Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Multnomah County’s many community volunteers have continued to serve. In a time when most of us are feeling isolated and disconnected, the commitment and solidarity of County volunteers have been heartening and hopeful. As County staff continue to innovate and find new ways to provide services to residents, volunteerism is a crucial component in what we do.
In March, a public call for donations and volunteers was made to support the work of the County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). By harnessing public enthusiasm to help out, the EOC was able to gather much needed personal protective equipment and — along with County employees — provide staff for physical distancing shelters and vital emergency response roles.
The EOC Volunteer Program continues to connect community volunteers to safe roles within the EOC, in Disaster Resource Centers (Severe Weather Shelters), and supporting community-based organizations.
While Multnomah County Animal Services has paused in-shelter volunteering since March, they have focused heavily on growing their foster program. In the last 10 months, nearly 100 new foster volunteers have completed a newly implemented online application and training process. In total, foster volunteers have cared for more than 450 animals and contributed more than 55,000 hours of service since the start of the pandemic. Animal Services has also enlisted volunteers to help transport animals to partner agencies for adoption, and assist in special projects such as sewing kennel curtains and blankets for the Cattery.
Multnomah County Library quickly transitioned the Summer Reading Volunteer Program from an in-person volunteer opportunity to an at-home volunteer program.
Some 220 teen volunteers promoted Summer Reading by encouraging their friends, family, and neighbors to read all summer long. In April 2020, Clarissa Littler logged 100 hours volunteering at the Rockwood Library’s Makerspace to produce face shields and other protective equipment to help frontline workers all over Multnomah County. Library volunteers continue to provide remote GED tutoring services and facilitate Talk Time breakout room discussions for English language learners.
And College to County intern Gracelynn Enlet and mentor Judith Guzman-Montes collaborated with library staff to set up outdoor computer labs at libraries to bridge the digital divide made worse by the pandemic during library closures.
The College to County internship program successfully provided meaningful internships Countywide for students of color during the pandemic. The interns themselves stepped up in a big way to support County staff and our community. Their pandemic response work included creating equity toolkits for County staff, providing IT help desk support for software and devices, working on housing application assistance, tracking our personal protective equipment inventory, creating digital resources for our senior citizens, and translating guides for accessibility.
At the Department of Community Justice, volunteers with Living Yoga and Street Soccer created digital content for youth at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention facility. Prior to the pandemic, nearly 70 volunteers would visit the facility each month, providing everything from religious services to art classes.
Students from Portland State University’s Juvenile Justice Capstone designed and administered surveys to youth and staff to support the development of new ways to deliver volunteer programming, including recommendations for a variety of youth clubs, study groups, sports teams, and service animal visits, all done remotely.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges and opportunities alike, and Multnomah County’s volunteers have risen to the occasion by serving in new and creative ways. Volunteers support our work in providing critical services to the community and our new work environment only serves to highlight why this work matters. It matters because we are all in this together.
A huge heartfelt appreciation to our volunteers, County staff, and patrons, for their innovation and resilience.