FULTON — Volunteer: Someone who selflessly shares their time and effort to meet a need or advance the mission of an organization.
Whether a person has served as a volunteer or know someone who has, it’s clear that the role volunteers play in communities cannot be underestimated. For Oswego County Opportunities (OCO), the community action agency for Oswego County, volunteers are a priceless asset that enables the agency to meet its mission, goals and objectives.
OCO provides 50-plus services that aid families and individuals throughout Oswego County, serving 14,000 people directly and impacting the lives of many more each year. The effectiveness of these services is greatly enhanced by a corps of approximately 1,200 volunteers. Last year OCO volunteers logged over 26,000 hours of service and assisted OCO in a variety of capacities. From literacy education to peer educators and youth leaders, to serving meals at OCO’s dining and activity centers, the assistance that OCO receives from its cherished volunteers is immeasurable.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting mandates for social distancing created a number of challenges for OCO’s volunteers. With the health and safety of OCO’s staff, volunteers and consumers first and foremost, programs that rely on volunteers and collaborating partners have been able to continue services uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are examples from two of OCO’s programs, OCO SCORE and Literacy Volunteers of Oswego County.
SCORE (Support, Collaboration, Opportunity, Resources, Education and Employment) brings together more than 20 community partners working together to provide a workforce development program aimed at creating job readiness. One of the key factors to achieving that goal is promoting empowerment and job readiness by making it easy to access the resources needed to do so.
“Education, childcare, transportation, job skills, and interpersonal skills are all barriers that can impede someone from their goal of landing a job they can grow with,” said OCO Collaboration Manager for Workforce Development Tina Eusepi. “Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic SCORE provided a one-stop center where people could visit to receive information, training, and guidance from a number of partnering agencies that offer a range of specific services. To adhere to social distancing guidelines we were no longer able to have face-to-face interaction; however, SCORE and our partner agencies were determined to continue offering our services.”
To that end Eusepi established a virtual hub on Facebook and she also conducts online meetings. “Our partners and volunteers are joining us for weekly meetings and live question and answer sessions. While it is a different experience for both our volunteers and our consumers, it has been successful and allows us to continue offering our services.”
For OCO’s Literacy Volunteers of Oswego County, the name says it all. Literacy Volunteers’ tutors provide weekly tutoring services in reading, writing, math, English speaking, computer, and workplace skills. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact on the Literacy Volunteers program; one that affected both the adult learners and the tutors.
“Tutoring is done face to face, but of course we are not able to do that now,” explained Literacy Volunteers Program Coordinator Meg Henderson. “The way we deliver our service has completely changed during this pandemic. Tutors are meeting weekly over the phone or virtually through a platform like Zoom. They have also had to adjust by learning new technologies to best assist their students with instruction remotely.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenging situation, Literacy Volunteers’ tutors have not let that deter them from working with their students.
Laurie Wood discovered Literacy Volunteers after reading an article about the program. She attended a Literacy Volunteers workshop to learn more about the organization. “I was working at a local elementary school as a teaching assistant, working with struggling readers,” explained Wood. “The idea of volunteering my time to help adults with literacy as well appealed to me. I’ve been tutoring for the past eight years and it has been a very rewarding experience.”
Rita Tickle was introduced to Literacy Volunteers while serving on the United Way of Greater Oswego County’s Allocation Committee. Members of the committee visited United Way member agencies to learn more about the programs they offered.
“Literacy Volunteers really caught my attention,” said Tickle. “We visited with the students and I was impressed with how far they had come and what they had achieved. I decided then that when I retired I would join Literacy Volunteers.”
Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic Literacy Volunteer tutors met with their students at the library for one-on-one sessions where they would follow a lesson plan designed to meet the needs of the student. Once the shelter in place and social distancing mandates were implemented, Literacy Volunteers had to reimagine how the learning process would continue.
“For the sake of our learners we knew we had to continue our tutoring services,” said Henderson. “We prepared a variety of learning materials tailored to the educational needs of the students and distributed them to our tutors and their students. In addition, we are utilizing video conferencing for meeting virtually with our tutors and students whenever possible.”
With in-person tutoring no longer an option Literacy Volunteers tutors are working with their students via the phone or internet.
Both Wood and Tickle have found that despite the challenges there are benefits to meeting through technology.
“I’ve found that it provides greater flexibility,” said Wood. “My learner hopes to enter high school equivalency classes soon, so it is essential that we maintain continuity so there is minimal regression in his skills. We are meeting via phone and email and as a result we have been able to spend more time learning now than when we met at the library. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to help this person change his life. His self-confidence has soared. I love seeing him excited about his abilities.”
Tickle has been working with her learner over the phone as well and noted that consistency is crucial to success. “My learner is working on improving his reading skills. By continuing our learning sessions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we eliminate the possibility of regression. He continues to read over the phone and I have encouraged him to read on his own as often as possible. His motivation levels have not waned and his confidence continues to grow. Literacy Volunteers is a great program and I’m happy to be a part of it,” said Tickle.
Literacy Volunteers of Oswego County would not be the success it is without the dedicated volunteers who freely give of their time and talents to better the lives of their learners.
“Our tutors are amazing,” said Henderson. “The way they have adapted to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies their commitment to Literacy Volunteers and our learners. We couldn’t do it without them!”
OCO provides 50-plus services that people can access safely and securely. Check the website for updates on program schedules and community resources to help people get through this difficult time: https://www.oco.org/covid-19-updates Call our hotline 1-877-342-7618 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday for assistance with basic needs.