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COVID-19 and the next generation of giving back

By: David Gourlay – Published in the Lowertown Echo

The middle of a global pandemic may seem like a strange time to start a new job, but that is exactly what I did this spring, joining Shepherds of Good Hope’s Foundation team as Director of Philanthropy. I have long admired Shepherds of Good Hope and the work they do to support some of our community’s most vulnerable, so I leapt at the chance to join their dynamic team.

COVID-19 has strained our sense of normalcy, our mental health, our finances and our relationships. But our community continues to give us the hope we need to get through this pandemic. I have been particularly inspired by our younger generation, who are giving their time and talent like never before.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have asked our supportive-housing volunteers to remain at home, and our community garden is not growing any veggies this year.

In our soup kitchen, meal service has moved outside, and our evening drop in has closed. Our soup kitchen volunteer numbers have been cut in half to allow for safe physical distancing.

Many of our regular volunteers are elderly and at increased risk of contracting the virus, so they have made the difficult choice to pause their volunteering. The youth in our community have stepped up to fill this gap. Prior to the
pandemic, 21% of our active volunteers were under the age of 29, and a very small proportion of them were our regular daytime volunteers.

We saw many students and young professionals increase their volunteer commitment or apply to volunteer for the first time during the pandemic. Currently, 42% of our regular weekly volunteers are in that age bracket.

We are humbled to be the recipients of such kindness and empathy from so many socially conscious young people at a time when they have so much uncertainty in their own lives.

We have also had some amazing local youth raise much needed donations for us. In August, two 18-year-olds, Alexander
Abdelnour and Bashar Qawas, approached Shepherds of Good Hope to ask if they could raise money for people who don’t have a home.

Alex and Bashar decided they would run 100km on August 14th to help people experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.

They successfully raised just over $5,100 through a Facebook fundraiser and local media outreach. Working closely with them on this fundraiser, I was really impressed at their knowledge, commitment and compassion around the issue of homelessness.

Research shows that Generation Z (generally considered to be those under the age of 23) is the most empathetic, informed and socially conscious generation today.

As the first generation which has grown up entirely in a digital world, they are already experts in bringing people together virtually, and these skills are invaluable at a time when we need this connection the most.

Their potential for innovation is limitless, and this excites me as someone in the not-for-profit sector, as a citizen of Ottawa, and most importantly, as a dad.

In these uncertain times, as so many parts of our lives have been completely flipped upside down, young people are the beacon of hope we all need to get through this pandemic.

David Gourlay is the new Director of Philanthropy with Shepherds of Good Hope.

Homes for all. Community for all. Hope for all.