Village Volunteers find new ways to bridge the distance

May 5, 2020

What happens when a volunteer organization whose very lifeblood is personal contact faces a rampant illness spread through personal contact?

In the case of Village Volunteers, a lot. “Inaction is not an option,” said Executive Director Jackie Sullivan. “Our members need us now more than ever.”

The nonprofit, known fondly to members and volunteers as the Village, is devoted to helping older adults in the Lewes, Milton, and Rehoboth areas live independently. The Village commits more than 10,000 volunteer hours each year to senior care, household assistance and transportation – the kind of one-on-one attention and companionship that has helped nurture a community of support around its most vulnerable residents for nearly seven years.

But the COVID-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge. “We need to be creative, dedicated and safety-conscious in serving our members,” Sullivan said. “And our incredible volunteers have been all that and more.”

In normal times, the Village provides its more than 150 full members with a range of services such as transportation, respite for caregivers, home assistance, and social, educational and wellness programs. In a typical month, more than 100 Village Volunteers provide between 400 and 500 individual services to members – most of them involving rides to medical appointments, errands, home visits, and other forms of personal contact.

That changed, along with so much else, in mid-March. On the same weekend that Gov. John Carney declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 threat, Village Volunteers took quick and decisive action to help secure the health and safety of both members and volunteers.

Home visits had to be curtailed, but by reallocating volunteer efforts, the Village radically increased the number and frequency of phone contacts with members. Before the state of emergency took effect, volunteers averaged 32 friendly check-ins by phone to members each month, because most contacts took place in person. Since then, the average has increased to 369 a month. When phone contact and email won’t suffice, volunteers send cards and letters.

“Social distancing is really a misnomer,” volunteer Tracey Gersh said. “What we need to do is practice physical distancing to keep ourselves and others safe. As social beings, we need to remain connected in whatever way possible.”

Over the same period, medical transportation has remained in place in order to get members to crucial doctor visits, chemotherapy sessions, tests and rehabilitation appointments. But instead of driving members for other important errands, volunteers have taken over those tasks – picking up prescriptions and groceries, for instance. Errands run by volunteers have increased nearly 100 percent. And volunteers continue to pick up mail and take out trash for members unable to leave their homes.

The Village joined the Cape Community Coalition for COVID-19 ( - a network of municipalities, health services, agencies, businesses, nonprofits, faith groups and others – in order to share resources and information, collaborate across institutional lines, and build a regional community of response to the pandemic.

Many Village Volunteers are going beyond those efforts. At least five volunteers have been busy researching and creating hundreds of protective masks – both N95-rated masks for area medical workers and cloth masks for volunteers. And following a Village request, volunteers and others donated hundreds of books to distribute to members to help pass the time.

Two maskmakers, Sally Powell and Sarah Pavlik, turned out 50 cloth masks – with pockets for protective filters – over a few days, so volunteers could safely transport members to medical appointments. Pavlik, a fiber artist and quilter, found that her artistic talents translated well to frontline duty.

“I used a lot of batik fabrics I had on hand,” she said. “It was fun to pick out different patterns and colors, and those fabrics are more tightly woven, so hopefully it’s an even more protective weave.”

Such efforts have not been lost on Village members, who express their gratitude with a flow of appreciative messages by phone and mail. “Thank you for your kindness in these troubled times,” one card reads.

“Times of struggle often bring out the very best in us,” Sullivan said. “Our members are so strong in their ability to persevere, and our volunteers have been amazing in their capacity to give and adapt to all the changes in our lives. There’s a lot we still don’t know, but we know that these challenges have made us stronger and closer.

“And,” she smiles, “we hope that when this is over, we’ll be busy with a run on hair-salon and barbershop appointments.”

Questions about membership? Interested in volunteering? Reach Village Volunteers at 302-703-2568, at, through, or at the Village office, 16686 Kings Highway, Suite B, Lewes, DE 19958.

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