By Ashkan Motamedi
When Elana Sichel, a senior management major, wanted to help people struggling amid COVID-19 last April, she faced many barriers to finding opportunities. That’s how she and her friend Hadassah Raskas, an alum of the University of Pennsylvania who studied public health and consumer psychology, came to create Corona Connects.
“We both were like ‘We would love to help in some way, this is a crazy time and we would love to start volunteering,’ and so we started looking for volunteering opportunities,” Sichel said.
The problem started when the duo had trouble accessing opportunities.
“We found it pretty difficult actually to find things that were up and running or that were easy to access,” Sichel said.
They decided to start a spreadsheet of a list of possible options and figured that if they were looking for opportunities to volunteer, others were likely looking too. They posted the spreadsheet to their respective Facebook accounts to challenge others to share an act of kindness.
Through the feedback to their spreadsheets, Sichel and Raskas realized that the demand of people who wanted to volunteer was high. Then, they put together a four-person leadership team, created a website and Corona Connects was up and running.
“Before we knew it, we were up and running and just created a platform where people could find volunteering opportunities,” Sichel said.
Corona Connects’ main purpose is to help connect volunteers with organizations in need during the pandemic. They target younger people, since elderly volunteers have to take a step back from volunteering because they are in the high-risk category for COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic created new needs for a lot of existing smaller organizations, such as soup kitchens, blood banks and food pantries that relied heavily on elderly volunteers who can’t come in anymore due to the virus.
The focus of Corona Connects then became to engage with young people and help make them aware of these volunteer opportunities and connect them with these organizations.
“Our focus is on young people, college and fiscal students, young graduates,” Raskas said. “If we can engage them in volunteering and get them to help kind of serve these needs, ultimately more people will be helped.”
Sichel and Raskas wanted to help others and do good, not just for the Jewish community, but for the entire community in general.
“I think all my life I was ingrained in this idea of giving back and helping others and doing good and [Hadassah] was too. We knew each other from another volunteer organization,” Sichel said.
Sichel also said she watched Corona Connects grow because people wanted to give back during this unprecedented time in the Jewish community and beyond.
“It’s not just a Jewish community thing, but we have seen a lot of support from Jewish organizations, Hillel being one of them,” Sichel said. “They’ve shared a lot of our stuff on their platform, and we hope we are a resource to students looking to volunteer.”
It was that mindset of giving back that inspired students like former D.C. and Maryland Regional Coordinator of Corona Connects Noa Ferziger, a junior philosophy major, a chance to get involved in the summer when she had more free time.
“I just felt very helpless with the pandemic, and I had some free time and I wanted to make a difference,” Ferziger said. “There were so many limited opportunities and I kept hearing from friends that they were looking for some things and I’m good friends with Hadassah, so I reached out to her and said I’m looking for a way to contribute.”
Sichel said that in the future, Corona Connects may change its platform or have a possible expansion into a non-profit business. But with the rising increase in COVID-19 cases, the focus is on the here and now with organizations posting opportunities and getting people to find opportunities and volunteer.
“Right now our goal is to sustain [Corona Connects] and keep it how it is for right now,” Sichel said.