Susan R. Madsen: Each of us has a chance to be the helper

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) A sewing volunteer, left, hands masks to Jean Bingham, president of the Relief Society, in Murray on Saturday, April 18, 2020.

Most of us are familiar with the inspiring quote from Mr. Rogers about how to find solace during a crisis: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And during this time of global crisis, I would urge us to take it one step further: Be the helper.

This past week has been National Volunteer Week, and while many traditional ways to “get out and serve” are closed to us, there are several opportunities to help others.

And Utahns help like no other. For the past 13 years in a row, Utah has ranked first in the nation for percentage of residents who regularly volunteer, at 51% (a full 20 points higher than the national average of 30.3%). And here at the Utah Women & Leadership Project, we found women’s volunteer rates are six percentage points higher than men.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, in 2018 more than 1,152,208 Utahns gave 133.9 million hours of their time in volunteer service. The monetary value of this service was an estimated $3.2 billion.

You may wonder if you can help others while still complying with physical distancing rules, and if there are ways to get kids involved. Absolutely! Here are a few suggestions, many of which could include children.

The Young Mentors Program is looking for high school or college age kids to teach students from 1st to 12th grade for the subject they are comfortable with (for example: math, English, science). It’s done via Zoom, Facebook or Skype with a very flexible schedule. An ironic truth is that while your high schooler may have yet to get on to Canvas to do their assignments, they would jump at the chance to help a first grader with their social studies. We will often do for others what we won’t do for ourselves. No promises, but being a teacher and a mentor to others may even motivate them to get out of bed before noon.

Another organization that you can work with from home is Operation Gratitude, which has an urgent need for letters specifically written to deployed troops and first responders, but also to emergency medical personnel on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals and families can send notes to these heroes, and they have the option for teachers who are running virtual classrooms to get all their students to participate. It is a great way to “look for the helpers” and, as we share our appreciation, we feel less helpless.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has coordinated with local health care workers to get masks made and distributed to those in need. At JustServe.org, there are CDC guidelines, sign up instructions, and drop off locations.

It’s timely to remember that the original Relief Society was started in 1842 because women wanted to sew clothing for the workers on the Nauvoo Temple, and was restarted in Salt Lake City in 1854 when again the women banded together to sew for people in need. It seems fitting that the organization is once again using such a basic skill as sewing to support people in need.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed in the midst of a global health crisis, especially when as Utahns we are traditionally doers and servers. But we are not helpless. Distance does not mean isolation, and contact does not require touching. We can still reach out and be the helpers we long to see.

Susan R. Madsen

Susan R. Madsen, Ed.D., is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.