“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”
— Elizabeth Andrew
Stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have upended many aspects of life, not least of which is volunteerism. And while the number of people volunteering has been declining in recent years, those who do volunteer are finding unique ways to stay engaged despite the coronavirus.
Like many nonprofits, The ALS Association relies on volunteers to carry out our mission and serve our ALS community. In honor of National Volunteer Week, we are shining a spotlight on one example of the many innovative ways our volunteers are pressing on in the face of social distancing.
In this story, what began as a volunteer opportunity to help someone with ALS and their family turned into a friendly connection, one that may have never happened otherwise. Meet Faith Strautmann and Robert Meyer.
Inspired by several ALS families she had volunteered with throughout high school, Faith Strautmann reached out and became involved with the ALS Association St. Louis Regional Chapter, taking on additional volunteer opportunities over the next few years. She became actively involved with the chapter’s events like the Walk to Defeat ALS®, and continued to work closely with the ALS community.
In the beginning of January, the chapter’s volunteer coordinator approached her about a new opportunity to volunteer with a person living with ALS near her home, and she knew it was for her.
Robert “Bob” Meyer is just 54 and was diagnosed with Familial ALS in April 2019. “My diagnosis came after 4 MRI’s, two nerve conduction tests, extensive blood work, and a conversation with my doctor,” he said. Knowing that he was starting to need a little help around the house, Bob reached out to his care services coordinator at his local chapter of The ALS Association for more information. The chapter’s volunteer coordinator explained she could arrange for a volunteer to help with some household chores: maybe some light housekeeping, making a cake, reading a book, or going for an outing. Bob agreed and was put in contact with Faith.
Looking for more than one volunteer to pitch in, Faith recruited her good friend Emily who also gladly agreed to help. They went and met with Bob together to get introduced. “The first time Emily and I went over together and after we all got to know one another a little, we started dusting his house. The other times coming over, we waxed his kitchen floors, helped put sheets on the bed, and wiped down his kitchen cabinets,” she said. Pretty light requests, but hugely helpful for Bob.
As time went on, Faith increasingly valued the friendship she was cultivating with Bob. “When I would go over to his house to volunteer, Bob, his dad Edward, and I would be in the same room. We would talk about different things such as music we liked, nature, and things my husband and I were working on at our new house. Bob and Edward gave me two really nice books about how to home remodel and fix things,” she said. They found they had a lot in common and she enjoyed the time she spent helping.
“It was at the end of March when I got word the help would be suspended. I had just canceled my weekly in-home massages and physical therapy sessions at SSM Physical Therapy,” Bob said. The new coronavirus and the possibility of exposure to COVID-19 was becoming a much bigger concern. Bob and Faith were advised she should no longer go to the house for fear of putting Bob at risk, so she was forced to end her physical visits, hoping the virus would soon pass.
As time went on, it became more and more apparent that things would not be changing anytime soon. Faith began to miss Bob’s company and called to check in on him to make sure he was doing ok. “I would say that I had some butterflies before calling Bob. I was unsure of what to say and I did not know how it would go, but I am so glad I did,” said Faith. Although Faith can’t help Bob in his home with his chores right now, they continue to remain connected through phone calls and texts, helping each other to cope with this “new normal.”
“I didn’t realize the extent of the connection we made and what It meant to me, until I got the call from Faith after the stay-at-home order started,” Bob said. “It brings a smile to my face knowing she cares enough to check in on me during this lock down.” When asked what advice Bob would give to someone thinking about volunteering their time to help someone with ALS, he said, “You will do so much more than just sweep a floor; you will become a friend to the person with ALS and their family.” And now, during these difficult times of social distancing he says, “Definitely reach out with a phone call and social media!”
“Volunteering with people who have ALS means seeing how precious every person is and showing that to others,” Faith said. “I want people to know that they are deeply valued and are not alone. Volunteering also allows me to see that even I can make a positive impact on someone’s life,” she said. “If you are thinking about getting involved now or have been volunteering with someone already, I would encourage you to reach out and talk to them. Making a connection with someone is going to help them and you!”
If you, or someone you know, would be interested in volunteer opportunities with The ALS Association, visit our website at als.org to connect with your local chapter.
And be sure to check out the April 23 edition of Connecting ALS for more examples of creative volunteerism during the pandemic and a discussion of long-term trends in in community service.
Thank you to all the many amazing volunteers we have around the country giving their time, sharing their talents, and working hard to support our ALS community. We could not do what we do every day without you!