A Volunteer's Story: How to Volunteer During a Pandemic

Synclair Gonzalez talks about the creative solution she found with CILA

A Volunteer’s Story: How to Volunteer During a Pandemic

Synclair Gonzalez talks about the creative solution she found with CILA

I planned on volunteering at CILA’s schools this summer, but COVID-19 cancelled that and created a much more exciting endeavor….

My name is Synclair and I am a recent graduate of Cornell University. This past school year, I was given the opportunity to pursue an international service experience when I was awarded a full ride grant from Cornell that would fund all of my expenses related to travel and cost of living in the approved country of my choice. 

After receiving this grant, I made two lists: where I wanted to travel and what kind of work I wanted to do. At Cornell, I studied communication with a minor in Spanish, so that definitely drew me to seek volunteer work in a Spanish-speaking country. However, deciding what kind of volunteer work I wanted to do was less direct. Initial searches of how to volunteer in México or Spain presented me with an abundance of first aid and child care opportunities. I remember thinking that these opportunities seemed great, but would they really allow me to make the best use of my skills and knowledge? I decided that some form of child education program seemed like the best fit for me since I had experience as an au pair in Spain during a past summer. Hence, after much thinking and “googling”, I stumbled upon Centro Infantil de Los Angeles’ website. I was so impressed by CILA´S mission and community initiatives that I wanted to join their team!

My initial plan was to fly to San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato, México, to help teach and care for the children at the CILA daycare and preschool for a month, and then return to California to begin my job at IBM as a marketer for their social impact/ corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. However, the pandemic presented many obstacles to that plan. First of all, CILA’s daycare center had to temporarily close through the end of the year, and the preschool would not be starting the semester until August with distance learning. Secondly, I deeply questioned the safeness of travel…but I still wanted to volunteer!

I expressed this concern and desire to Julie Foley, the Volunteer and Media Coordinator, and together we brainstormed solutions to overcome these obstacles. We came up with a way that I could still volunteer, but do so virtually! The current atmosphere that the pandemic has created; with more people working from home and Zoom meetings becoming the norm, definitely helped us to envision this project.

Working with Rachel Frey, CILA´s Director of Development, we outlined a seven-week plan where I could draw on my interest in CSR by finding and mapping out organizations that could be potential sponsors for CILA. Additionally, I will be creating templates to help future volunteers and CILA employees find donors in a more organized and simple way

I was unsure, however, if I could still receive funding since I would not be volunteering in person. I reached out to Cornell, and to my surprise, my funding was still approved! Cornell’s goal with the grant is to encourage students to volunteer with an international organization, and because I was still going to do meaningful work, they decided to respect their commitment for funding. They were even willing to fund my current living expenses for the seven week period of volunteer work.

By the end of my virtual volunteer project, I will be leaving a great and sustainable impact that will benefit CILA much differently than if I had taught at the school for a month. This pandemic has given me the opportunity to make a difference while continuing with my ordinary life here at home in California. I am so excited to begin the journey!