Helping America Confront COVID-19: Volunteer and Job Opportunities

Ideas and resources for the Peace Corps community

By James Rupert

Photo: RPCV Mia Richardson donating blood. Courtesy RPCVs in Service at Home
 

As evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers seek new jobs — and as all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers ask what we can do for our country — the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased America’s need for the commitment, experience, and skills we built in Peace Corps.

Organizations across the country are hiring new crisis responders: thousands of paid contact tracers to work via phone and internet to suppress COVID’s spread. We need new public health workers — with and without medical or clinical skills. The range of need is vast: building online communication, keeping key facilities safe from the virus, empathetically engaging high-risk communities, and more. RPCVs, including teachers and development specialists, are needed to build stronger communities and help those most at risk: migrants, refugees, low-wage earners, the elderly, or disabled.

Thousands of missions can be found in the blossoming “mutual aid” movement of neighborhood groups nationwide, or with AmeriCorps, including VISTA, or the Senior Corps. Virtually every state government has a volunteer service commission — a resource often overlooked.

As COVID-19 upends our world and deepens its preexisting ills and inequities, how will Americans — and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in particular — respond? No matter how you may find yourself answering that call, we would like to hear your story; it can be helpful to the wider Peace Corps community. Write a brief note to National Peace Corps Association about your chosen mission, large or small, against COVID-19.

 


Join Them: RPCVs Serving at Home

RPCVs Serving at Home is a new effort led by evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers to help their communities in times of crisis. In the few weeks since they were founded by Volunteers who had been serving in North Macedonia, as of May 7 they’ve logged nearly 1,000 hours of community service and grown to more than 200 members. Scores of volunteers from almost every Peace Corps region are taking part, doing work in 19 states so far. Their goals: Help the community, stay engaged by doing meaningful work, and show the important presence of Peace Corps here at home. Check out their Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter for ideas and opportunities, and to help demonstrate the scale of commitment by the RPCV community during this critical time.

 

 

Contact Tracing Jobs

RPCVs, including recent evacuees, bring strong credentials for the rising number of these critical COVID-fighting jobs with state and federal public health units. Contact tracers (remotely) interview people infected with COVID-19 to identify anyone they might have encountered closely enough to have transmitted the virus. The job requires organizational, communications, and cross-cultural skills — plus initiative, patience, and empathy.
 

  • The nonprofit CDC Foundation (which mobilizes support for the Centers for Disease Control) is recruiting contact tracers nationwide to work with the CDC. (Use this link and search the page for “contact tracer.”) The foundation is seeking “excellent interpersonal skills … and ability to interact professionally with culturally diverse individuals during a time of crisis and distress.” See CDC info on contact tracing work here.
     
  • Government agencies are recruiting contact tracers to work in teams in “at-risk counties and states … Contact tracing is seen as an essential part of the public health strategy to keep coronavirus in check after the first wave recedes, and the economy reopens.” This job description says its contact tracers would use their own telephone and computer to work from home, maintaining daily contact with a remote supervisor.
     
  • State agencies are increasing efforts to recruit volunteers and paid staff for contact tracing. For example, as of May 17 the state of New Jersey is accepting registrations for volunteer and paid positions.

     

 

Contact Tracing Training

Johns Hopkins University has published an online course in contact tracing through Coursera. Enrollment is free and available here. The intro to the program notes: “The COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented need for contact tracing across the country, requiring thousands of people to learn key skills quickly. The job qualifications for contact tracing positions differ throughout the country and the world, with some new positions open to individuals with a high school diploma or equivalent.”
 

 

 

Public Health Jobs — With or Without Medical Skills

Public health agencies and organizations are hiring for roles ranging from administration or organizing to medical and science specialties, to hospital health aides supporting veterans and their families.
 

  • The nonprofit CDC Foundation is recruiting medical and non-medical professionals nationwide. The 75 jobs listed as of May 1 include positions for program administrators, custodians, nurses, data analysts, epidemiologists, biologists and more.
     
