Editor’s note: During this unprecedented time, faculty and staff members are, as always, HERE for Notre Dame students. Whether work is done physically on campus or remotely, the collective purpose remains to offer an unsurpassed undergraduate education that nurtures the mind, body and spirit; and to advance human understanding through scholarship, research and post-baccalaureate programs that heal, unify and enlighten. HERE is one story.
Most would say the heart of Notre Dame is the Grotto or the Basilica, but these days there’s something special about the Grace Hall basement.
That’s where about a dozen staff members — who normally work in offices across the University such as Development, Special Events or Notre Dame International (NDI) — answer calls from students who are in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.
“The people in this room are just incredible — so empathetic and helpful — and they’re having some amazing moments with students,” said Margaret Morgan, director of student support and care, who manages the Daily Care and Concern Team call center.
Last Thursday morning, Morgan donned a face mask with the Hamilton quote “Talk less. Smile more.” It could have been subliminal advice to her team.
“Students may be scared or uncertain or frustrated and we have to meet them where they are,” she said. “We listen. We also let them know, ‘You may be in isolation, but you are not isolated or separated from our community. We’re right here. We care about you. You are not forgotten or alone.’”
The University opened the call center Aug. 17, a week after classes began. The number of students who fell ill and tested positive for the virus was climbing dramatically. The administration assigned some workers and put out a call for volunteers who could put aside their normal work for a while to answer phones. A pool of about 30 staff members was trained and assigned to shifts.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, as we had to scale up (the number of team members) because the isolation and quarantine numbers quickly increased,” Morgan said.
The Daily Care and Concern Team can’t fix everything for students over the phone, but they can always lend an ear.
“We can at least have a moment with them to help them feel heard and to talk about where they’re at and offer resources and support, even if we can’t fix it,” Morgan said.
For example, team members can’t give a student who is in isolation after a positive COVID test or a student in quarantine after exposure to COVID permission to go for a walk outside.
“We talk to the student and say, ‘For the sake of community health, you really can’t. But how can I help you in this hard reality? How can I brainstorm with you on things you can do?’ For instance, there are virtual workout programs that students can do,” Morgan explained.
The team is a close bunch, literally cheering each other on at times.
“There’s lots of wisdom passed on as people learn things. There’s a lot of energy in the room,” said Morgan, whose ‘day job’ is to direct the Center for Student Support and Care, an office that provides students, at any time, with care and resources to ensure academic and social success in and outside the classroom.
“There are, of course, students who are not in quarantine or isolation who have their own needs right now. They’re asking for academic accommodations or they need connection points to financial or mental health resources on campus, for example,” Morgan said.
For the sake of the Daily Care and Concern Team manning the phones, it doesn’t hurt that those resources are top of mind for Morgan. It’s just one reason she is the perfect person to lead the team.
“Margaret is an outstanding leader and we have all learned from her example of grace, patience and empathy in every interaction,” said Bridget Keating, who normally works at the London Global Gateway. She has been stateside since March when, due to the pandemic, NDI suspended activities at Global Gateways and centers.
Keating says she is grateful to serve on the Daily Care and Concern Team, beside colleagues and leaders, such as Angie Appleby Purcell, senior director for internationalization; Jaime Signoracci, associate director of international travel and safety; and Amy Wyskochil, senior director of Special Events.
“This latest mobilization is yet another outstanding example of how flexible and dedicated Notre Dame’s staff is, jumping into action wherever there is the greatest need. Everything about the formation and outreach of the Daily Care and Concern Team is a demonstration of the University’s mission in action,” Keating said.
Jessica Reasons, who normally works in Development, feels the same way. “I’ve seen so many times over the years that, when facing adversity, the University walks the walk, not just talks the talk,” she said. “But not only does Notre Dame do that, they let us do that.”
Those who walk the walk, indeed, come from all over the University and the world. Assisting Morgan with leading the team are Tony Oleck, advisor to the vice president for Mission Engagement and Church Affairs, and Sarah Heiman, student life program director for the University of Notre Dame at Tantur,
While it’s a temporary situation for all here, being a member of the Daily Care and Concern Team does have its rewards.
“You’re so happy when you get a call from a student who says, ‘I got released and I need to know what to do with my room key,’” said Scott Graham, who normally works in Special Events. “You just want to celebrate with them.”