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Volunteering with Teens amidst the Crisis: Considerations, Challenges, and Solutions

By John DeLaporte, Director of Youth Ministry and Religious Ed

Many of us feel called to help in some way as our communities struggle with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.  Yet, volunteering while practicing social distancing and self-isolation poses unique challenges to many of the traditional ways we are accustomed to serving.  These challenges are greater for teens who wish to volunteer in our parish response efforts.  When volunteering with minors amidst the outbreak, we must consider the usual liability factors (risk mitigation, soliciting parental consent, signing release forms, etc.) while observing health directives from national and local agencies (social distancing, self-isolation, non-essential travel, group size).  Add our safe environment protocols to this and suddenly a simple volunteer project seems more trouble than it is worth!

What follows are 15 simple ways teens can volunteer during this time of crisis.  Many of these projects can be done individually, virtually or as a family. Furthermore, I offer a few things to consider should you wish to involve teens directly in your parish response efforts.  With some creative thinking and proper steps, our teens can serve in a way that mitigates risk for everyone!

  1. Make videos or e-cards for medical professionals thanking them for their above-and-beyond care.  Send them to a local hospital in your community, or to a healthcare facility that is experiencing increased strain during the outbreak elsewhere in the country. 
  2. Send thank you videos or e-cards to first responders who are combating the Coronavirus. Invite local police stations, fire departments, or hospitals to post these on their social media platforms or share them through their email contact list.
  3. Assemble care kits for first responders.  Think of 5-8 simple items you could put into a kit, assemble them, and deliver them to your local hospital, police station, or fire department.  Items could include things like an energy bar, homemade cookies, travel hand sanitizer, a prayer card, a personal note of encouragement, a small packet of ground coffee, a small scented candle (to help relax amidst the stress).
  4. Contact local nursing homes and assisted living facilities to see if you can help their seniors feel less isolated. Ideas include holding senior interviews over the phone or via video chat, writing seniors’ biographies, making cards or crafts that offer a message of hope.
  5. Implement a “positivity campaign” to flood social media with positive and encouraging memes, messages, prayers or hopeful videos.
  6. Create cards or crafts with prayers or words of encouragement for patients who are homebound or in hospitals.
  7. Plant seed starters in your own yard or garden to be transplanted into a community garden at a later date.
  8. Work with a local animal shelter to create adoption flyers or videos for animals. Consider fostering an animal (with parents’ permission!) as shelters cope with fewer volunteers to care for their animals.
  9. Organize a fundraiser by writing letters or using social media.  Ask friends and family to donate money to your parish, Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, or other organizations working to help those in need. 
  10. Give blood to the Red Cross.
  11. Sew face masks for hospital personnel.  There are many tutorials online such as this one.  Or, you can contact local healthcare centers like Capital Region Medical Center in Jefferson City to learn how to make them and how to donate them. 
  12. Cook a meal or baked goods and deliver them to a neighbor in need such as an elderly person or family with children.
  13. Create a personal prayer ministry.  Say a Rosary or attend an online Mass for the intention of the sick or for healthcare workers.  Do an online Stations of the Cross or light a virtual candle for those in need.  Livestream a prayer event from the diocese, the USCCB, or the Vatican and offer it up to the sick, dying, and those who care for them.  Google Catholic prayers to say for the sick or during times of quarantine.  There are many to choose from!
  14. Contact your parish to see what needs there may be and offer to help. 
  15. Work with a local homeless shelter or food pantry to see if they have unique needs related to the outbreak affecting the people they serve.

Some considerations when involving teens in COVID-19 related ministry at your parish:

  1. Always make sure minors and chaperones comply with local, state, and national health directives. 
  2. Always make sure that any adults working directly with minors in volunteer ministry are compliant with Safe Environment procedures and protocols.  This includes VIRTUS training, background checks, signed pastoral code of conduct, and a completed Child Abuse Neglect Registry Form.
  3. Always get parental consent when involving minors in a ministry that requires travel to/from parish property, or involves any risk of contracting COVID-19.  The Office of Youth Ministry and Religious Ed has developed a release/waiver form adapted to include language related to COVID-19. Youth Consent Form, adapted for COVID-19.