It feels like it was just yesterday when I was laughing mindlessly with a trash bag in hand and a trash picker in the other. As my friends and I picked up the discarded pieces of plastic and styrofoam along the creek of Edith Moore Sanctuary, I felt as if my body was lost in time, both focused on gathering trash, as well as feeling joyous that everyone around me was having so much fun doing something that would seem otherwise mundane: cleaning up a creek. The only thing is, this was before the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19.
Navigating Volunteer-Work and Coronavirus
During the months of sheltering inside for the safety of our community, the extra time we had spent on community service was suddenly staring us in our faces. With little to no in-person volunteer opportunities available, it was hard to imagine how we could help make a difference in our community. Several months later when businesses, parks, and stores began reopening, I felt both relief and shaken anxiety. There was hope that students could begin participating in community service again, but one question haunted me: how was I going to lead a club that would safely allow them to do so?
No longer an officer-in-training of my school’s club, Students Protecting America\’s Animals, I had to step up and lead with my Co-President and our other dedicated, but just as anxious officers. The uncertainty of the coronavirus rocked our initial ambitions for our organization, but it wasn’t until I remembered how much fun we had while volunteering at the Edith Moore Sanctuary that our one goal persevered through a global pandemic: to provide other members the same feeling of accomplishment and joy we had when we volunteered before COVID-19.
It is now January, and for everyone, wearing a face mask in public has become the new norm. As I spoke to the other SPAA officers and members about the importance of keeping our masks on while cleaning up the nature sanctuary, I couldn’t help but feel a little disheartened. Now as we stare a widespread virus in the face, it felt sad to remember how once, I could see everyone’s smiling faces. However, the gratefulness I felt for having the opportunity to give our members a chance to volunteer at Edith Moore once again overpowered my longing for the “old norm”.
More than ever, I realized a piece of fabric covering our mouths and noses did not stop anyone’s laughs, smiles, or sighs after completing a challenging but rewarding task. As we swept, dug, and picked up trash, I realized that helping our environment is not exclusive to keeping our communities safe, nor is it exclusive to still having fun! It is our responsibility to do our part in limiting the spread of COVID-19, so remember to keep your masks on, even when helping your community. Not to mention, I can’t wait for another opportunity to volunteer for Houston Audubon (masks up, of course!)
By Sunny Hou, Co-President, Students Protecting America\’s Animals (SPAA), Langham Creek High School