His Season Cancelled, Pole Vaulter Hoang Vo ’21 Volunteers at Homeless Shelter

May 5, 2020
By: Curtis Fraser

Hoang Vo ’21 saw his outdoor track and field season cancelled before it even began last month, but rather than simply retreat home into quarantine, he decided he wanted to make a difference in his newfound free time. Vo is volunteering his time at the emergency homeless shelter at Ascension Church in Worcester.

Ascension Church is one of five homeless shelters set up by the City of Worcester in conjunction with non-profit organization Net of Compassion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When Vo learned of the opportunity, he immediately jumped at it.

“I always wanted to volunteer because I think it’s wonderful to serve and give back to the community. I decided to volunteer at this time because I have additional time available with classes being online and with my athletic season cancelled,“ he says.

Vo, a Worcester native and Worcester Technical Vocational High School graduate, has done a variety of tasks at the shelter, including preparing food, sorting donations, and doing puzzles and spending time with clients.

“These clients have been inside for a month now, so as the pandemic has progressed, some (have gotten) a little impatient with the staff and other clients. But other than that, they are grateful that we are there for them,” he says.

Vo did not volunteer for the church or Net of Compassion before the pandemic started, but felt it was the perfect time to start. He admits it was difficult to tell his family that he had decided to volunteer at such a dangerous and uncertain time, but is grateful that they understood his intentions.

As a pole vaulter on the men’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams, Vo has been able to take some of his skills from the track to the shelter. “(In track & field,) I have personally gained confidence, (and) bettered my communication, and it translates over to the shelter where communication is obviously important,” he says. “The staff at the shelter is sharing one goal, and that is to keep all the clients healthy and find housing for them.”

“Hoang is one of the most giving student athletes I have ever had the privilege of working with,” said men’s track and field head coach Matthew Swett. “For the last three years, he has always been the first to volunteer his services when it comes to helping out the team. He has always gone above and beyond, and it comes as no surprise that he would continue his generosity during these challenging times.”

There are many things that Vo will take away from this experience, but one in particular stands out for him.

“Things that I take for granted could mean a great deal for other people, from seeing the excitement on the clients’ (faces) when a donation comes in to their appreciation for having pasta for lunch instead of school lunches,” he says.

Vo and his fellow volunteers and shelter workers are grateful for the generosity and support they have received from local businesses and individual donors. “I am humbled to be a part of this experience. I want to thank everyone that works in the front line and those that work in essential businesses for their bravery.”

Despite all the positivity that Vo experiences every day at the shelter, there is one large negative unique to the coronavirus pandemic that has gotten under his skin. “One of the worst things about this pandemic is that you can’t see our smiles through the masks.”

Originally published on the Worcester State University Athletics website.

If you or someone you know is a current or former Worcester State student-athlete working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact Sports Information Director Curtis Fraser at cfraser2@worcester.edu.

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