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Public Kinship: Volunteerism vs. The Virus

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Op-ed by Dr. Bobby William Austin

President of Neighborhood Associates

Mother’s Day: a time to consider the intimacies of family, of generations, of care. Mother’s Day 2020 brought unforeseen challenges to these intimacies. Families were unable to observe long-running traditions. Generations were forcibly separated by distance: in some cases little more than six feet … or even a pane of glass. Care had to be reimagined to ensure health and safety.

Social distancing guidelines have surely left some groups more isolated than others. Residents of retirement and assisted living communities, for example, are at a higher risk of the virus. Visits from family and hallmates are limited and in many cases prohibited. It is difficult and risky for them to procure their own food and other necessaries. The energies of staff, medical professionals, and partnering organizations are stretched to the limit.

But across the country, in places like the Phoebe Berks retirement community, Public Kinship is bringing young volunteers together with seniors to find solutions.

At this development just outside Reading, Pennsylvania, high school students are volunteering time to pack and deliver three meals a day to seniors. Many students have a 30- to 45-hour week of volunteering, even making handwritten notes and decorations to cheer up isolated residents.

Youth-led community service is an integral part of Public Kinship. Students in the community showing up to support at-risk populations builds neighborly relations and fosters inter-generational connections. What’s happening at Phoebe Berks demonstrates the common good of humanity, especially at the local level.

And this is not just happening in Pennsylvania. Across the nation, leaders are offering support to those who need it most — on foot and on-line. In St. Louis, Missouri, residents have organized a volunteer service to bring food and medicine to those at risk or who would have trouble leaving their houses. The college-centered nonprofit Leave It To Us is creating and funding chapters across the country to buy groceries for at-risk populations in their area. (Follow the links to learn more about these efforts!)

These stories show us not only the importance of access to healthy food and local resources, but also the benefits of a strong, civically engaged network of residents working hard and long to reknit the social fabric which Covid has frayed. Especially in times of crisis, good neighbors can make all the difference. Let this Mother’s Day be a celebration of how Kinship becomes Public.

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