Virtual Volunteering Still Offers Benefits

Ms. Brynen would help out with setup and at the event; nowadays, she focuses on phone calls. “They usually give volunteers a small list of calls to make,” she said, “but because I worked in fund-raising and have no problem making phone calls, they gave me 50 names this year.”

Opportunities with arts groups have disappeared for now, but she has several new projects, including working as a mentor with Table Wisdom, a St. Louis-based nonprofit that matches older adults with students and young professionals in the United States and abroad who need career advice and help with English-language skills.

And that is a role she cherishes. She connects each week via Zoom with a young environmental engineer in Colombia who is hoping to advance her career by improving her English.

“We talk about politics and movie recommendations — I’ve learned a lot about Colombia and the Amazon, and she’s learned about things like Los Angeles architecture.” Most recently, Ms. Brynen and her husband, Paul, a retired human resources manager, have been helping her mentee practice for a job interview.

Ms. Brynen used computers regularly in her public television job, so the transition “from life to Zoom” hasn’t been difficult, she said. She uses an iPad, which allows her to move around her house during calls. “Zoom has been fairly intuitive, but there definitely was a learning curve,” she says. “I’ve taught some other people how to use it, too.”

Ms. Brynen is also volunteering for Democratic candidates in the November election, and she recently helped a graduate student in psychology complete her training by serving as a sort of virtual guinea pig, doing sessions as an art therapy patient.

Not all of the new volunteer activity is virtual. In northern Minnesota, a community garden program has seen a new infusion of older volunteers, said Lynn Haglin, vice president at the Northland Foundation, a Duluth-based group that organizes and funds the work.

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