SSL opportunities shift during pandemic

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Aman Shergill

Junior and Conquering Global Issues president Eknoor Kaur volunteers at a drive-through.

The pandemic has limited students’ access to SSL opportunities and has led to adjustments in service work activities. Although traditional volunteer opportunities tend to involve close contact with others, a plethora of virtual and socially distanced activities have emerged to allow students to reach the graduation requirement of 75 hours of volunteering.

Because the pandemic places significant limitations on student activities, Montgomery County has expanded its service work requirements to temporarily include virtual opportunities. For instance, the county has developed the Choose Respect video contest, which gives participants the chance to earn 10 SSL hours for developing an effective video that addresses abuse and bystander intervention in abusive situations. The county has also created a student-to-student extracurricular series for SSL, which allows participants to promote their extracurricular and leadership skills to inspire and engage their peers.

Students have taken initiative to provide volunteer opportunities to their peers. The Conquering Global Issues (CGI) club offers service work opportunities such as volunteering at food drive-throughs and packing dry food for distribution to those in need. “We are aware that there are many people in need during the pandemic, so we are happy to provide this help. We are also grateful for the support from the community and the students who help out. We work to provide opportunities for the students while maintaining COVID-aware, safe conditions,” club president junior Eknoor Kaur said.

There are many more ‘virtual’ opportunities this year and that seems to be building. There are still many in-person activities to choose from and participate in as usual, but even these have many more safety measures built in to keep individuals safe.”

— Christopher Thompson

As volunteer opportunities have made the transition to the online and socially-distanced setting, activities that otherwise would not have been available to students have emerged. Student musicians provide online concerts at the Lutheran Village at Miller’s Grant, and the Link Generations organization has made it possible for pupils to write letters to isolated elder individuals. “There are many more ‘virtual’ opportunities this year and that seems to be building. There are still many in-person activities to choose from and participate in as usual, but even these have many more safety measures built in to keep individuals safe. I believe [the virtual format] may have added opportunities for people that may have never wanted to go to a specific site and preferred to do something from home,” SSL coordinator Christopher Thompson said.

According to Thompson, other groups that continue to provide SSL opportunities for students include Small Things Matter, the Tacey Foundation, Catholic Charities, the Soda Fund and the JC Heyman Interages Center. “All [of these groups] have a number of interesting at-home opportunities to earn hours, along with many of the Wootton clubs,” Thompson said.

While the pandemic has created a unique situation for students to adapt to in terms of garnering SSL hours to graduate, the transition has been effective, as new virtual opportunities and socially-distanced opportunities continue to be available. “[Although] we are limited to what we can do [virtually] and can’t go to a lot of places in person, during this time, there [are] new SSL opportunities for us that may not have been available during a normal year,” senior Jim Hsu said.