NDMU Virtual Volunteering in COVID-19 Times

June 19, 2020

Written by: Hannah Cook                                                                                           

When Notre Dame of Maryland University made the decision to cancel all in-person meetings
on March 11 th in response to the COVID-19 crisis, it was clear that things were going to be
different. The York Road Education and Service (YES) Program at NDMU cancelled its first large-
scale mentorship event, scheduled for the next day. As the CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA and YES
Program Coordinator at NDMU, I knew that all the work put into this semester – the new
volunteer recruits, the excursions between NDMU and partner schools, even the stable rhythm
of weekly mentoring and tutoring relationships – would be swept away. After months of
research and planning the new mentoring program, set to expand on the year-old tutoring
program between NDMU and partner schools, we found ourselves closing the excursions and
in-person programs, barely a month old.

What has followed has been a time of change and adaptability for everyone. We knew we too
would have to adapt our program’s mission, but I had no idea what the next few months would
hold or what I could do as a CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA to continue to serve the community. The
upswing of a year’s growth had ground to a halt. For me, running through the abundance of
uncertainty and vulnerability was the question: What next?

Who We Are
The York Road Education and Service (YES) Program is a tutoring and mentoring partnership
between Notre Dame of Maryland University and Govans Elementary and Tunbridge PCS. We
have worked with our partner schools for three semesters to send volunteer tutors to meet
weekly with elementary and middle school students. This past semester, we implemented
mentoring relationships into the program for the first time, with the vision of increasing college
awareness and preparedness among the students we work with.

Although some of our plans and mentoring matches were suspended for the school year, I have
been overwhelmed by the spirit of partnership and service that sprung up over the past three
months. We knew that, by switching to virtual instruction, an increased number of students
would need our support. With the half-dozen volunteer tutors who were able to serve during
the shutdown, we were able to continue to offer as-needed services virtually. I want to take
this opportunity to highlight some of the volunteers who have served during this uncertain

Bintou has been a volunteer tutor with the YES Program since Fall 2019. She jumped at the
chance to continue volunteering, despite the academic and social uncertainty: “My decision to
start virtual tutoring was prompted by realizing how difficult it is not to be able to readily go to
teachers to get one-on-one help on a concept or assignment not understood.” Working with
both of our school partners before the shutdown, Bintou has tutored a number of students

over the course of two semesters. The new challenge of virtual tutoring has only served to
enhance her value as a tutor in the program: “The experience has been wonderful so far
especially given the involvement and support of the parents.”

Fatima has also been with the YES Program for a year. Since March, she has continued to
support students at her school site, Govans Elementary: “This experience has been very
different than in-person [tutoring], because I have been interacting with the parents more, and
providing tips on how to approach certain lessons. In-person, I was used to working with the
students solely and engaging in more tactile activities.” Although her work is restricted to
weekly phone and email check-ins, Fatima has a positive outlook on the service she is providing:
“It was surprising to see how quickly everyone began to adapt to online courses because it can
be difficult; I really commend the parents.”

Although YES Program tutoring has a year and a half of partnership growth to support the
transition to virtual tutoring, our mentoring program was only a month old when the in-person
programs were shut down. Cara shared her experience: “It has been nice to catch up with my
mentee through this time, but it is different not having one-on-one interactions.” Fostering our
young mentor relationships is paramount to their success. Despite the personal trials mentors
faced as undergraduate students, the University’s closure, relocation and their own virtual
learning, I was moved by the dedication they continued to show to their volunteer obligations
and mentees.

Moving Forward
With weeks left in my service term, curious about what the YES Program will look like with a
new CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA member in this position, I feel grateful for the opportunity to
have coordinated volunteers who have such devotion to service. The uncertainty I carried with
me on March 11 th was quickly eased as our volunteers stepped into their new roles. Counting
down until I am off to my new adventure, I feel confident that the YES Program will continue to
grow into a sustainable community partnership.

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