May 19, 2020

COVID-19 volunteers deliver a mighty response to Giving Day 2020

With more time on their hands, people have stepped up to volunteer in a big way — and it’s not too late

In the face of a crisis that affects everyone, the human desire to help others is unquenchable. Or is it?

That’s what organizers at the University of Calgary wondered when they decided to include the generous act of volunteering in their launch of Giving Day 2020. With so much global turmoil, our annual fundraiser adopted a new multi-pronged approach this year by expanding the philanthropic goals to include not only volunteer hours and efforts but also two specific COVID-19 funds — one aimed at students, the other research.

“We know that UCalgary students, alumni and friends have been, traditionally, extremely generous,” explains Michael Sclafani, associate vice-president, Alumni Engagement and Partnerships. “But never before have we had to deal with physical distancing and self-isolation."

Frankly, we just didn’t know whether volunteers would step forward and want to be recognized — but they did.

"From contract tracing to grocery shopping for seniors, the stories that have been shared using the hashtag #ucalgarytogether speak to the collective impact that UCalgary volunteers have made that extends far beyond our campuses.”

With only a few more days before the May 22 wrap of Giving Day 2020, we thought we’d check in with a few of our volunteers, who have recorded thousands of hours of volunteer time since we began taking pledges on April 23.

Science grad learns to navigate government approvals 

At this time in a typical year, you’d find Reg Tiangha, pictured above, volunteering with the Calgary Stampede, operating the program “that awards cool things like Best Deep Fried Food on the Stampede Midway,” laughs the computer science grad who confesses that, deep down, he’s a “government and policy nerd.” For the past two months, however, Tiangha, BSc’04, has been toiling away at Fuse33 Makerspace — a community-focused massive workshop in Forest Lawn that deftly pivoted their operations in March and began producing personal protective equipment (PPE).

While Fuse33 members have turned their eclectic skill base to produce reusable face shields, Tiangha flipped his love of writing into drafting Fuse33’s COVID-19 response plan as well as creating a crisis communications strategy. Then he plunged into applying for a Site and Product Licence from Health Canada in order to produce hand sanitizer at the facility.

Reflecting on lessons learned, this IT consultant admits that his volunteer role at Fuse33 has left him equipped to now navigate government approval processes “that are tedious and daunting but not really all that hard — all you need is time and patience and the ability to understand exactly what it is they’re looking for,” he says. “I feel that post-COVID-19, if my entrepreneurial aspirations require any kind of government approvals to bring to fruition, I won’t feel intimidated in going through the various processes to get things done.

“I also feel that the PPE production work happening here is worthwhile,” adds Tiangha, the chair of UCalgary Alumni Community Volunteer Impact Group, a new affinity community. “So many times in distributing the equipment through our partnerships with organizations like the Alberta Ghostbusters and Helping Alberta, people have been so grateful — telling us that the equipment was either hard to find or that they felt that they weren’t getting the support they needed from others. And lastly,” he adds, “I feel like I’m getting a crash course in government relations, manufacturing, supply chain management, order fulfillment and inventory control. It’s experiential learning that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”

Undergrad makes plans to facilitate a virtual study hall 

When COVID-19 struck, Sarah Hatcher, an undergrad computer science student, promptly began volunteering with UCalgary’s Student Success Centre “because the academic support our students need has changed ... it’s grown.” Not a rookie to volunteering — Hatcher is the president of the Society of Undergraduate Mathematics where she gives a minimum of five hours a week of her time — she is especially thrilled that the group not only gave of their time during Giving Day 2020 but also contributed financially to the Society of Calgary Undergraduate Mathematics Scholarship and the Dr. Richard Guy Memorial Scholarship.

With research interests in machine learning and artificial intelligence, Hatcher plans on facilitating a virtual study hall to support students who will be taking remote classes in the fall.

I can honestly say that during hard times, volunteering reminds us that humanity has a beautiful capacity to make a powerful impact and that we are far stronger together.

Adds Colleen Bangs, director, Alumni Leadership Engagment and Recognition: “The generosity of our community, as donors and volunteers, tells a remarkable story of resiliency, empathy and impact and I would anticipate that we will continue to weave volunteerism into future Giving Days.”

Volunteers are at the heart of every community. Celebrate your pledge on social media using #ucalgarytogether. And tell us how you’re giving back by entering your efforts here.