Remote Volunteer Work Bridges the Gap, and Creates Connections for Neighbors in Need

Joanna Manning

Greyshirts combine Team Rubicon's Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative with some remote volunteer work to find new ways to serve their communities.

Even at 74, Sylvia “Silver” Dee is not one to be idle. The retired pharmacist is an avid tennis player and an active member of the Gulf Coast Women’s Club in Panama City, Florida, where she chairs the arts department. She enjoys visiting with family and prefers to be busy. When the state of Florida instituted a stay-at-home order in early April, however, all of that activity came to a jarring halt. 

She’s managed to adjust to the new quarantine restrictions, but she was really disheartened to miss her grandson Jaxson’s fourth birthday in Gainesville. The annual event is something of a family reunion, with her son-in-law’s parents also traveling in from DallasThis is the first year we’ve not been able to be there,” Silver Dee says.


Fortunately for Dee and her husband, Jack, family friend Scott Kooken stepped in to ensure that they could still attend their grandson’s party from afar. Kooken is a new Team Rubicon volunteer who hasn’t had the chance to deploy on an operation yet, but hasn’t let that stop him from digging up some remote volunteer work: in this case, helping his neighbors with their technology needs. He set up Zoom for the Dees on their home computer and taught them how to use it just in time for them to join in on their grandson’s virtual celebration, where they sang “Happy Birthday” and watched him open presents. The virtual cake was not satisfying, but Silver didn’t complain. “It was just wonderful to be able to see them,” she said. 

A Former Space and Missile Officer Takes Remote Volunteer Work to New Heights

Video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Skype have been the saving grace for many people who are separated from loved ones during the quarantine, but they can also be confounding. Likewise, everyday concerns with software updates and general computer maintenance can create barriers to access, particularly among older individuals. Tech-savvy Greyshirts like Kooken are keeping their neighbors’ technology up-to-date and running smoothly just as it’s most in demand.  

After a 26-year Air Force careerfirst as an enlisted paralegal and then as a space and missile officerKooken was eager to continue serving his community. He deployed to Djibouti, Africa, as an emergency management officer from 2011-2012, and put that knowledge to use as part of an American Red Cross disaster action team. After other veteran friends told Kooken about their positive experiences with Team Rubicon, he signed up. Because he’s currently not eligible to deploy due to a medical condition, he registered to serve remotely instead. While he awaits his first assignment, the Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative piqued his interest. 

“I’ve seen a lot of posts of people helping out in food pantries or helping out locally where they live,” he said, “and I was just trying to think that if I can’t serve in-person right now, I can donate my time to Team Rubicon under Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” 

As COVID-19 forced large numbers of people into their homes to work, Wi-Fi issues mounted. Kooken knew several other older people he’d helped in the past through his handyman business who were struggling with their technology. He saw an opportunity to be of service. 

He spent several hours at two different locations in Panama City, troubleshooting Wi-Fi issues, installing antivirus software, and upgrading operating systems. One man, a retired local dentist who now runs a business selling medical and dental practices, was so pleased with Kooken’s help that he asked him if he could troubleshoot some problems with his office computers. Kooken happily obliged.    

“I think I did a total of maybe six, seven hours or so of volunteering,” he said. “It wasn’t a whole lot of work for me, but it really helped them. They needed these things for their business. And I know they needed help to get in contact with family at home and that kind of thing.” 

For people like Silver, Scott’s help not only allows her to keep in touch with her family, it’s helping her stay active in her own volunteer work as well. While she’s been happy to busy herself making masks for the Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center’s NICU, she’d like to use her new knowledge to help keep her women’s club running during the shutdown. “I told the president we could have our board meetings on Zoom!” she said with a laugh. 


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