Despite pandemic-related restrictions amidst one of the most unique semesters in the school’s history, BYU senior Spencer Larsen says this has been the most fulfilling semester of his academic career.
Larsen serves in the BYU Student Service Association presidency as one of four vice presidents. The presidency works to help students create connections, foster inclusivity on campus, and serve fellow students. At the beginning of the semester, Larsen wasn’t sure how impactful traditional BYUSA programs would be. But after fielding a call from Emily Seals, a new BYUSA volunteer, Larsen recognized an opportunity to care for fellow students like never before.
“Emily called me as she was in quarantine due to COVID-19,” recalled Larsen. "She told me how difficult isolation was — feeling cut off from interaction with others and not being able to come to campus to get food or other things. It was challenging. She asked me, ‘What can we do to help students who are in this same situation?’”
Larsen and his fellow BYUSA members sprang into action. They converted the existing Y-Wishes program (an initiative that fulfills the wishes of BYU students in need) and gave it a new temporary name, Covid Outreach, with the goal of serving BYU students in isolation. Recognizing her enthusiasm for the idea, Larsen asked Seals to help organize the project. Seals created an online survey that allowed BYU students who were experiencing isolation to virtually connect with other students and request a care package to be delivered to their doorstep.
“I kept thinking how different my quarantine experience would have been if there was a card from someone in my isolation living quarters or even a list of people I could call and talk to,” said Seals. “I wanted to create that for others. I wanted to do what I wished someone would have done for me.”
After the survey link was included in a campus-wide student email, over 800 requests poured in. The requests represented a wide range of students in need: some who had contracted the virus, some who were isolating after exposure, and others who simply needed a chance to connect and feel supported.
“We weren’t expecting that volume,” laughed Larsen. “It was overwhelming at first, but the entire BYUSA program came together to fulfill the requests. It was inspiring to see how many people took an interest in serving students. Our priority is serving students.”
For a time, the day-to-day efforts of the BYUSA office were put on hold while the office morphed into a care package production facility as nearly 50 students and staff members came together to assemble and deliver care packages.
“We had a section of the office where packages were assembled and a section where packages were stored when they were ready for delivery,” said Larsen. “Each package had basic necessities like soup, snacks, toothbrushes, and water, but also some things like candy and hand-written notes of encouragement. We wanted people to know that we cared about them and were there for them.”
Over 800 care packages have been delivered to students in various situations and new requests continue to come in. Angela Blomquist, assistant director of the BYU Student Connection and Leadership Center, says this program is successful because of the dedication of the students.
"This was completely student-driven. I feel blessed to work here because these students have such love and care for fellow students,” said Blomquist. “They saw a need and they ran with it. It took one student stepping up and reaching out, and they started a program that continues to affect many people.”
After delivering packages and receiving messages of gratitude from recipients, Seals says that the opportunity to be involved in a project like this early in her BYU career is transformational.
“It’s so fulfilling as a freshman to be able to participate in something like this that is affecting so many people,” she said. “Even in difficult times, we have a big opportunity to help people.”
If you or a student you know is in quarantine in the Provo/Orem area and would benefit from a care package courtesy of BYUSA, use this form to submit a request.
To learn more about the BYU Student Connection and Leadership Center, click here.