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Peoria's Center for Youth and Family Solutions sets 100-volunteer goal for new COVID recovery program

Jeff Turnbull and Jenny Lee
Jody Holtz
Jeff Turnbull and Jenny Lee from the Center for Youth and Family Solutions.

Although 2021 is over and a new year has begun, the COVID-19 pandemic is still spreading throughout the Tri-County. Many people are still in need of additional assistance to secure housing, food, and other necessities that the pandemic has taken a toll on these past two years.

The Center for Youth and Family Solutions (CYFS) has launched a new COVID pandemic recovery program in an effort to assist those still struggling in Peoria and Tazewell counties.

AmeriCorps Seniors is funding the program through federal funds, and anyone is eligible to benefit. CYFS Program Director for Community Volunteerism Jenny Lee is leading the initiative, and said CYFS is in collaboration with other organizations to achieve their mission.

“Within the two counties of Peoria and Tazewell we’re looking to work with healthcare providers that do the booster shots or COVID testing, any aspect of help that they may need … in addition to working with area food banks and pantries to make sure that they have the help that they need to be able to box those supplies, sort those supplies and be able to distribute those.”

Jeff Turnbull, director of community development for CYFS, said the program itself is primarily focused on the recruitment of volunteers to work with those other nonprofits in the area, such as food banks, various food pantries, local health departments and each of the hospitals in the area.

“What we’re looking for are people who would be interested in volunteering to maybe be a receptionist at a COVID clinic … or maybe pack boxes for food pantries, or drive people to medical appointments to get their COVID shots. We’re working with a lot of other organizations that will be providing more of the direct type of service. We’re going to kind of be their backup,” said Turnbull.

With many people suffering from COVID fatigue as the pandemic rolls on, some believe — or want to believe — that the pandemic is over and that providing more COVID assistance isn’t as critical anymore. However, Lee says that just isn’t the case.

“We have individuals that have had COVID that now have long COVID, and they don't really know if there is an end in sight with that … I mean those individuals that have that have years upon years that they need assistance with different things,” she explained.

Turnbull adds that while he doesn’t know if Peoria and Tazewell county residents’ specific needs have changed since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, their perception of the pandemic has.

“It’s kind of been a rollercoaster ride where we experience some initial trauma and then come to some sort of resolution, and then some sort of new challenge or trauma comes into it with a different variant, then all of a sudden we’re sort of back into that panic phase,” he said.

Turnbull believes a lot of people will be eventually coming out of this pandemic with PTSD, and that CYFS is looking at ways to conquer that problem as well. For now, the non-profit has set a goal of recruiting 100 volunteers to help support its recovery program.

“We’re in the beginning stages. We have gotten our first recovery effort volunteer. We’re hoping to recruit many more. We’re looking at people 55 years of age and older as kind of our targeted group, but we will take anyone who wants to volunteer 16 and above or families,” said Turnbull.

Moving forward, Lee and Turnbull stress the importance of people understanding that the pandemic is not over, and that while the CYFS recognizes there is no one easy solution to end the pandemic, people can help by being adaptable to the challenges caused by new variants, and banding together to hopefully come to a new normal.

“If you’re sitting there watching the television thinking what do I need to do or what can I do so we can be united again, get a hold of CYFS,” said Lee.

When thinking about what the ultimate success of the program might look like or include, both Lee and Turnbull agreed that recruiting enough volunteers to count on as a response team for emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic now, and maintaining it for years to come, would be a good start.

To find more information about CYFS, the recovery program, and volunteer opportunities, call 309-323-6620 or visit its website.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant development director, assistant program director, host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.