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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

The old adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” has never felt truer for many of us than in this present pandemic. We have all become far more aware of the importance of relationships and how emotionally and spiritually painful it can be to not be allowed to connect in-person with those we love and care about. I have been moved by the concern of my own adult children who are checking in more frequently with calls, texts, and Google Duo to be sure their Boomer parents are okay. A silver lining of this pandemic for me has been “seeing” my Arizona grandchildren on screen far more frequently since the beginning of March than I had prior. Aside from the motion sickness when Maddie, who is two, is holding the phone, it has been great! Connecting virtually with my congregation on Easter, and hearing about the ways in which virtual Passover and Easter connections have been so meaningful to many, affirms the strong need we have to visualize each other. We miss the togetherness that we once took for granted.

This is certainly true for many of the nonprofit agencies in our community that rely on volunteers to carry out their mission. In compliance with the responsible guidelines of limiting contact with others, most agencies are not using volunteers at this time, and it has not only been a loss for patients and clients of these agencies, but also for the staff. Volunteers become like family to many agency employees who rely upon them to multiply their own efforts. As the Director of Faith Outreach at Big Bend Hospice, I am deeply indebted to a team of volunteers who help me with every clergy and community outreach event. They are so proficient at collating materials, preparing the meeting space, serving our guests, and cleaning up, with kindness and grace, that they make their hard work seem easy. I have been blessed by the opportunity to work with these devoted volunteers and many others in our agency and find in this time of physical distancing that I miss not only the support they bring to Big Bend Hospice, but the relationships we have formed. I imagine my experience is common in the many organizations across our community that count on volunteers to enrich and expand their reach.

April is National Volunteer Month. During this month congregations, schools, and agencies across our community go all out to be sure that their volunteers know how much they mean to them. The Tallahassee Democrat hosts an annual Volunteer Recognition Event with various categories of volunteers honored for their gifts of time, energy, and resources. Realizing the tremendous added value of volunteerism to their mission, the month is filled with creative celebrations and deserved recognitions as all recipients of volunteer efforts honor those who give so freely of their time. Because of the precautions related to COVID-19, the celebrations this year are more creative than ever as virtual hugs, kisses, and words of appreciation are sent across the information highway.

In some ways, it seems more relevant than ever that this is the month in which we recognize volunteers because, as the seriousness of this pandemic has come into sharper focus, more and more individuals in our community have offered to help in myriad ways. Many who have not sewn in years are making masks to help slow the spread of the virus. Others are delivering groceries to those who may be homebound or too vulnerable to shop. Some are writing letters to those on the front lines to express appreciation, and others are making it a point to check-in on those that they know are emotionally vulnerable because they live alone or perhaps in a fragile relationship. Others are writing encouraging messages in chalk on the sidewalks to lift people’s spirits or making symphony concerts available for free on-line. What is clear is that this April, while many volunteers are on furlough from their usual volunteer work, they and others with them are finding ways to help others in this pandemic.

According to an article on the very helpful Greater Good website, research shows that volunteering even a couple of hours a week to help others can make a significant impact on their lives and your own. We may think that only medical personnel and first responders can make a meaningful difference during this crisis when “simply reaching out to people is being helpful and heroic,” says University of Richmond psychologist Scott Allison. “Each of us can make a positive difference by tapping into our strengths and sharing them.”

As agencies are letting volunteers know that their absence is noticed and is creating a greater fondness, I pray you will let any volunteer who has impacted your life know the positive difference that they made. And be on the lookout for ways you can support a neighbor or friend as we work together to end this pandemic.