Nonprofit organizations across the country were among the many who felt the overwhelming impact of COVID-19. But when several Tuscaloosa nonprofits needed help like never before last fall, Serving Bama, the student-led organization at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Alabama, found a way to safely continue vital, in-person volunteer services, and they continue doing so today.

“We knew that, now more than ever, the Tuscaloosa community needed our support,” said Chloe Keck, a senior biology major who acts as team leader for Serving Bama. “It was important for us to find a way to continue offering services to our community partners, to be consistent and hands-on in the community, while being cognizant of the pandemic and the precautions we needed to take to keep everyone safe.”

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Serving Bama is one of UA’s Center for Service and Leadership’s Community Action Teams. Through Keck’s leadership, and with the help of 23 assistant team leaders, Serving Bama makes it their mission to serve the community, meeting a variety of needs for eleven nonprofits throughout Tuscaloosa, where nearly 130 UA students volunteer weekly.

Assistant team leader Allison Polinski volunteers at the University of Alabama Arboretum.

One of those organizations is Therapeutic Riding of Tuscaloosa, or TROT, which offers equine-assisted therapy services to those with cognitive challenges. Volunteers feed the animals, clean the barn and help maintain the facility

“We have been fortunate to continue to operate during the pandemic, providing needed therapeutic services to individuals in the West Alabama area,” said Dr. Marguerite Malone, CEO and clinical director of TROT. “But, without the valuable services and help provided by Serving Bama and other volunteers from The University of Alabama, we would not have been able to keep our facility open.”

Although there have been challenges along the way, the Serving Bama team has never lost sight of their goal to serve the community, even in a pandemic. Keck put new safety protocols into place for volunteers, such as self-transportation to and from sites, contactless check-in, mandatory mask-wearing, a limit of 10 volunteers per site, and social distancing requirements.

“Chloe wasted no time in pivoting her 23-person leadership team to meet the direct needs of the community, without compromising the health and safety of anyone,” said Ashley Clark, coordinator of outreach for UA’s Center for Service and Leadership, who advises the group. “She’s been innovative in vetting the service sites and adapting programming for at-risk sites.

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Two UA student volunteers groom horses at TROT.

“Because of Chloe and the leadership team’s dedication to their community and to the Center for Service and Leadership, Serving Bama continues to safely benefit both UA students and the Tuscaloosa community.”

Serving Bama contributed more than 1,000 hours of volunteer services to the community last semester, and so far this semester, they’ve volunteered more than 60 hours.

“The effect that service can have on the world is just astounding, and this position and my involvement with Serving Bama really highlights that for me,” said Keck.

Serving Bama currently partners with UA Arboretum, Humane Society of West Alabama Dog Shelter and Cat Shelter, Salvation Army, Therapeutic Riding of Tuscaloosa, West Alabama Food Bank, Wings of Grace, Schoolyard Roots, Moundville Archaeological Park, SD Allen Ministries, Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Jeremiah’s Garden.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

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