By Meghan Arbegast Smith
One year and a month. That’s how long ago the coronavirus pandemic drastically altered our personal and professional lives. While many things changed for us at The Children’s Inn at NIH, a free hospitality house for children, teens and young adults participating in NIH research studies, the forced absence of our wonderful volunteers as part of our coronavirus safety measures has been the most notable change.
Every year, The Children’s Inn counts on the support of more than 110 volunteers working regularly scheduled shifts. Adding up their hours, our volunteers work as much as nearly one-third of our entire staff. That’s a lot of missing staff and missed hours of work! However, the impact of our volunteers’ absence is much greater than lost work hours alone.
When I started working as The Children’s Inn’s community outreach & volunteer coordinator in September 2016, I was thrilled to begin a new chapter in my professional career. I didn’t realize just how special my new role would be because of the amazing people I work with. I had worked with volunteers in the past, but I had never seen volunteers so passionate about an organization’s mission that they would commit to volunteering for over 25 years. Children’s Inn volunteers choose to give of their free time by working weekly or bi-weekly shifts. They staff our welcome desk, stock our kitchens, assist with important administrative work, help with family activities and so much more. They volunteer at The Inn because they care about seriously ill children and young adults, and because they know how important NIH research is for the health of all of us.
Because they are so invested in our mission, Inn volunteers are passionate about our work, and show up with a sense of pride and purpose. They go above and beyond to make sure our families feel at home. They bring laughter, lightheartedness, valuable perspectives and endless kindness to The Inn that positively affects not just our families, but also our staff. That is the true impact of our volunteers — and why their absence has deeply affected all of us.
While our volunteers have been physically away, their hearts have remained at The Inn each and every day. I have received more e-mails than I can count inquiring how they can help and what we need. Whenever called upon, they have been eager to help from home or virtually. From creating handmade masks, to virtually tutoring residents on Zoom, to dropping off crafts and small gifts to stuff our children’s mailboxes, their impact at The Inn continues to make a difference in the lives of children, young adults — and their families — whose best hope is an NIH clinical research study.
This year without our volunteers has been difficult, but my faith and admiration remain especially high this Volunteer Appreciation Week. It is an honor to work alongside our remarkable volunteers, whom I am privileged to also call friends. I miss them all, and our families and staff miss them too. This Volunteer Appreciation Week, I want to thank our volunteers for their dedication to The Inn and our families, especially during this long time away. All of us at The Inn hope that we can bring more of our staff working from home and our first volunteers back to The Inn soon.
Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week to all the dedicated volunteers who are longing to get back to their important missions!
Meghan Arbegast Smith is the Volunteer Engagement Manager at The Children’s Inn. She manages all volunteers, in-kind donations, and The Teen Ambassador Program.