By Betsy McWhirt, Senior Director of Volunteer Operations
Since 1941, millions of volunteers have given hundreds of millions of hours to support service members and their families from World War II and the Korean conflict, to Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.
And today, during National Volunteer Week, as Americans are being called on to make an unprecedented sacrifice on a scale unseen since World War II, USO volunteers are once again taking on the challenge to support new ways of mission delivery.
One of the great strengths of the USO has been its ability to adapt to an ever-changing world. Sometimes change comes gradually and we have lots of time to prepare. But other times, as in 9/11 or our current world pandemic, it seems that overnight the reality we once knew no longer exists.
One reality that never changes, however, is the dedication of our USO volunteers. As we’ve all had to pivot rapidly to adjust to a “new normal,” the ingenuity and creativity of USO volunteers to keep our mission alive during this difficult time has been nothing short of inspirational.
With the majority of USO centers temporarily closed to visitors, volunteers are using a combination of “old school” methods and innovative technology to keep the mission moving forward. For starters, they are reaching out to each other for regular check-ins through old fashioned phone calls and hand-written notes to make sure the team is strong.
Many volunteers are also displaying messages of hope and encouragement to our first responders, service members and their families on handmade messages taped to their living room windows. There is something deeply personal and endearing about seeing a big, red hand-drawn heart on a window poster, or an uneven smile on a happy face that helps to connect us in this socially distant moment.
And in the true USO spirit of adaptability, many of those same volunteers are learning for the first time how to use technology platforms such as FaceTime, Facebook and Zoom for virtual meetings, messages of support and online social gatherings. They are posting photos and words of encouragement to service members on USO center Facebook pages, “sharing” key USO initiatives through social media and attending volunteer meetings or helping to facilitate programs on virtual conference sites.
Given that USO volunteers have literally “sprung into action” for the past eight decades when their nation called, it’s no wonder that they have once again learned how to quickly change gears to keep that incredible spirit of service not just alive, but thriving.
The USO – and indeed, the world – will be a little different when we come out on the other end of this pandemic. But the constancy of our volunteers has been at the heart and soul of the USO for nearly 80 years, and they will take us into many, many decades to come of connecting service members to family, home and country.
USO volunteers, we miss you, and we can’t wait to see you again!
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