When schools shut down and activities were cancelled in March 2020 due to COVID-19, Sarah Maaske and her daughters, Emma (16) and Julia (14), thought about how they could best use some of their newfound free time. Seeking a volunteer project they could work on from home, Sarah emailed approximately 35 area nonprofits and community organizations. She heard back from just one.
Sarah’s email had reached Jody duRand, OPL’s partnership and community engagement manager. One of the campaigns duRand coordinates at OPL is Baby Reads, a program that emphasizes the importance of reading and developing literacy skills from the moment a child is born. duRand works with area Children’s Physicians Clinics to ensure that parents of newborns receive a packet containing a free book, information about the program, and a library card application for their child. Thousands of these packets are distributed each year, and assembling these materials requires a significant time commitment.
“For six years I have depended upon the UNO Office for Social and Civic Responsibility for volunteers to assemble 3,000 packets per year during the UNO Days of Giving Campaign,” said duRand. “We have been extremely fortunate to have had their help, but when COVID closed UNO, we lost access to these volunteers.”
Knowing that the need for these materials would continue, duRand felt like this was an ideal project for the Maaske family, and made arrangements with Sarah to deliver and pick-up materials from her home, as needed.
As students at Westside High School, Emma and Julia both needed to complete service hours for school. They were easily able to complete their hours with this project, and then kept going, encouraged that the work they were doing mattered. They estimated that Emma had likely spent up to six hours working on Baby Reads packets, and Julia had spent as many as 20 hours.
“This was a good thing for us to do to help others,” said Julia. “It’s important to help our community and try to make a difference.”
Emma agreed, adding that volunteering provided them with the opportunity to “change and affect others’ lives.”
Emma and Julia had already assembled close to 2,000 packets by mid-July, and planned to continue working on them as long as there was a need and they still had the time to give.
As for duRand, she was so pleased to connect with the Maaske family when she did. “It was an incredible gift for Sarah to reach out during the pandemic and I thank the Maaskes for their generosity and passion for volunteerism. I never expected it and I am grateful beyond words,” said duRand.