Connected while Apart


by Samiha Bari, student leader

Volunteering during a pandemic did not seem possible early last year as my in-person volunteer placement was cancelled, along with everything else in my life. When Student Open Circles reached out to the facilitators about online volunteer groups, I was excited to add something “normal” back into my days that were now filled with sitting at home and taking up hobbies. Little did I know, the experience would be so much more than something to do.

I facilitated 3 different volunteer groups during the pandemic thus far, and in each one I have seen more and more growth and connection between the community and the volunteers. I quickly realized that the reason I continue to volunteer had changed. Now more than ever, so many people are isolated both physically and mentally. The members of our community that we serve are often facing this isolation in a way that others are not. This past semester I facilitated the Letters to Seniors group, where 15 student volunteers, including myself, met online once a week and together we made letters, art and crafts to send to seniors living at Shalom Village in Hamilton. Going into this, I was concerned that the volunteers would not be engaged because of the distance between us and the seniors we would be communicating with. I was wrong.

We received feedback that the seniors were loving our letters and it brightened up their day. These messages made me realize this experience is one of a kind. With my previous volunteering, I instantly saw my service making a difference right in front of me. With this volunteer placement, the difference we are making is less immediate, but very real. Now more than ever, these seniors need connection and community. While Covid restrictions tighten, their ability to have visitors, our group is proud to do something small that brightens their day or gives them someone to connect to.

And we volunteers benefit too. My fears of us being disconnected and having awkward Zoom calls vanished as each week I watched us get closer through reflection activities, icebreakers, and general conversations. Keeping one another motivated to create for the seniors, remembering why we are doing what we do, and how to be creative in the process is important for us. The level of connection in this group may be more than those I have seen in the past in person, and I think that speaks to the shared experience of the pandemic we are all going through. Without Student Open Circles, I would be much more isolated and would not have had the opportunity to meet so many of the amazing volunteers I got to know, along with making an impact in the Hamilton community in a time where it seemed that was impossible.