By: Harrison Pike
According to a study published by researcher Erin Duffin, only 25.1% of the U.S. population actively volunteered in 2017. Now, with a global pandemic, many people are reluctant to leave their homes at all. Organizations and businesses that depend on volunteers are having to put limits on the number of volunteers they can use.
Despite this issue, some Samford University students are still seeking out volunteer opportunities.
On the front lines is Allison Nanni, Samford’s Director of Community Engagement. Nanni oversees the volunteer work done through the university, including programs like Micah Fellows, service cadres and Samford Gives Back. Her work continues to change as the pandemic develops, but she remains committed to helping students get connected to their community through service.
Service cadres are one popular way students volunteer that have become a big hit recently. In previous semesters, there were normally around 150 students taking part in a service cadre, working with a total of 15 different organizations in the Birmingham area. This semester, service cadre enrollment has dropped to nearly one-third of what it once was. Nanni and others met with previous partners to find ways for students to similar work virtually, including shifting most of the study portion of the cadre onto Canvas. With the shift to more virtual work, Samford was only able to offer cadres with half of the community organizations they normally partner with. On the positive side, despite overall attendance dropping, there are more freshmen involved in these cadres than in recent semesters.
Students who want to volunteer and earn convocation credit, but do not want to commit to an eight-week program usually have the option of Samford Gives Back. Normally, 700-900 students register to serve in small groups at a large number of organizations, with students last year serving a total of 44 organizations. However, Samford cancelled the event last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, switching to a month-long international blood drive. Nanni said that, while there are no concrete plans yet, another blood drive is certainly on the table.
Despite all the setbacks, Nanni wants Samford “to be a player,” acting on the values they teach, making those values evident in outward action. Nanni said that the Samford community needs to build mutually beneficial relationships with the rest of the Birmingham community and organizations that work in it. As Nanni works with students to help them find volunteer opportunities, she said that the “hope is developing people who walk their faith.”
Hope and development continue to be key themes when facing the issue of serving in a pandemic. Katie Saxon, a junior in the Micah Fellows program, has been volunteering at Girls Inc. of Central Alabama since her sophomore year. While some Micah Fellows have switched to online service and others have taken the semester off, Saxon still serves in person three days a week. She said the ability to continue going in person “has been the biggest blessing.” “I think that it’s just like so important in developing who you are,” Saxon said.
She encourages other students to try volunteering more often.
Brice Hinkle, a member of Alpha Tau Omega, also has hope for this semester. The fraternity is still trying to get its members to actively volunteer, just not as much as usual. Hinkle said he is “hopeful we get to do Boo at the Zoo again this year” as part of his service hours.
According to the Statista Research Department, only 13% of U.S. residents ages 18-29 actively volunteer. Organizations that depend on volunteer work need it just as much as ever. As the situation gets better, the hope is more people will volunteer again, but even now Nanni and Saxon both encourage others to seek out opportunities to get involved in serving the community, for both their benefit and yours.