TOM 2021: Beyond Just Volunteering


Francesca Raseni

Student volunteers at TOM 2021 held at The Columbus School Upper Coliseum

Student volunteers participated in TOM 2021 from September 30 to October 2 doing their part to impact the lives of six need-knowers from around the country.

Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) is an organization that seeks to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities, known as need-knowers. It consists of giving others tools to improve their lives with the help of makers (engineers, psychologists) and student volunteers. 

Biosecurity: A Major Challenge

This year brought unprecedented difficulties to the volunteers. Consequently, there have been many changes compared to previous years such as reduced capacities, social distancing, biosecurity protocols, to name a few.

“There was a team specified for biosecurity, they were in charge of separating people if they were in clusters, made sure everyone had face masks, etc. to make sure everything worked to allow us to have TOM in school,” Juliana Palacio, Logistics team, said.

During the event, volunteers had to follow strict biosecurity protocols due to the global pandemic. Those include having to wear facemasks all day, social distancing, specific schedules for eating, etc.

“TOM was really, really strict with biosecurity protocols. To eat, you needed to have one table where you could only have two people distant,” Palacio said

Furthermore, the biosecurity protocols led to having fewer student volunteers in the event, with some volunteers commenting about not having enough members in their team to carry out their jobs efficiently, or even having to take on other roles.

“One of the main problems we faced was that we were understaffed, our production team was very small and on some occasions, I had to take on the leader role,” Samuel Niño, Production team, said.

Nonetheless, some teams weren’t as affected as others. The reduced capacity helped some teams such as Logistics and Wellbeing to be more organized and more productive.

“I really noticed that there were less members, but still the experience was similar, and I got to share time with Diego, [one of the need-knowers].” Valeria Múnera, Wellbeing team, said.

The TOM Experience

TOM this year was very different compared to previous years due to the number of drawbacks and restrictions set. The global pandemic led to the event being much smaller.

“In my opinion, TOM this year was a watered-down version of the previous years. In the past, the event was much larger, it involved more volunteers, required more time and more effort” Niño said.

Student volunteers had a lot of feedback on TOM this year, as each team faced struggles during the event which could have been avoided if the biosecurity protocols were more flexible.

“Some of the challenges with biosecurity were, first of all, helping my team, and also being with Diego as we had to practice social distancing,” Múnera said.

The event also lacked participants from external organizations due to capacity restrictions. This then led to a shortage of staff which might have affected some teams. 

“I would change how strict they were with the people who came, especially with people outside of School. There were a lot of makers that were from the EIA that didn’t come, and I believe if there were more people, maybe more ideas could be shared,” Palacio said.

The event received its share of critiques, but was overall successful, with students enjoying it and having positive feedback.

“I enjoyed the event so much that I regret not being in it in previous years,” Palacio said.

A Big Impact

Throughout its five-year history here at TCS, TOM has been able to impact the lives of all participants, not just need-knowers.

Besides helping the community, students are provided with the chance to grow as people. According to an article on the website, “The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person.” 

Introspection and gratitude go hand in hand with community service. Due to the fact that TOM is focused on raising awareness, it provides TCS students with the opportunity to make behavioral changes within a local community. Through the process of sensitizing, which takes place prior to the event, volunteers are made aware of the issues that people living with disabilities face every day. 

Tikkun Olam translates from Hebrew as “repair the world,” and it is safe to say that through this event, participants strive for change. 

“Although it was really hard and I had a lot of things to do, I really enjoyed it, and I believe that it helped a lot of people, and I was making a change for people who needed it,” Palacio said