How COVID affects our VOICE

Rachel Matteson, News Editor

Volunteering has been a part of high schoolers’ lives for years now. They present many opportunities, such as something to add to a college application, to get involved in the community at a young age, or to simply to have fun. 

However, these typically in-person activities have become threatened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing them to adapt. Programs like the Volunteers of Issaquah Changing Education (VOICE), have been struggling to provide their services to students across the Issaquah School District.

“VOICE is for kids of any grade level that are struggling academically, socially, or are just lonely and seeking a friend. They are paired with a mentor who has been trained and is ready to connect with that person,” VOICE coordinator Heidi Kayler said.

According to Kayler, VOICE has had tremendous success throughout the 16 years that it has existed. Last year alone, they had around 465 matches, with a majority of those matches having already been going on for five or more years. District wide, there are 80 high school mentors, with Liberty contributing 12 of those 80. 

“One of the biggest challenges has been that most of these kids already need help and support. Something that was so consistent and important to them at school just got abruptly torn away,” Kayler said.

Even with the sudden halt of meetings that COVID caused, the program was able to find alternatives to connect some of the mentors to their mentees again.

 “Last year when quarantine started, we began sending emails and letters to our mentees through the VOICE program, which was a big help in connecting with them in these difficult times,” junior VOICE mentor Katie Blauvelt said. 

Despite their efforts to reconnect their mentors and mentees, VOICE has only been able to reconnect 40 matches, which is less than 10%. Their current priority is keeping those matches that were able to communicate last spring connected. 

“One thing that’s been really heartening is that the district is fully committed to VOICE. As a program, they recognize its importance and how critical it is for young kids, especially now,” Kayler said. 

Like many other volunteer programs and activities, the VOICE coordinators are hopeful for the future and reconnecting more mentors to their mentees. While COVID has brought many challenges, these programs have and will continue to adapt to the problems they face.