Volunteering During a Pandemic 

By Jeff Zdrale 

Since the “stay at home” order, I’ve stopped taking afternoon naps. It’s odd. You’d think that, with all this open time at home, I’d be trying to take up some of it by sleeping. Hasn’t happened. I think the big changes in my volunteering schedule had something to do with it.

Before the shutdown, I usually drove to a volunteer site every week day. On Mondays, I was an interviewer at LEAVEN. Tuesdays, I had the same job at the St. Joseph Food Program. Wednesdays had me teaching my grammar group and doing individual tutoring at Fox Valley Literacy.

Jeff Zdrale

On Thursdays, I ran a painting class at Friendship Place. Fridays I kept unscheduled to do things like leading tour groups at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass or subbing at one of my other assignments. 

For the weekends, church was on the agenda. I direct my church choir and we have vespers on Saturday evenings and the liturgy on Sunday mornings. All closed up now. 

With that schedule, I’d usually get a wave of tiredness in the early afternoon. I’d tell my wife, “I’m going up to rest my eyes for a few minutes.” Those few minutes often morphed into an hour or, sometimes, more. I was just pooped. 

So when everything came to a halt, I wondered…what am I going to do with myself? Sleep the whole day away?  Well, it’s turned out that I didn’t have to become a total couch potato. The phone and ZOOM came to the rescue. 

Now I’m able to interview St. Joe’s clients over the phone during my regular shift time. They’re also doing that at LEAVEN, although they haven’t needed my help yet. ZOOM was new to me, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Now I teach my grammar classes and do my individual tutoring at Fox Valley Literacy via this program.  

Jeff Zdrale has devoted more time to painting during the Safer at Home period.

I do miss my watercolor painting classes at Friendship Place, though. I know the art students miss working with me every other Thursday afternoon also. There have been times when I’ve been very tempted to go in. I have a mask. They do a lot of sanitizing there. But social distancing from these students and their paintings wouldn’t work. I wonder how possible it would be for me to supervise their work via something like Skype or Facetime? I need to check with them on that.

Church—nothing happening. I miss singing and leading the others in singing. Easter felt very hollow this year. It was the first time in almost 50 years that I haven’t had a choir sing during the holiday.

 Getting back to naps. They were a regular part of my volunteer schedule. I was always running somewhere. Now everything is done from home and I’m not as bushed. This doesn’t mean that I’ve been sitting around twiddling my thumbs, though. 

I’ve always had a lot of avocational interests and this quiet period has given me some time that I normally would not have. I’m a hobby artist and there are more finished paintings in my den than I have completed in years. There’s also has been something else that I’ve wanted to do for a long time  writing a book.

I’ve written lots of outlines over the years, but never got further than that.  Now, I’ve written about 13,000 words. It started out to be a murder mystery, but I couldn’t figure out who the murderer and who the murdered would be. So now, I’m writing about a series of characters, based on people I’ve known, whose stories are all interwoven with each other’s. 

I’ve not been idle at all. There are plenty of things I want to do every day. But now I can do most of them on my own time schedule. And that’s not as tiring.  I’m not conking out around 2 p.m. anymore.  And, to be truthful, I’ve come to realize something else.

I like the slower pace. I like not having to jump in the car every time I turn around. I like having time in my gardens to do things one step at a time instead of cramming everything in on Memorial Day weekend. 

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy all the volunteering I’ve done and hope to be able to get back soon. I’m just not going to be so driven about it. Before I retired I always complained about the lack of balance between work, family and my hobbies. I don’t want to be “unbalanced” in my retirement either. 

This quarantine has given me the chance to recalibrate. And not with as many naps! 

Editor’s note: Jeff Zdrale is a member of RSVP and the RSVP Community Council.