UNG PSIA Assistant Professor of Political Science and Assistant Director of Academic Engagement Dr. Sarah Young describes how the Days of Service has evolved into a virtual experience due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Traditionally held the first Saturday of the Fall Semester, Saturday of Service is now Days of Service. UNG students, alumni, faculty and staff can virtually donate their time over the course of the week – Monday, August 17 to Sunday, August 23 – by performing random acts of kindness in their community.

Dr. Young describes how the event was previously called Saturday of Service. Previously, UNG students would volunteer in the community in different ways, such as park cleanups and volunteering at local nonprofit organizations. The event was limiting in terms of who could participate, as people had to be available at a particular time on one Saturday. The new virtual Days of Service has easier access, facilitating more alumni, students, faculty, staff and community members to be involved.

For the virtual component, Dr. Young encourages participants to undertake small, random acts of kindness. Then, post the story, photos, or videos of it on social media using the hashtag #UNGTogether. Dr. Young notes that “we’d love to see what great works are being done in the community. Using the #UNGTogether allows us to virtually show the communities how much we care about them.”

Participating in the Days of Service event does not have to be anything grand, Dr. Young notes. It can be something as simple as donating blood – there are safety measures in place for this – to paying for the person behind you in a drive-through line. The virtual format is much more friendly for everyone who wants to be involved.

To reach out to community partners to create awareness for the Days of Service this year, Dr. Young gathered together a group of interns over the summer to craft communications such as letters that they sent out to community members and those who have participated in past Days of Service, from local Chambers of Commerce to elected officials, letting them know that UNG would love for them to participate in this week-long event.

Dr. Young states, “we want to show the five communities that UNG operates in that we support them, that we understand that this is a challenging time for everyone – businesses, families, individuals, our students, our local nonprofit partners –we really want it to be a huge show of support by the UNG community for the five communities that we reside within.”

In Dr. Young’s research, she studies nonprofit organizations in crisis, such as pandemics, and notes that the nonprofits that not only survive but also thrive in a challenging crisis situation are those that are willing to be flexible, to adapt, innovate and think outside of the box. Through her research, she has found that nonprofits willing to innovate through new services, unique approaches to asset utilization etc. have successfully increased the organization’s ability to fulfill their mission during challenging times.

Dr. Young is trying to apply these principles to her professional and personal life. Her primary goal is to make sure there are virtual opportunities in place for students to participate in. For example, she has been working with local elementary school teachers for UNG students to Zoom into the classes virtually and read to the students, using things like puppets to tell the stories. In the past, UNG students could visit classrooms and read aloud; now Dr. Young is thinking outside of the box to engage students to participate virtually. Innovating to the new virtual platform, more UNG students, more elementary school classes, and more counties are able to participate than ever.

Regarding the Days of Service, she says, “I think it’s going to look totally different this year and that’s exciting. We were presented with a challenge: how to volunteer in a virtual environment and I’m really proud of the Civic Action Plan team. I think we’ve turned Saturday of Service into a whole week, bigger and better than it’s ever been; we are involving more people and communities than ever before and I think that is just amazing.”