For Carolina Hernandez, Director of the Lehigh Community Service Office, the reality of COVID-19 hit home, and hit hard, with the death of her grandfather back in her hometown Miami. It was a loss made all the more difficult by the fact that she and her family were unable to gather together and mourn. In the months that have since passed, Hernandez has had to deal with her grandfather's passing, alone, while at the same time trying to find innovative ways for CSO to continue its important work serving the vulnerable communities of South Bethlehem.
The pandemic has forced nonprofits to rethink some of the most fundamental aspects of their work, Hernandez says. Many are struggling financially. But despite the enormous hurdles COVID-19 has thrown up, Hernandez—having suffered her own loss—knows it's more essential than ever before that those in need are supported.
"For me, this has been very real, and not an intellectual exercise like it would have been if I had not been impacted," she says. "This very much directly impacted my family in a very deep and serious way. So there's a lot of hurt with COVID, a lot of emotions."
At a time when many of the CSO's traditional volunteer opportunities are limited because of COVID protocols, Hernandez says it's important for everyone in the campus community to understand that they still have a role to play in supporting their community. Engaging in healthy behaviors, supporting local businesses, or simply being kind—all of these things matter, she says.
"The thing that our office is going to be stressing is how to be a responsible citizen of the South Bethlehem community,” she says. "The thing that I always talk about to our students is how [our small businesses] always generously contribute to our student life events. What we need to do now is realize that they're in crisis. We need to show up, and make sure that when we show up we have our masks on and we're being responsible. Our schools and our families need us to be good neighbors. We all know what it means to be a good neighbor. Let's do that.”