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June 30, 2020

Building Back: Volunteer Services

By Kristen McCulloch

We recently interviewed Rachel Eldridge, Director of Volunteer Services, about how COVID-19 has impacted the way we partner with volunteers to fulfill our mission and how the role of volunteers may change moving forward. Despite the challenges of not being able to work with them on the construction site, in the ReStores or Julia’s Café and Books, our amazing community of volunteers have found ways to support our work during an uncertain and difficult time so that we may continue serving families achieve affordable homeownership.  

How did COVID impact volunteer activity at Habitat Charlotte Region?
We suspended our on-site volunteer activities, but switched some opportunities to remote and virtual. We miss our in-person volunteers but the work goes on. Our staff have had to adjust to new ways of running the stores, being in the offices and building homes without our volunteers. Our Board of Trustees and committees have switched to volunteering remotely by meeting on-line and continuing their work. A few administrative volunteers have continued to serve remotely since their duties involve cloud-based software, which is great. Financial Literacy presenters have been working with staff to teach via Zoom.  

What effect does the impact of COVID have on our operations (i.e. Construction, ReStore, Office)? 
In construction, we have used subcontractors for more tasks, which has increased expenses. In the ReStores, the absence of volunteers is most notable in the back rooms where donations are waiting to be sorted and priced. The effect has been less in the offices since some of the tasks could be done on-line. 

What has been the response from volunteers – are they happy, sad, frustrated, tentative?
Volunteers are understanding of the changes but frustrated by the lack of activity. They want to stay healthy and safe, but they miss the work, the camaraderie, and the sense of purpose from fulfilling the mission. Many have been bored after they have finished all of their around the house projects. Some are eager and ready to come back while others have understandable concerns and will be staying home a bit longer. 

What have you been doing to keep volunteers engaged during the pandemic?
Our homeowners in progress called all of the volunteers to thank them for Volunteer Appreciation Month. We also held virtual coffees through Zooms so volunteers could visit with each other. The volunteer newsletter has been sent out every other week so we could communicate more since they are not seeing staff in person. Some of our volunteers made washable fabric masks for us, which we really appreciate!  

What if any changes will be made to our volunteer program going forward?
I expect that we’ll keep doing a lot on-line. I’ve interviewed and on-boarded a new volunteer for Family Services through Zoom. We’ll probably have volunteer trainings, information sessions and recognition events on-line. These changes will be driven by response to the pandemic as well as the fact that we have volunteers from Statesville to Pineville (and actually beyond.) We’ll be moving away from paper and more to electronic records. We’ll have staff working from home, from the Cornelius office and the Charlotte offices so internally we’ll keep meeting on-line. 

Do we have a date when volunteer activity will resume? If so, can you describe what that looks like?
Some of our core, weekly volunteers are returning in July – ReStores July 1 and Construction July 7. These are our long-term committed volunteers who are ready to be trained in new procedures. They’re a good group to test out all of the new procedures. New individual and group volunteers will be welcomed back in September, we hope. 

Volunteers can expect to wear masks when inside or within 6’ of others. There’s a lot of cleaning of build sites and stores being done throughout the day. Lunches and break times will feel different with everyone staying socially distant. We’ve reduced the number of volunteers serving at one time and are spreading volunteers out across the spaces we have so there are fewer volunteer spots and opportunities. That will also be in true in the fall as we’ll be reducing the sizes of groups in the stores and on build sites. 

What personally would you like to say to our volunteers? 
I really appreciate our volunteers sticking it out with us during this challenging time. They have made great suggestions about how to adjust to changing circumstances and cheered on staff to keep fulfilling the mission. I am grateful for them more than ever. 

Stay up to date on available volunteer shifts or find out how you can help from home here:

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