Virtual Volunteering: Christian Service During the Pandemic
Typically, all students at Mitty are required to complete 20 hours of service per year, with juniors and seniors required to focus on helping marginalized communities. These service requirements, like much else of Mitty life, were modified in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
May 11, 2021
Christian Service has long been a staple of student life at Mitty, with the program itself reaching back 27 years to 1994. Typically, all students at Mitty are required to complete 20 hours of service per year, with juniors and seniors required to focus on helping marginalized communities. These service requirements, like much of Mitty life, were modified in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, students were only required to complete 10 hours of service, and restrictions due to the pandemic compelled some students to explore creative virtual volunteering opportunities.
A program that grew exponentially this year was Cornerstone, a Mitty youth ministry program that fulfills the Christian service requirement. Once a week, eight students met via Zoom with an adult and a senior leader, who led activities and discussions in small groups. Participation in the program more than doubled from the previous year—86 students participated in fall 2019 compared to the 209 students year. Cornerstone had to find ways to guide virtual service with such a large number of participants.
According to sophomore Maria George, some of Cornerstone’s virtual service consisted of “writing letters to hospital patients and firefighters during the wildfires, and sending emails to legislators about food banks.” Additionally, many of the virtual activities were more unconventional, such as when members filmed a short video of themselves to send to someone that they felt needed it. This activity in particular garnered many appreciative responses from recipients who were grateful to be thought of during this time.
Outside of Cornerstone, students also found service opportunities through school clubs. Interact is one of many Mitty service clubs that modified their service activities after the transition to an online platform. Lauren O. Vu, senior president of Interact, says she had to “think outside the box” in terms of service opportunities for club members this past year. According to Lauren, when the club was in-person, they had a reliable set of four to five service opportunities that Interactors—members of the club—could always fall back on. During the pandemic, Lauren worked to initiate new service activities, and she was constantly receiving ideas and feedback from club members, both new and old, to guide the direction of Interact. Interact’s freshmen and newcomer population dramatically increased this year, and Lauren says that the club was a means for freshmen “to get to know other peoples as they found ways to complete their service hours together.” Activities included writing cards for healthcare workers and recording videos for residents in retirement homes.
Mitty students also found service opportunities within the Peer Tutoring program, which is run by Mrs. Janie Falcone. This program offers service hours to student tutors and allows students to assist each other in all academic subjects offered at Mitty. This year, approximately 45 students signed up for tutoring and 100 volunteered as tutors, a sharp increase from the usual 25 tutors in previous years. Additionally, the requirements for those seeking help changed. Previously, students from honors or AP courses were unable to receive peer tutoring as the program focused on those in college prep classes. This year, the program was open to all, a change “I’m tempted to keep,” Falcone said, noting the connection that it can provide for underclassmen, who have experienced most of high school online and separated from their classmates. When asked about her experience tutoring for the program, sophomore Marta Ruiz commented, “My tutee and I are pretty good friends, which makes it more enjoyable and builds a connection of trust.”
Some students sought ways to serve outside of the Mitty community by finding service organizations on their own. Freshman Ryan Ekdahl served through the organization “Love For Our Elders,” where he wrote cards of encouragement to elderly in senior facilities. According to Ryan, “It was really rewarding knowing what I was doing was going to help someone.” Senior Karolina Swedek completed her service through “Knots of Love,” an organization that delivers hats and blankets to patients in hospitals. She picked up knitting, guided by her sister, for
this service project during quarantine. On her thoughts about serving virtually, Karolina comments, “It was different because you can’t physically be with the people you’re serving, but Knots For Love really helps you to see the impact of your service, letting you know where your blankets got sent.”
Mr. Marheineke, Director of Christian Service at Mitty, concludes that all “changes to Mitty service have been logistical, not philosophical.” Mr. Marheineke believes that despite the challenges, “the intent and philosophy of the program hasn’t been sacrificed.”