Social media has created a captivating connection between individuals to interact in more ways than ever. On the surface, influencers create trend–worthy content in hopes of gaining the coveted double tap. But it’s not always about the clever hashtags and sponsorships. As we approach National Volunteer Week April 18 – 24, influencers play an increasingly pivotal role in shining a light on ways to give back.
Some influencers, like Kevin Bubolz, have even built their personal brands on a foundation of serving their community. Bubolz, a therapy dog handler, found himself creating content during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way of spreading positivity.
“My wife and I enjoy volunteering in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes with our therapy dog, Ellie. However, starting in March 2020, in-person volunteering was canceled for public health reasons. Although justified, not being able to volunteer in-person was disheartening as, more than ever, people needed positivity in their lives,” Bubolz shares.
Communities around the country found themselves lacking the vital assistance needed throughout the pandemic, and many are still working harder than ever to restore normalcy. Programs such as Bubolz and Ellie’s favorite, The University of Minnesota PAWS (Pet Away Worry & Stress) required a complete change in strategy that allowed them to continue serving their community while also maintaining local social distancing protocols. “The University of Minnesota PAWS (Pet Away Worry & Stress) program switched to weekly virtual therapy and I pivoted to social media with a mission of spreading smiles,” continues Bubolz.
Amidst the crisis, countless small businesses and restaurants were forced into temporary closures and altered business strategies to remain afloat. Community members who solely relied on these businesses for support found themselves in unfamiliar territory with more questions than answers.
Austin-based creator, Jane Ko, realized there was an opportunity to utilize her influence to help the same community that has championed her blogging career for the last decade. As the adage goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Jane rolled up her sleeves and got to work supporting her Austin neighbors. “I launched Hundred For Hospitality during lockdown and raised $15,000 in April 2020 in Austin by providing 4,000 meals for the service industry,” recalls Ko. Incredibly, the work did not stop there. She raised $160,000 during the Austin winter storm of 2021 providing 30,000 meals to hospitals, EMS, warming centers, and more while supporting over 50 restaurants in Austin.
Jane is entering her eleventh year of covering Austin’s hottest restaurants and weekend getaways, both of which are among the hardest hit industries. Despite the unknowns, Jane shares, “I feel very lucky to be part of the growth of Austin and to call this city home. The city has given so much to me so I want to continue giving back to the community.”
With so many unknowns, if there is one thing we can be certain of, it’s the commonality we find while exercising compassion. Volunteering provides a natural sense of accomplishment and the impact often goes far beyond the act itself.
Kevin recalls a special moment while volunteering in a hospital with Ellie, “A few years ago, the spouse of a patient requested a visit as her husband was a dog lover. We entered the room, and Ellie joined the patient in his hospital bed. Almost immediately, the patient’s wife started crying. Initially, I was concerned because I thought we did something wrong, but then the patient’s wife explained her husband recently had a stroke and could not communicate. However, when Ellie jumped up on the bed, he smiled for the first time since his incident, and his wife was overcome with emotion.”
If you would like to serve your community, Volunteer Match is a comprehensive resource that provides thousands of opportunities in-person and virtually, many that require little to no previous training. Whether you are looking for volunteer opportunities yourself or considering engaging influencers to create awareness for your nonprofit, there has never been a better time than the present.