July 24, 2020

UCalgary volunteers bridge the social distance on and off campus

More than 600 volunteers have offered their time and skills to UCalgary’s pandemic response
A person in a plaid shirt video chats with a male on a computer screen
The UCalgary COVID-19 Volunteer Mobilization Team supports students, staff or faculty in need. Unsplash

As the university faced the unknowns of the pandemic in mid-March, the UCalgary Volunteer Mobilization Team quickly engaged. Information and updates were pouring in and changing daily.

Current co-chairs of the UCalgary Volunteer Mobilization Team, Dr. Sandra Davidson, dean of the Faculty of Nursing and Dr. Ellen Perrault, dean of the Faculty of Social Work since July, have worked to organize an emergency response in these unusual and unexpected circumstances, drawing on their previous experiences to guide them.

“In the early days, it was clear that campus community life would change. We used our past crisis response from previous events, like the 2013 floods, to create a new plan for the pandemic,” says Davidson.

Tasked with responding to issues facing the campus community due to the pandemic, the team began by focusing on students’ psychosocial, physical and financial needs.

Caring campus always ready to help out

Nanako Furuyama, the co-ordinator for the Women’s Resource Centre, is also a master at campus volunteer group organization and took on the task of organizing volunteers. Furuyama has been praised by volunteers for her organizational efficiency and effectiveness, and she returns the praise.

Our campus is always ready to respond and support. The number of volunteers involved really shows the caring campus culture we have.

Furuyama set up the Better Impact volunteer management system for the COVID-19 volunteer response team. More than 200 volunteers registered within the first week.

At the same time, the team also created a needs assessment tool — which is often used in social work and nursing — so students, staff and faculty members could request specific support. Members of the volunteer response team were on call to provide virtual support to those in need as quickly as possible, connecting individuals to resources around campus and the city.

“The COVID-19 volunteer response is an excellent example of how a university community supports its members and reaches out to those who are more vulnerable,” says Jean Gomes, institutional analyst in the Office of Institutional Analysis, and COVID Response Team volunteer. “Early on there was just so much information about government and other supports, services and programs. I cannot imagine how chaotic and scary this period must have been for many people.”

Community support continues into the fall

Currently, the volunteer team has more than 600 student, faculty and staff volunteers working on different campus and community projects.

As the need for urgent response subsides, the UCalgary Volunteer Mobilization Team is shifting its mandate to connect volunteers with opportunities to assist community members as the university re-opens.

“We know there will be new challenges in the fall and volunteer work will continue through whatever the virus brings,” says Davidson. “The crisis showed us a lot of best practices for supporting our community that we will continue.”

In addition to their virtual support work, members of the volunteer team helped to address the social needs of those in isolation. The UCalgaryTogether event series grew out of the Volunteer Mobilization Team, with volunteers lending their time to share their talents and interests, like Bollywood dancing, karaoke, gardening, fitness and even bike maintenance, with the community.

With the help of the volunteer team, the online series helps create meaningful connections between students, employees and the campus community during a time of physical distance and potential isolation.

Check out upcoming UCalgaryTogether events, which will continue into the fall.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.