Activate Good is Building an Army of Helpers To Support The Greater Triangle
In 2004, Amber Smith decided to take a road trip with her best friend with the mission of performing random acts of kindness and volunteering to help until their money ran out. They managed to spread good deeds across more than 20 states before that happened.
When they returned home, they weren’t content to go back to their regularly scheduled activities. They wanted to turn their experience into something that could have a big impact on the region they love.
With that passion, they launched Activate Good, a nonprofit organization in the Triangle that aims to create a world in which everybody acts on their power to make an impact, in 2005.
In honor of National Volunteer Month (April), we recently interviewed Amber from a social distance about her commitment to creating a better region, how the current COVID-19 pandemic is changing volunteerism in the Greater Triangle, and how Activate Good has adapted to offer virtual volunteer opportunities in response.
1. Tell Us More About Activate Good’s Mission
Activate Good aims to create a world in which everybody acts on their power to make an impact. We connect individuals, groups, and businesses to volunteer needs with over 500 charitable organizations and schools around the Triangle area!
We got our start back in 2005, just after a 2.5-month road trip across the country in Fall 2004 that I took with my best friend to do random acts of kindness and volunteer work. We made it to over 20 states before running out of money! When we returned home, we were inspired to launch Activate Good because we’d met so many people on the road who wanted to do good, but felt unsure how to get started.
We figured, “if we can help 10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000 others get started in helping their community, we can make a bigger impact than we could alone!”
2. How Is The Current COVID-19 Crisis Affecting Volunteerism Locally?
We’re still working to gather the data and feedback on the full impact it has had. In the urgency, we’re just focusing on getting help out to as many causes as we can and haven’t really paused to track all of that yet.
I can tell you that in the first week in early March, as the outbreak was ramping up, we had over 200 volunteers have to cancel their commitments. After that, we saw dozens of our nonprofit partners have to close down part or all of their operations to help stop the spread, which meant they couldn’t provide their critical services to folks.
I noted the other week that what we’re seeing is, truly, what the world would look like without volunteers. They are critical. We’ve always known that and it has driven our mission, but it’s a stark image to see the community have to operate without its usual volunteer support.
We’ve also had over 50 locals sign up to support Remote Volunteer efforts in the past two weeks too, and expect that number to grow significantly over the next couple of weeks.
3. How Is The Need For Volunteers Changing During This Pandemic?
The issue is that so many nonprofits have had to temporarily close their doors and can’t accept volunteers right now due to community efforts to slow the spread. However, those that can still accept volunteers need them urgently.
The most urgent needs revolve around meeting peoples’ basic needs — hunger, shelter, education, and more. Specifically, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and school system sites are working to get meals to kids who relied on being in school for meal support. They need that volunteer support. Our nonprofit friends serving locals experiencing homelessness can’t accept their usual volunteer support but they need donations of food, cleaning supplies, and cash to serve their populations.
Activate Good is working to promote and connect people to those urgent needs but we also know that recovery will be long-term and we hope community members who can will support now, and later too.
4. What Is Virtual Volunteering? Is This A New Idea That’s Come From Our Community’s Need To Practice Social Distancing.
“Virtual volunteering” has been around for a while, but it’s definitely having a moment right now!
5. Activate Good Has Many Virtual Volunteering Opportunities On Its Site. Were These Opportunities You Created In Partnership With Your Nonprofit Partners?
Activate Good reached out to nonprofit partners a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the outbreak taking hold in the Triangle, to get a sense of what volunteer projects they had that might be able to take place remotely and a few nonprofit partners already had needs like that promoted for locals to check out on our volunteer platform (https://activategood.org/). We also had a few of our own remote projects in progress already, so amplifying those needs was fairly smooth.
6. Are People Gravitating More Toward Virtual Volunteer Opportunities Right Now Than In-person Experiences?
People, in general, are really helping to step up however they can. For the first few weeks, I think we saw more interest in the in-person needs since there was more urgency with those and a sense that we needed to meet those needs before a stay-at-home order was in play.
Now there’s growing interest in the virtual opportunities. We’ve developed Do-It-Yourself instructions for most of them, including kid-friendly remote volunteer opportunities, so families are enjoying those ways to help and using volunteering as a teaching moment right now too, about how helping the community in times like this is not only important but can encourage gratefulness for the roof over your head.
7. How Are You Envisioning That This Experience Might Change The Volunteerism Landscape?
What we’re seeing right now is the type of response we might see in a disaster relief scenario: a sense of urgency and a lot of people stepping up to help. It’s amazing. But similar to a disaster situation, we and other nonprofits know that there will still be a big need for volunteer support during long-term recovery — meaning 3, 6, 12 months from now.
Here’s what makes this interesting uncharted territory: unlike a disaster situation, which typically involves a disaster concentrated in a specific geographical area, COVID-19 is affecting literally every single person in our community in some way. It’s creating a unique shared experience.
Personally, I’m noticing the rare humans I get to interact with being even more friendly, seemingly yearning for greater connection to strangers, than usual. And statistically, when you see a greater feeling of connection to community, you see a higher rate of volunteerism too.
So I’m idealistic and optimistic that we could be entering a new age of heightened empathy, compassion, and service. Our community needs that, and people are capable of it, so I say we do what we can now to cultivate that culture for later. If we can, then if or when something like this happens again, we’ll be more ready for it, because we’ll all have worked hard before that to lift each other up and put an infrastructure in place that protects us all a little better.
8. Anything Else You Want To Add?
We hope that anyone interested in serving local causes — now, or later, in-person (safely) or remotely — will not hesitate to reach out to us: Volunteer@ActivateGood.org.