LOVE & Volunteering During COVID-19
04 Jun 2020
Many things may have slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, but volunteering is not one of them. In fact, Thorne Harbour volunteers quickly adapted to continue supporting our LGBTI communities and people living with HIV. From outreach to peer support to policy work, our volunteers have continued to dedicate their time and energy to the communities we serve. During National Volunteer Week, the fourth annual LGBTIQ Organisations Volunteer Event (L.O.V.E.) went online – holding a virtual event to acknowledge the longstanding commitment of our volunteers.
“This was my first LOVE event. I have only just started doing volunteer work with the LGBTIQ community so I never had the privilege,” said Petar Jovicic. “The idea that these parties can still be held, albeit in an online capacity, is very exciting.”
Petar started volunteering during World AIDS Day 2019, followed by the Better Together conference in January and the IGLA Championships in February. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now Petar is volunteering with the Rainbow Connection service – supporting LGBTI individuals impacted by COVID-19.
“It is great to know that I am helping somebody in a time that is difficult for them. I am part of the telephone support team so I phone clients and touch base for regular check-ins to make sure they don't feel alone and isolated.”
After participating in Young & Gay, Thorne Harbour’s peer workshop for gay, bi, queer and same-sex attracted guys aged 18-26, Jarod become a group facilitator in 2019. This time around will be the first time the group is held online.
“For a lot of participants, this may be their first step into a mature conversation about queer issues. Privacy and confidentiality are so important. Participants may be less inclined to speak openly, but I’m really excited,” Jarod said.
“Coming out stories can be quite a confronting experience – maybe even saying those words for the first time. I’m absolutely honoured and privileged to share these things with the group. And I may not have all the answers, but I think there is so much value in asking the questions.”
As a policy volunteer, Lucca Meagher has been able to volunteer from home during the current restrictions.
“I've been very lucky with my role during this quarantine period, as my role is computer based – so I can continue online with virtual Zoom meetings with my supervisor each week and we can easily correspond via email. Although, I have missed the fun atmosphere of the office!”
Lucca joined the organisation as a volunteer through a connection made at the LGBTIQ Women’s Health Conference.
She too enjoyed the unique format of this year’s L.O.V.E. event – where attendees signed in online before being randomly connected with other attendees over the phone for a brief conversation.
“This was my first LOVE event and I had a great time. I think what stood out to me was the ability to meet people I may not have had the chance to chat to if it was not in a virtual format. I joked with someone I was matched with that it was like a better version of speed dating!”
She added, “I also really enjoyed that we were all delivered the little packs with drinks and popcorn, it made it feel like more of an event, instead of just signing in online for a few hours.
Petar added, “I really enjoyed the concept too because I know that if it was a face-to-face situation, I wouldn't feel comfortable approaching somebody to chat unless I knew them, so this helped to break the ice and took the hard work out of it.”
The connection to community is a common theme articulated by volunteers – whether that is connection to other volunteers or the community members they’re volunteering their time to.
As queer people, there are so many of us who long for community. As proudly Jewish and gay – that was a very deliberate step I took in my journey.
“Last year during the Jewish Festival Rosh Hashanah, I sheepishly mentioned bringing in apples and honey to the group and everyone’s eyes lit up and they told me to tell them more.”
When asked why he started volunteering, Jarod jokes, “For the prestige – I never intended to become a volunteer. I found it difficult to have mature conversations in gay spaces. I think in so many spaces, it’s based on physical characteristics or whether you’re ‘a top’ or ‘a bottom’. I didn’t safe sex conversations as a gay man in school and it’s difficult to have those in a bar or a club. It’s nice having a space to do that. Even as a facilitator, I have a chance to connect with the wisdom of participants.”
In addition to volunteering with Thorne Harbour, Jarod works around the corner at the neighbouring JewishCare building.
Lucca is in her final semester of her Bachelor’s Degree, majoring in Sociology and Politics.
When asked what advice she’d give to anyone considering taking on a volunteer role, she offers, “Definitely give it a go. It is great fun, you can meet a lot of people and you can contribute to something you care about. I stand by some advice I received at the start of my degree, which was 'never say no to a good opportunity'”.