Alma College Volunteers Help Family Practice Deliver COVID-19 Vaccines

“The volunteers from Alma College were very eager, dedicated and happy to make a difference.” — Dr. C. Jeffrey Holmes, Alma Family Practice

ALMA — Volunteers from Alma College partnered with a local physician’s office this month to help administer more than 940 COVID-19 vaccines to people in the community.

Kysia Jones, AmeriCorps volunteer coordinator for postsecondary education access programs at Alma College, organized the volunteer component of the program on behalf of the college with the staff and physicians at Alma Family Practice (AFP), including doctors C. Jeffrey Holmes, Scott Strom and Shaun Moon. Jones said the small office needed volunteers to help deal with a recent influx of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Navigating the distribution of such a large number of vaccine dosages requires much support before and after the shot is administered,” Jones said. “Volunteers assist with administrative work, to make everything run smoothly and quickly, supervise patients after they receive their vaccines, to help with any side effects that may occur, and sanitize waiting areas after patients leave. Our work allowed the nurses to spend all their time doing what they do best.”

Alma Family Practice is one of just 22 organizations from around the state to receive a supply of COVID-19 vaccines, as part of a new outreach program through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Protect Michigan Commission. The goal of the program is to help remove barriers to vaccine access for Michiganders 60 and older who live in communities dealing with issues related to poverty, combined with high COVID-19 mortality rates.

However, AFP needed assistance to administer more than 900 vaccines. So, they reached out to the Alma College AmeriCorps Program, through the Michigan Community Service Commission, and found Jones, who came to the college through the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

“The volunteers from Alma College were very eager, dedicated and happy to make a difference,” Dr. Holmes said. “I especially appreciate the extra effort they put in, during a busy winter term, to comply with required trainings on personal protective equipment (PPE) and privacy laws. They did whatever needed to be done to make this a reality.”

The clinic took place from March 5-23. AFP office manager Christine Cluley said about 940 vaccines they had secured were administered, and turnout among patients was “very high” during the entire period.

Jones also reported a very high turnout among volunteers from Alma College. More than 30 participated, she said, and plenty more were waiting in case they were needed — a testament to the spirit of giving back that is ever-present at the college.

“When I put out a call for volunteers, and said what the project was about, word spread very quickly. People on campus clearly want to help put an end to the pandemic,” Jones said. “But it goes deeper than that. Just from my experience, commitment to service is something that this institution values, and it shows up in the character of the people who are here.”

Dr. Holmes said the project was so successful from his end that he would like to see the program expanded to include more organizations from around the state.

“There are so many patients who have received a vaccine here who never would have gotten it otherwise,” Dr. Holmes said. “Some of them were intimidated by the electronic approach to getting a vaccine. Some of them were distrustful of getting a vaccine from anyone other than their primary care physician. Some of these demographics are, statistically, the most vulnerable to becoming very sick with COVID-19.

“There’s absolutely a place in our communities for large-scale vaccination clinics, but I feel like this wonderfully served a certain need we have in Alma, and I’m so grateful to the volunteers for their help in this endeavor.”

Sheryle Dixon, assistant professor of philosophy and director of academic grants support at Alma College who coordinates the VISTA program on behalf of the college, said the vaccine clinic was a good example of partnership between local entities.

“Connecting with the community is such a key part of the VISTA program, but it’s not just about our students, staff and faculty giving back. It’s a two-way street,” Dixon said. “When you start talking to people and getting to know them, that’s when a benefit can be found on both sides. That’s what we were able to do with this clinic — meet people where they’re at and connect them to resources they need to help end this terrible pandemic.”

Story published on March 29, 2021