Inclusive National Service Programs Goes Virtual During COVID-19

June 5, 2020

The Training, Resources and Information for the Advancement of Disability (TRIAD) Service AmeriCorps members from The Institute for Disability Studies' (IDS) Hattiesburg and Long Beach campuses continue to serve their communities, just serving now in a more creative and virtual means.  As COVID-19 has kept this AmeriCorps Program from having members meet in-person, the need for virtual service became a priority.

TRIAD AmeriCorps is an inclusive service program funded through Volunteer Mississippi.  Members focus on providing support for economically disadvantaged youth with disabilities through health education. In addition, member participate in an array of other community service activities. 

In order to be a virtual service program, TRIAD AmeriCorps is using communication based software programs like ZOOM and DISCORD to continue to engage with the members. Through these kinds of software programs, the members are able participate in video conference calls, exercise as a group, use text and chat channels, complete on-line assignments, and attend various interactive events. While this is no substitution to what the group was accustomed to with being together physically, it allows its members to stay connected digitally. 

"This has indeed been a trying time for our members and we were concerned how this time of social distancing would impact them.  Interactions have been a key focus and we are continuously looking and adapting multiple resources and activities. We want our members to be able to continue to stay connected, engaged, and participate in these various virtual activities and events," stated TRIAD AmeriCorps Program Specialist Scott Mullins.

Currently the video conference call software ZOOM is being used for virtual weekly team meetings and various socialization group talk sessions. "Zoom is one of the best things to have and use in a time like this. I'm glad that it allows us to stay connected when we have to be apart," stated TRIAD AmeriCorps Member Anie. 

ZOOM is also being used for conducting different interactive recreational activities. For example, "Crafting with Dawn" allows member to meet live and work on craft projects using recyclable items. Then there is the Fit 5 health and exercise weekly sessions where the members are led by other members through a series of workouts.  Also, through the use of share screen options, IDS is able to host movie nights where members can join and watch and share feedback and feelings through the chat box.

Kate, TRIAD's newest AmeriCorps member, has adapted well to virtual service and noted, "One of my favorite aspects is being able to participate in a virtual exercise class called FIT 5. I have always loved playing sports and due to the coronavirus, I have been unable to see my team or practice. Through this exercise class, I have become a part of a new team and family. I never thought that being a part of a program like AmeriCorps would be so helpful and fun, even virtually."

In addition to Zoom, members of the TRIAD AmeriCorps Program along with inclusive student organization STEP UP to Leadership Advisory Council have been using the DISCORD application. DISCORD is a communication digital distribution platform that is both free and available to download on devices such as phones, tablets, and computers. Through DISCORD, the members are able to engage virtually over various socialization topics with text and voice channels and participate in different communication and social skills activities such as Spotlight Trivia Quiz, Dungeons and Dragons, Virtual Scavenger Hunt, Let's Play a Video Game, Movie Night and more.

"Besides providing our members with these virtual options with both ZOOM and DISCORD, we are also assigning our members various online assignments such as submitting weekly journal topics, having required reading with questions, completing interactive worksheets, and researching health education lesson plans to be used in the classroom setting for the next program year. We want our members to have as much opportunity to keep obtaining their program hours," noted Mullins.

Image of a student practicing yoga in front of a computer screen.In addition to these new virtual service activities, some TRIAD AmeriCorps members have still been able to serve in their immediate community.  Of course, members are using safety and health best practices including wearing their protective masks and gloves, using hand sanitizers and maintaining social distance per CDC guidelines.  Members are checking on neighbors to see if they need any type of assistance.  Members are assisting with working outside doing yard work and clean-up such as picking up sticks or other debris from recent storm surges.  Members are tending gardens and picking up trash along the local roads and streets. Members are also picking and delivering donated items to families in need, home health agencies and nonprofits.  Delivered donated items include groceries, clothes, magazines, puzzles, prepared meals and more.  

TRIAD AmeriCorps Member Kahla stated "I think everyone is doing the best they can with this COVID-19 situation. I believe that our members are helping others and impacting their communities.  Service is great!"

For over 40 years, IDS has maintained its mission to "positively affect the lives of Mississippi citizens with developmental and other disabilities and their families across the lifespan and to work toward increasing their independence, productivity, and community inclusion." IDS concentrates its work in four emphasis areas: Early Childhood Inclusion and Education, Housing, Transition to Adulthood and Wellness.

To learn more about the TRIAD AmeriCorps Program or IDS, visit, call 601.266.5163 or email [email protected].