2020 was the year that certainties disappeared for students. The routine of watching teachers lecture in person, chatting with friends in the hallway, or playing in after school activities faded away. For all the usual complaints about homework and getting up too early, school-interrupted is much worse.
To cope with the sensory deprivation and loneliness of online learning, students created new connections through volunteering. VolunteerCrowd’s team watched students adapt and change to meet the moment. Against the daily drama of case counts and lockdowns, many students became the calming influences that guided others through the crisis. Here are community service trends that gained momentum during the pandemic and are worth keeping:
GenZ is the New Skilled Volunteer Workforce
We’re used to seeing nonprofits operate all around us – at community fairs, local events, and in our schools. Social distancing forced many charities to trade in their physical presence for online outreach. Teens are fearless with technology. When nonprofits pivoted their services and engagement to online, GenZ stepped up. They created beautiful digital flyers in Canva, updated WordPress websites, scheduled social media through HootSuite, and set up Zoom sessions for virtual events or program delivery. Nonprofits have GenZ to thank for upping their digital game. There is no going back.
The Rise of Student Volunteer Tutors
When schools closed campuses and lit up online learning, students missed more than seeing teachers standing in front of the dry-erase boards. According to one middle school math instructor, “I am not the only teacher in the classroom. 30 other students can explain a solution to an algebra problem to the person sitting next to them. They learn so much from each other.” In 2020 VolunteerCrowd noticed how many students were eager to put on their teacher-assistant hats. These future educators took on tough topics such as teaching English as a second language or literacy skills to special-needs students. Help could not come at a better time. In some states, failure rates have increased six times since the pandemic.
Pre-med Volunteer Interns Got Creative
In the fall of 2019 and early 2020, VolunteerCrowd had a strong following among pre-med high schoolers and undergraduates seeking internships. That ended in March when the country shut down. Understandably hospitals and care centers could not risk exposing their volunteers to Covid-19. The pandemic gave many aspiring medical students a front-row seat to managing a global health crisis. Like the first responders they admire and want to become, students stepped up to help in any way possible. Some made Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks and face shields. Others conducted remote research on food insecurity and disease management. They volunteered with animal rescue organizations to better understand nutrition and wound care. Our future doctors, nurses, and EMTs are prepared for almost anything that comes their way.
Virtual Volunteering Shows Students New College and Career Paths
Geography can open or limit a student’s ability to nurture interests. If you are born in a large city, there will be more extracurricular, arts, and STEM programs available to explore. Students born in small towns are often constrained by distance. A rural Wisconsin educator who struggled to find college and career-related volunteer opportunities marveled at the STEM virtual internships suddenly available to students. And the possibilities are not limited to science, technology, engineering, and math. VolunteerCrowd saw the world open up to many learners. Today middle schoolers in Florida can make PPE equipment for Alaskan first responders. Texas teens can sing and read to seniors with Dementia in Maryland. Alabama sophomores can tutor Chicago students in history. Geography no longer limits how we support others.
Future Nonprofit and Social Enterprise Founders
One of our favorite 2020 trends was watching students come into their own by starting a nonprofit or social enterprise. One of the highlights of our year was judging NSHSS’s Be More-A-Thon competition. Student-founded organizations brought music to quarantined seniors, increased the bee population, and invented new water-purification systems. We witnessed how compassion, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit are an unstoppable combo-for-good. Check out the winners.
Student Civic Engagement
The best part of our day at VolunteerCrowd is reading students’ volunteer project submissions. Some of the most moving entries we read involved teens cleaning up graffiti after the Black Lives Matter protests. Other students contacted community members to provide information about local Covid-19 resources. Students passionate about the political process encouraged citizens to exercise their right to vote. Feeling a sense of ownership for your community and motivating others are hallmarks of leadership. GenZ is not only paying attention but ready to redefine civic engagement when they are in charge. We can hardly wait.
Covid-19 Encouraged Holistic Admissions
Forbes contributor Brennan Barnard predicts that many of the 2020 college selection process changes might be here to stay. Allowing ACT and SAT tests to remain optional, creating virtual campus tours, hosting admissions events online, and rethinking access and affordability in the post-Covid world are welcome changes. It is reassuring to see students become the strong undercurrents that change their world for the better. Community involvement is also an essential element of a promising future. Lee Ann Buckland, dean of admission and financial aid at University of the South, looks forward to how college selection can someday “shine a brighter light on what each student will bring to our communities.”
There is no arguing that GenZ has had more challenges than most students coming-of-age. But we believe their experiences and perspective will make GenZ one of the most successful generations. Like their great grandparents born during the time of the Spanish flu and depression, they will take nothing for granted. Instead of waiting for Superman, they learned early on how to take on the micro behaviors of a superhero – by volunteering one hour at a time.