  • The Centers for Disease Control is seeking “project representatives … for a program responsible for preventing the importation and spread of communicable diseases.” Locations from Anchorage, Alaska, to Newark, New Jersey, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, are listed at the link. The posting invites RPCVs to apply with their non-competitive eligibility, although it describes qualifications that might be slightly beyond those of PCV evacuees with no other professional experience. (It seeks a master’s degree or equivalent graduate work or experience.) This listing requires applications by May 15  —  but watch that space for further possibilities.
     
  • The USAjobs.gov website continues to post a huge list of varied jobs — from the highly specialized to non-specialized. It takes patience to go work through this long list (nearly 500 listed on May 1).

 

 Making masks at home: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Malin Serfis. Photo courtesy RPCVs Serving at Home

 

Community Support: Teaching, Organizing, Crisis Response

You can find most community support roles locally, but national directories can also help. VolunteerMatch lets you search among more than 100,000 local voluntary organizations for specific local missions — education, human rights, the environment, hunger, homelessness, women’s issues, fighting the ills of COVID-19 and more. A similarly massive, searchable database is at Points of Light. Read how COVID-19 is pushing many volunteer groups more to digital operations that you could help with. Then check the in-person and digital volunteer options below. 

  • Can you teach or mentor? Kids need you! Thousands of kids are dislocated, some in marginal home situations, and need tutors or mentors. Call your local school system about possibilities such as these in Fairfax, Virginia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Check local/state associations of active or retired teachers (as in Illinois) for new COVID-19 response mentoring programs.
     
    • Help students through Mentor, a highly rated network that will even train you to start your own local mentoring program, or mentor online through iCouldBe. COVID-19 has multiplied the need for online academic coaches at Upchieve, a network that uses a digital platform to connect you to kids (notably from low-income neighborhoods) seeking help with a school assignment or ambitions for college.
       
    • Amid COVID-19, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America continue urgently to recruit mentors for kids in need — as do the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
       
  • Use your language skills! The nonprofit Creating Puentes needs Spanish and French speakers to help with COVID-19 response and community building. Tarjimly lets social welfare agencies and other service providers contact you for translation as they try to help clients speaking any of 80 languages. 
     
  • Staff peer-guidance and crisis hotlines. COVID’s pressures have escalated social and health problems — and the need for digital or telephone first responders on crisis hotlines for suicidality, domestic violence, child abuse, and other ills. The nonprofit tech accelerator Fast Forward lists groups that offer digital opportunities to help with peer guidance for people facing workplace, mental health, or other challenges.
     
  • Organize needed blood donations. Fears of COVID-19 have suppressed blood donations nationally. The American Red Cross can schedule you online to donate (at redcrossblood.org) — and the organization welcomes applicants to host blood drives in their communities or via social media. This role demands PCV-like skills in organizing logistics and recruiting donors; the Red Cross folks handle all actual blood collection and have adapted their procedures for COVID-19 conditions.
     
  • Build community. Search Idealist.org for hundreds of job and volunteer opportunities in your area. Join the growing movement of neighborhood “mutual aid” groups connecting neighbors who can lend a hand — with grocery runs or errands, for example — to those who need it. AARP and MutualAidHub offer guides to starting a group, and here is a guide to keeping safe from COVID-19.
     

 Helping at San Diego Food Bank: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Zac Norbović. Photo courtesy RPCVs Serving at Home

  

Neighbors in Need: Refugees, Homeless, Prisoners, Elderly

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating patterns of inequity and injustice that have pushed many people to the margins of our wealthy society. The nation’s response must help those at the margins, and RPCVs have vital skills for that challenge.

Finally, share and improve this list! As you seek your own next mission, check for independent evaluations of nonprofit groups through Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or GreatNonProfits.org.
 


James Rupert is foreign affairs editor for U.S. Institute of Peace. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco (1980–82) and has been a correspondent and editor for the Washington Post, Newsday, and Bloomberg News. 

Story updated May 17, 2020 1 p.m. to include information about registering for state agencies for work in contact tracing.