COVID-19 vaccination clinic volunteers give back to community — and receive so much more

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Ed Rosales administers a vaccine at Douglas County's COVID-19 clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

A circle of volunteers surrounded Jillian Rodrigue Wednesday morning at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, just an hour before thousands of cars would start rolling through the vaccination site.

“All of you have a different story,” Rodrigue told the volunteers, who were all clad in bright safety vests and warm clothes. It was a sunny but brisk morning, and the volunteers stood attentive, listening to the county’s deputy director of emergency management.

More than 3,000 people would be getting vaccinated against COVID-19 that day. Rodrigue told the volunteers that just as they had different stories, so too did those coming through the clinic. She reminded the volunteers to show grace and kindness — “as you guys always do” — and to have a good day with smiles on their faces. (“We’ll see it in your eyes,” Rodrigue told the masked faces staring back at her.)

“After every clinic, there are hundreds of messages about how someone on this site impacted someone who came through,” Rodrigue said.

Douglas County has been praised for its mass vaccination clinics at the fairgrounds. Just last week, Gov. Laura Kelly congratulated Douglas County on Twitter for having its largest vaccine clinic to date, in which 4,092 doses were administered. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health spokesperson George Diepenbrock said the clinics would not be possible without the volunteers who help make them run.

Malinda Hillebrenner

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Malinda Hillebrenner volunteers at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

The volume of the clinics is impressive, but perhaps what is most shocking and uplifting is the number of people working together to make them happen. Diepenbrock said the clinics required about 200 volunteers and about 75 staff members from the health department, LMH Health and the county’s emergency management division.

For more than a year, social distancing helped protect the Douglas County community from the COVID-19 virus. Now, it takes a community to fight against it.

‘Nobody has a small job’

Volunteers Jeff Martin and Ed Rosales were administering the vaccine at the same station on Wednesday. The retired doctors had both volunteered at Douglas County vaccine clinics before, and it was their second time working together.

Martin said people coming through the clinic often thanked him for his service, and that he thanked them in return for getting vaccinated. He said he’d seen a range of emotional reactions after people received their shots.

“I think the reaction runs the gamut from perfunctory to overwhelming joy to the point where they are pumping their fists,” he said. “We’ve had some patients have tears because they are so excited about the fact that they finally made it to the finish line of getting their vaccine.”

Jeff Martin

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Jeff Martin volunteers at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Rosales said he’d been enjoying volunteering at the clinics, and that the whole operation was “remarkable.” Though he and Martin were the ones administering the vaccine at their station, Rosales gestured to the dozens of other people in vests at the fairgrounds.

“Jeff and I — you know, we have the experience and stuff — but look at all these people,” Rosales said. “Nobody has a small job. I think this is very important. They are as important as we are.”

Ed Rosales

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Ed Rosales volunteers at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Volunteers perform a range of duties at the clinics, including directing traffic, checking people in and monitoring people in the observation area. Those interested in volunteering should sign up via a link on the United Way of Douglas County’s volunteer website, volunteerdouglascounty.org. All of the first-time volunteers the Journal-World spoke to on Wednesday said they felt confident performing their jobs after the hourlong training session they attended before the clinic.

One of those first-time volunteers was Pascale Roberts. She was in the observation area, helping to direct cars and answer any questions people might have. Roberts said she felt no stress in the role and received good instructions. She decided to sign up to volunteer after receiving her shot at a mass vaccination clinic a couple of weeks earlier.

“I figured, what better way to help out and give back than to do this?” she said.

Pascale Roberts

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Pascale Roberts volunteers at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Nick Kounas, meanwhile, was working at his third vaccine clinic to date.

“I’ve worked a lot of jobs in my life. This is one of the first times I actually feel good about what I’m doing,” he said.

Nick Kounas

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Nick Kounas volunteers at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

The volunteers the Journal-World spoke to agreed that their participation in the clinics was rewarding. Many said they were happy to have a role in the vaccination efforts. Others said it was a good way to meet new people. Many called the experience fun.

One group of volunteers at a vaccination station shared their experiences from past clinics. Diane Knapp said that as she was administering a vaccine to a patient, the patient was on the phone with her parents, telling them she would be able to see them soon. Jonathan Morris said as he was checking a man in, the man handed him a box of chocolates to share with his team. Jeannie McClure said she saw a man hand his vaccinator a vase of flowers from his garden.

The volunteers said they were participating in the clinics to help people get vaccinated as soon as possible. One volunteer wanted children to be able to swim in public pools this summer; another talked about the importance of kids being in school; still another said they wanted to eat at restaurants indoors.

Joe Douglas said volunteering at the clinics was his way to fight back against the virus that had kept everyone apart for so long.

“We’ve spent a year doing things to help us adjust to the epidemic,” he said. “Now, we’re fighting the epidemic.”

Joe Douglas

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Joe Douglas volunteers at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Douglas County's COVID-19 vaccine clinic

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Mary Chapman (left), Jolene Bechtel (center) and Jeannie McClure (right) volunteer at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Douglas County's COVID-19 vaccine clinic

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Volunteers help direct traffic at Douglas County’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

New traffic pattern

The traffic pattern for the vaccination clinics at the Douglas County Fairgrounds is about to change. Douglas County District Court will be using the fairgrounds for court proceedings starting on Monday, April 5. The district court will use Flory Meeting Hall and Building 21, which can be accessed from Harper Street. Those going to a Douglas County vaccination clinic should now enter the fairgrounds by turning north at the intersection of 23rd Street and O’Connell Road. Those with an appointment will receive more specific directions about how to get to the clinic, which uses the Community Indoor Arena and Open Pavilion. There will be signage in the area starting on Monday, and local law enforcement and Douglas County Emergency Management staff and volunteers will help direct traffic.

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