Celebrating Volunteer Week at Marklund during a pandemic
It has been more than a year since volunteers have been able to set foot inside a Marklund facility to volunteer with the residents and students.
More than a year since old friends were together and new friends connected.
Marklund is a nonprofit organization that provides residential, therapeutic and educational services to children and adults with profound developmental disabilities. Founded in 1954, the organization currently has three campuses in Bloomingdale, Elgin and Geneva.
Ever since its first days, Marklund enjoyed the support of volunteers who would come on-site to assist with activities, outings and special events, as extra sets of hands for staff, and as additional people with whom the residents and students could interact and become friends.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marklund would often record more than a thousand volunteer hours each month, donations of time given by teens, men and women, as well as school, church, or business groups coming in to serve. Some were regular volunteers, some groups made annual community service visits.
Over this past year, with statewide restrictions on allowing visitors and volunteers in health care facilities, that number has dropped dramatically, with some months having zero volunteer hours recorded. In more recent months, the numbers have crept up to the 20s or 30s with new opportunities for volunteers to interact virtually, by reading books, socializing, creating handmade items like blankets, and providing spiritual support via video apps such as Zoom and YouTube.
Surprisingly, volunteers have stayed connected even though they cannot physically come to help out like they used to.
"Our past holiday gift drive was a tremendous success, much in part to the volunteers wanting to do more in one of the few ways they could -- by purchasing more gifts to bring joy to the residents they could not see in person," said Cathy Nikrandt, manager of volunteer engagement at Marklund.
In addition, social media engagement rates have skyrocketed, again much in part to volunteers and families trying to see as much of what's going on with their friends and loved ones through photos and videos shared in multiple posts each day, she noted. Many volunteers have also reached out to staff asking when they can come back, and offering to help out in any capacity.
"It has been quite different not spending my Saturdays at Marklund," said Reese Peck, Marklund's 2018 Volunteer of the Year.
"We look forward to the day when we safely welcome our volunteers back," Nikrandt said.
For information about volunteering in the future, visit www.marklund.org/volunteer.