Tiana Hawver answers a call on her computer in her office, she is wearing a mask.

COVID-19 Call Center volunteers provide compassion, empathy, resources

More than 35 volunteer faculty and staff members have listened empathetically and offered resources to hundreds of students, parents and supporters who have called the GVSU COVID-19 Call Center.

Jesse Bernal, vice president for Inclusion and Equity and executive associate for presidential initiatives, said more than 1,300 calls have been received (plus 200 voicemails from other campus departments) since the call center opened September 4. 

Establishing the call center is an extension of the university's partnership with Spectrum Health, Bernal said. Health care professionals staff a 24-hour call center (833-734-0020) specifically for Grand Valley community members with health-related questions; Spectrum Health leaders had asked for assistance with non-health calls.

People who call the GVSU phone number (616-331-4636) have questions related to isolation and quarantine, COVID test results, health guidelines and campus policies. Bernal said many callers are understandably anxious about community safety and the adjustments the university makes to virus patterns. 

He said callers welcome clarification and exploration of their concerns by caring Grand Valley volunteers. "We are hoping to achieve the same level of attention students get elsewhere at Grand Valley, which is seen as a place where we work as a team to elevate our shared care for community," he said.

President Philomena V. Mantella extended appreciation to volunteers during a check-in meeting September 17.

"This call center has made a huge difference amid the university's responses to the pandemic," Mantella said. "These volunteers are our best ambassadors who can work with callers who are reaching out for navigational support in unpredictable times. It can be a difficult task and I am grateful to you all."

Marion Mathisen, assistant to the associate vice president of Institutional Marketing at GVSU, responds to a caller as a GVSU COVID-19 Call Center volunteer.
Marion Mathisen, assistant to the associate vice president of Institutional Marketing at GVSU, responds to a caller as a GVSU COVID-19 Call Center volunteer. Tiana Hawver, Johnson Center for Philanthropy, is pictured above answering a question.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
A student wearing a mask fills care packages in an office.
A student fills care packages in the Division of Inclusion and Equity; the packages go to students who are in isolation or quarantine.
Sarah Anderson

Linda Ray, assistant for the Division of Inclusion and Equity, shared that calls from parents require centering the realities of individual families to determine the best path for resolving challenges. 

"I have had parents who are concerned about the safety of their child and ask what the university is doing about their safety," Ray said.

Volunteers work from an online database of FAQs, the Lakers Together website and their own knowledge of campus operations as many are long-time university employees. Regular updates with administration allow the university to make real-time adjustments as needs are identified.  

Ray said she is glad to offer help. "I am very thankful to work this program because I truly care about the well-being of students, faculty and staff," she said.

Marion Mathisen, office assistant for Institutional Marketing, said she felt it was important to volunteer to aid the greater community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I cannot imagine experiencing college, especially as a first-year student, under these circumstances," Mathisen said. "Even if the call center staffer on duty can’t provide a quick answer, the conversations we have allow us to show care, concern and compassion for what they are going through."

Elisa Salazar, work life consultant, has provided resources to call center volunteers on how to use mindful and conscious communication with callers in addition to self-care tips for volunteers who may have spent hours talking through difficult situations with people.

Faculty or staff members who would like to volunteer can contact virusactionteam@gvsu.edu for information.

The  GVSU COVID-19 Call Center is open weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekends.