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A Foray into Virtual Service

Virtual Breakout space during Vertex Day of service

Care Force has gone through many changes and innovations over the years, and 2020 has certainly been exemplary of that spirit. Team Care Force (TCF) 14 is now the first team to lead virtual events, engaging volunteers from behind the comfort of our laptops. During the last week of September and first few days of October, our team led seven events with Vertex partners in Boston, San Diego, Washington, D.C. as well as Oxford and London, England. We were lucky enough to spread our service internationally with the help of City Year UK Headquarters based out of London; they helped connect us to schools and service partners that were local to them.

When you first hear “virtual event” it might sound like less work than an in-person event, but don’t be fooled, there is a lot of prep that goes into putting one together. For most of the Vertex events, each volunteer received a package containing pencil pouches to decorate and school supplies to sort and fill the pouches. Before the virtual event, these supplies were individually sorted, packed, and sent out by Care Force from our Headquarters in Boston so that each volunteer had a set of pouches to complete (typically six). As a team, we packed hundreds of boxes in a limited time, needless to say we learned a lot in the process. After a long week of packing, the final packages were sent out, now all we had to do now was let USPS and Royal Mail work its magic.

Soon the week of virtual events was upon us, and I was still unsure of what to expect. We had prepared and done practice events, but no one was sure what the volunteer response would be. Luckily, our first event was with Boston Vertex employees. We were able to test the waters and get familiar with the virtual space. Sure enough, the first event went off without a glitch. We led volunteers through an engaging “zero touch” activity in which we used various supplies to create a variety of STEM based challenges. The following day we had our event with Vertex partners in Oxford, England. This was my team’s first opportunity to work with volunteers outside of Boston since joining Care Force, so we were nervous, but excited. As soon as the event started, I was immediately relieved by the inviting tone of the volunteers. After opening ceremony, we went into our virtual breakout groups, where we chatted while assembling supplies and decorating pencil pouches. The volunteers reminded us that this was not a typical workday for them, they were more used to working in labs. However, we were pleasantly surprised by their creativity and artistic ability. One volunteer shared the design he was creating and caught us all off guard when he showed a realistic portrait of professional soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo. Getting the opportunity to have conversations with international volunteers was quite a privilege, and I loved to hear their perspectives. I never thought going into this year I would be a on a call with volunteers from the U.K.

Virtual breakout space with decorated pouches

As the week progressed, the team got more comfortable with each event, my confidence grew and my directions became clearer. Each event would last about an hour and a half, but the time flew by so fast. Once volunteers completed their service with us, they sent their finished work to predetermined partners. These partners were located within our volunteers’ local communities and the supplies were based on needs identified by those partners. Reflecting back, I’m realizing that our virtual events have the potential to be quite innovative. We had the opportunity to engage with hundreds of volunteers, holding seven virtual events, sending thousands of pouches and supplies to partners in five different cities, all in the span of four days because of our virtual platform. While we would all love to do in person service, our week of virtual events proves there is a lot of potential in these new modes of service. Most importantly, this week showed the team that our impact is still felt, and service is alive and well in the digital work. Service can come in many shapes and forms, for now its form is virtual.

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