Volunteerism in a Time of COVID-19: How This USO Volunteer Used Her Fitness Passion to Give Back

By Marcie Smith West

Shonda Nichols was stranded at SeaTac International Airport when she first discovered the USO.

In 2004 Shonda, a military spouse, and her then- four-year-old son were traveling through Seattle when their connecting flight was severely delayed. For the next three days, the duo spent several hours in the USO SeaTac Airport center as they waited for a flight to their next destination.

This experience of support during an uncertain time left an impression on Shonda – so much so that in 2017 when she was looking for volunteer opportunities in Guam, she chose to become a USO volunteer to give back to an organization that helped her when she needed assistance.

Shonda has since volunteered at the USO Andersen location in Guam for three years and has given over 1,000 hours of service. She loves helping with center events and holiday celebrations.

“She is very consistent and responsible,” said USO Center Manager Yana Blair. “When she signs up for a shift, we know she is showing up because she has never canceled.”

Recently, many of the facilities on Andersen Air Force Base, including the USO center, have been temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic – but that hasn’t stopped Shonda’s commitment to volunteerism and the USO mission.

Prior to COVID-19, when Shonda wasn’t volunteering at the USO center, she was at the base gym, pursuing her lifelong passion of physical fitness.

USO Guam Volunteer Shonda Nichols demonstrates a fitness move. | Photo credit USO Guam

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the base gym and the USO center, Shonda needed to find a creative way to continue working out and volunteering for the USO. That’s when she came up with the idea to record fitness videos called “U-SO Fit” – for the USO Guam team to post on their Facebook pages as a virtual program offering.

It usually took Shonda a couple of days of research to plan each workout. Then, once a workout was ready to be filmed, she spent an afternoon recording each routine before sending it over to USO Overseas Volunteer of the Year 2019, April Barzanti, for editing.

“It was a huge weight off my shoulders when Shonda offered to make the videos,” Yana said. “The only requirement we had was the workouts couldn’t require any specialized equipment. They needed to be routines that anyone could do at home.”

Yana knew that when Shonda committed to producing the videos she didn’t have to worry about them getting completed. Shonda even coordinated with other volunteers to complete the videos when she had to leave Guam for a family emergency.

Producing the videos also helped Shonda stay connected to her friends and family. Some have even participated in front or behind the camera. Shonda’s commitment to volunteerism with the USO has made USO Guam’s “U-SO Fit” virtual program a success with USO centers worldwide. The videos have been shared 80 times by a dozen centers in five countries, reaching close to 19,000 people.

Shonda is happy that her videos were successful, but notes that wasn’t the reason she chose to produce them.

“Your health is the most important thing you have,” Shonda said. “The videos are meant to be quick and easy to do. You can do one set of reps, or the complete video depending on your time and ability. I hope we have been able to help people maintain their fitness goals throughout quarantine. That is the reason we do the videos.”

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.

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