AmeriCorps Volunteers Adapt Service Through the Coronavirus


AmeriCorps Volunteers Shift Gears and Adapt Service Through the Coronavirus

Around mid-March, Warren Wilson graduate and NC Afterschool Americorps VISTA Maddie Harris was running six after-school programs on campus for students when the coronavirus pandemic began. In the midst of helping run the Center for Community Engagement at the college, her role quickly shifted. Her service adapted from acting as a liaison between the campus and partner programs plugging students into community volunteer roles to students no longer allowed on campus and a newfound role working from home. Having served alongside so many community nonprofits, including a partnership between volunteers from the college with United Way Community School Coordinator Josh Wells, she began to reach out and ask those partners what their needs were looking like and how she could support.

Being Flexible, Knowing Every Day Can Be Different

"One really positive thing about AmeriCorps are all of the connections made with community partners," Harris said. "I reached out to so many people when everything happened to find out who needed help and where I could plug in and support. I was willing to shift gears too, which helped, because you really have to be flexible and know that every day can be different."

And flexible she was as she reached out to Wells and United Way staff to ask if there were volunteer needs she could help fill in service as an AmeriCorps member. With a bustling volunteer center helping to fill increased volunteer needs and meet community partner requests for in-kind donations through the early stages of COVID-19, Harris was able to shift gears and join the United Way team in a similar capacity as her work at Warren Wilson. She quickly plugged into a support role, reaching out to partner organizations their volunteer needs and requests for items to support their services were listed and active in the Hands On Asheville-Buncombe volunteer database.


Organizing Community Support and Finding the Silver Lining

Fellow AmeriCorps member and Western Carolina University graduate Rachel Miller was serving through Project Mars (Mentoring, Resources, and Academic Success) at Ira B. Jones Elementary when the coronavirus pandemic hit. As an AmeriCorps project that serves under Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC, Miller supported students in the school to ensure their needs both inside and outside of the classroom were addressed. While access to resources such as food, clothing, mentorship, and tutoring were areas Miller helped connect to the school for students and families, she also organized and connected inspiring and educational community events, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities.

During her service she partnered with Hands On Asheville-Buncombe Volunteer Engagement Director Michelle Bennett to help coordinate the annual Days of Impact service project for community partners to come out and assist the school in campus cleaning, organization, and beautification. When COVID-19 closed the school under Governor Cooper's Stay Home, Stay Safe order, Miller reached out to Bennett to offer her support. She quickly transitioned her work online--supporting students from home and acting as a community liaison for the United Way volunteer center.

Rewarding, Connective Work in the Face of Crisis

"No one signed up for this (referring to the coronavirus) so everyone's job has changed and everyone's service has changed," said Miller. "It's just really rewarding to work with people that are so willing to serve the community. It's really been an incredible thing to see as an AmeriCorps service member, because you're serving yet you're also meeting people with similar beliefs about showing up in service to community. I probably wouldn't have had these types of connections if something like this hadn't happened. It has really helped me to keep finding the silver lining through all of this."