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My Turn, Francis Koster: Step up, volunteer to help

By Francis Koster

The next year or so is going to test our individual souls, and the soul of our country. For all the public discussion and tension produced by the COVID-19 epidemic, what we have seen thus far is only a hint of what is yet to come.

Look at this history of infection in North Carolina and note how the rate of infection is increasing rapidly. This trend will continue because we will have no vaccination until Spring of 2021 at the earliest. Until then, the only tools we have are face masks, hand washing, social distancing, and vitamin D3. The infections will continue to spread.

If you look at the historic growth rate of infections and think about how it is going to continue (scientists call this “doubling time” — 2 ,4, 8, 16, 32, 64)  you get you a “best guess” of what is going to happen during the next six months or so.

The number of us who are infected is on track to double between the middle of July and the middle of August and will continue to do so about every 3 or 4 weeks. For at least the next year or so, life will look nothing like what we are used to.

We can be very sure that unemployment will continue to rise, incomes will go down, evictions will increase, people will struggle to feed their families, political dialog will become even less civilized, more people will suffer mental stress and the next school year will be a challenge for all involved.

Our business and government leadership will be overwhelmed.

How do we cope? What behaviors do we change to soften this impact on our society?

We can respond to a question that President John F. Kennedy asked long ago: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

We need a massive mobilization of volunteers — including you, right now. 

The North Carolina Department of Health has been trying to help counties grow their volunteer core, but if you look at their website, the citizens of Rowan County have not yet seized the recruitment tools offered. You can see how to do that at www.nc.gov/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities.

The largest immediate need is likely to be for volunteers to work with school aged children both in and out of school hours.

Rowan County has about 23,000 kids between the age of 5 and 18. We know that public and private schools will either be opened only some of the school week or online only. The county also has 25,000 citizens over 65, many of whom are going stir-crazy and thousands of other adults who are choosing to stay at home out of fear of virus infection. They would love to make some kind of contribution to the community, but no one is recruiting them.

One of the mental barriers people are encountering as they think about expanding the ranks of older volunteers now is the fear of infection. This makes a powerful assumption — that volunteers have to be face-to-face with those they help. This is no longer true — 86% of adults aged 60 to 69 now use smartphones (which allows them to use FaceTime). Three quarters of all adults 50 and older use social media (mostly Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn). And study after study shows that volunteering creates better health for the volunteer.

In Wake County, the public-school system has worked with a local volunteer organization called Activate Good to help recruit volunteers who will help students cope with online learning. The volunteers will set up 10,500 wireless hot-spots to ensure all students have internet access and the ability to enter the school system’s distance learning program.

University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee has a program that recruits college students to mentor K-12 students via distance learning.

There a number of websites that will connect those seeking to volunteer with those organizations who need the help. One example is Volunteer Match. Now decades old, this organization can mentor you (yes, you!) through the process of mobilizing.

Think of the power of connecting volunteers to our churches, the Health Department, city and county government, the schools, food banks, Rotary, Kiwanis, Boy and Girl Scouts.  We do not lack for potential volunteers — we lack organization to match folks who need things to do with folks who need help.

Will you step up?

Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis and is a local activist who has been studying, teaching and implementing local solutions to national problems for over 50 years.

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