Sophomores Junko Takahashi and Sabrina Munro opened a chapter of the COVID-19 Student Service Corps (CSSC) on April 8 with the goal of creating student-learning service projects to aid pandemic relief efforts.
During the past month, the University of Richmond CSSC has started six at-home service projects with the help of its 65 members, who meet virtually to work on the projects, Munro said. Some of the UR CSSC activities focus on gathering supplies to donate, such as a craft supply drive for occupational therapists, a personal protective equipment fundraiser, a handmade mask project and a project to help with efforts in the greater Richmond area.
Other projects concentrate on creating a larger sense of community, such as teaching students how to create connections in their neighborhoods and producing content for a wellness blog in collaboration with the UR Wellness Bandits.
Before the UR CSSC decides where to send the supplies that its members gather or make, members meet with health professionals via Zoom to decide how they can best help, Munro said.
“I was on the phone with Dr. Janine Jagger, an epidemiologist who has done a lot of work on PPE, and she was telling me about other household items that can be used to make masks,” Munro said. “Recently we had finals, so we couldn't really do a lot then, and now it's just like we have to get all of our ducks in a row before we can start actually doing things. Because we want to do a good job. I wouldn't want to give out masks that will do more harm than good.”
Munro said the members have been able to have discussions with healthcare professionals by contacting them through LinkedIn and with the help of the organization’s adviser, professor of political science Rick Mayes.
“Just having a good intention, wanting to help by itself, is not always helpful," Mayes said. "It actually can get in the way. You can actually make things harder because you have to be babysat, and you can put yourself in harm's way. You take that desire to do something, and then you do your homework by talking to experts and say, ‘You tell us what can we actually do that is genuinely helpful.’”
Takahashi and Munro first heard about the CSSC through Mayes, who was their professor in the Healthcare, the Environment and Biomedicine SSIR program, Munro said. Mayes sent his SSIR students an email on April 8 to see if anyone would be interested in starting a UR chapter of the CSSC, Munro said.
“[Munro] reached out to me and she was like, ‘Do you want to do this with me?’" Takahashi said. "We just started with, like, that initial information and kind of went from there."
Takahashi and Munro originally planned to volunteer with The Health Wagon, a non-profit organization that provides healthcare in Southwest Virginia, but they were unable to do so because of COVID-19, Takahashi said.
Consequently, they agreed to create the UR CSSC not only to help those affected by the pandemic but also to keep boredom at bay.
“I have a lot of free time on my hands," Munro said. "And then also, it just felt wrong to sit at home and complain. This is a pretty good way to do something that could actually help others.”
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After gauging student interest in the program among organizations they are a part of, the co-leaders said they decided to enlist other students to help them lead the service projects.
“Once we realized that other students were willing to be involved, that's when we really started pushing forward,” Takahashi said. “We're really happy to see the support, of course, because it's always good to see students wanting to get involved, and I think [UR] has a really large community of students that want to get involved.”
The UR CSSC has not obtained official recognition by UR because the Center for Student Involvement is not accepting any more student organization applications until the fall, Takahashi and Munro said.
Because the organization lacks funding, the UR CSSC has been limited in the scale of its operations.
“We were hoping to be a group recognized by the university," Takahashi said. "But unfortunately, due to coronavirus, they're not accepting any more applications or looking to fund any more student organizations until the fall.
"Therefore, we haven't been able to get funding from the school, which makes projects a little more difficult. But we decided to keep going in the process because we think that this is like a really important thing.”
Takahashi and Munro said that although they did not have a long-term plan for the UR CSSC, the organization would remain active as long as there was a need.
“The most important thing is that we're helping in a sustainable way," Munro said. "So, if it comes to it and our services are still needed in the fall, then we certainly have enough people to keep it running. I hope that, starting in the fall, if we're still needed, we can reapply to get on campus and to get funding.”
Mayes pointed out that the possibility of a modified on-campus semester this fall, requiring students to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other health measures, might provide opportunities for students who are interested in the type of work the UR CSSC is doing.
Mayes said the UR CSSC members could have positions similar to those of RAs and OAs.
"There could be a whole new branch of students who are really trained to focus on keeping the campus safe and keeping students safe," Mayes said.
Contact news editor Jackie Llanos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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