the organization plans to offer in-person bereavement services again, the virtual option will stay, too, due to increased participation.
Additionally, HVHC’s pandemic outreach efforts have led to the development of 25 educational programs for the public, offered via Zoom videoconferencing, Wolford-Tucker reported.
The popular programs have had an average attendance of 20 participants, with some attracting more than 30, she said.
The organization is also gearing up for its 25th Hospice Regatta of Maine on July 9, 10 and 11. Sailing races will occur, with decisions related to the social aspect of the event still being determined.
Jo Cooper, executive director of Friends in Action in Ellsworth, also saw her volunteer force continue to step up throughout the pandemic.
The organization provides services for older adults and those with disabilities so that they can “live independently with dignity and a strong quality of life,” according to its mission.
A crucial part of these services is transportation. Volunteers drive participants to where they need to go, such as medical appointments.
“A year ago, that first month [of the pandemic] was a little unnerving,” Cooper recalled.
But Friends in Action continued providing services for a population especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“We never stopped. We continued to do transportation,” she said.
Friends in Action follows guidelines for taxi drivers set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she explained, which include cracking windows for ventilation, wearing masks and having the passenger sit in the backseat.
Cooper was surprised that despite the uncertainty and fear surrounding the pandemic, especially concerning being in close quarters when driving, “We have had new volunteers come to us” to help with transportation.
The biggest expansion in programming due to the pandemic has been helping deliver free meals from programs such as The Welcome Table and Everyone Eats.
“It meant so much to people” to receive a hot meal, Cooper said.
The pandemic also spurred the organization’s Vaccine Buddy program to help people get to their vaccination appointments.
Additionally, the pandemic has given the public — and entire world — a deeper understanding into an issue common to many seniors: social isolation.
Cooper predicts an increased need for volunteers to provide check-ins for “the people that are just needing a call once in a while.”
Meanwhile, the public is beginning to see another way volunteers are proving to be paramount: helping with a robust rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Northern Light Health is looking for help, including at its newly opened clinic in the former Family Dollar at the Ellsworth Shopping Center, located between Shaw’s and Renys.
The site is hoping to enlist 30 to 35 volunteers a day. Twenty to twenty-five of those volunteers will be needed for nonclinical tasks.
To sign up, volunteers need to be at least 16 years old and need to fill out a volunteer form that can be found at https://covid.northernlighthealth.org/Volunteer/Register.