Earlier this year, Encore.org joined with AmeriCorps Seniors and California Volunteers to launch the Encore Intergenerational Vaccine Corps, which brings retired medical professionals together with non-medical volunteers of all ages to boost vaccination rates at health centers in low-income communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
The retired medical professionals have vaccinated thousands while enjoying the chance to use their skills, engage across generations and help others. The younger volunteers, AmeriCorps members and clinic staff have managed the vaccination logistics while learning from and bonding with older generations. Learn more about their experiences, in their own words, below.
Dr. Rima Goldman
I was an OB-GYN for 30 years and had recently retired when Covid hit. All of a sudden, I’m stuck at home with all this medical expertise and the desire to help. I would have started volunteering earlier, but I’m 68 years old and wanted to get vaccinated first.
Since March of 2021, I’ve been showing up two days a week to help administer the Covid-19 vaccines at La Clinica, a community health center that established a pop-up clinic at a metro station parking lot in Oakland, not far from where I live. It’s been a phenomenal experience in many ways: aiding an underserved population in a medical crisis is heartwarming and I have connected with extraordinary folks.
We are still experiencing some vaccine hesitancy in this community. When I get someone who is coming in for their first injection, I’ll take it upon myself to say, “You must have had some reservations about this. Can you tell me why?” I want to understand where they’re coming from and see what questions they might have for me, as a doctor, to dispel their fears.
My next question is usually, “Is there anyone in your family or circle of friends who hasn’t gotten the vaccine? What’s their story?” I try to encourage them to bring the others in. A lot of people are coming in now because the vaccine is mandated for school or work. Even though they had misgivings about vaccinations, I tell them I’m glad they’re here, helping to protect young children and elders in the community. And I often can feel a change in their attitude about vaccinations after we have these exchanges.
The only thing that’s hampered me is not having fluency in Spanish. But I’m currently working alongside a man in his early 30s who is aspiring to go to nursing school. Although a native Spanish speaker, he is taking Spanish as a language requirement. He has been teaching me some helpful Spanish phrasing and grammar in between vaccinating folks. It’s a wonderful give and take — I encourage him in his goals and he has expanded my Spanish.
I often have someone working with me that’s young enough to be my kid or grandkid. A lot of them are in nursing school or trying to finish college requirements. When there’s down time, I’ll ask them what their aspirations are and they ask me why I chose to become a doctor. We have great conversations and they inspire me as I try to mentor and encourage them.
Our supervisor Daisy is also in her early thirties and I am in awe of her ability to manage the complexities of running our on-site vaccination center. She is great at problem solving and managing snafus that occasionally crop up during our day. Whenever there’s any problem, she comes over and gets what we need fixed. I keep trying to give her kudos, and encourage her to think about going to nursing school. I think she could go much further in the medical field.
So while I find myself filled with gratitude in being able to give back to our local community by vaccinating, I also realize that working alongside all of the other volunteers and La Clinica staff has enriched me beyond my wildest expectations.
Covid-19 Vaccine Manager
My parents are immigrants and it was very hard for them to establish a life here and get affordable healthcare. I was born and raised in Oakland, California, and my mother was a patient of La Clinica, so I was familiar with their mission and how they help people who can’t afford medical care.
I was working in retail and applied to jobs at La Clinica like seven times before finally being hired as a clerk, working the front desk. From there, I worked my way up to being an administrative assistant and then a supervisor for pediatrics.
When the Covid vaccine became available, I stepped up to manage our mass vaccine clinic — directing staff and volunteers, and making sure the entire operation runs smoothly. At our peak, we were seeing 600 patients a day and relying on volunteers of all ages to help us meet the demand.
Rima is a retired OB-GYN who has been volunteering with us since the beginning. She’s very proactive and always makes sure the patient is well-informed before being vaccinated. She’s one of our fastest shot-givers, too, and I can count on her for anything. If I’m short-staffed, I know I can call her and she’ll come in and help.
She’s also my motivator and my cheerleader. Before, I didn’t really believe in my capability or that I could go much further. But Rima’s been encouraging me to go back to school and become a registered nurse. She’s helping me believe in myself more.
Ben came to us through AmeriCorps very young and new. He was quickly thrown into the position of volunteer coordinator and had to come up with a plan and make it work with a good attitude but without any training. Sometimes I’m like, “How is he not worried and keeping a smile on his face?”
The retired physicians and the younger volunteers and staff bond very well. Whenever there’s down time, everyone is chatting away and having all different kinds of conversations and it’s exciting to see how everyone can relate in some way or another. The older folks have a lot of experience since they’ve been through life. We’re just getting started.
La Clinica Volunteer Coordinator
I was living with my parents and looking for something relatively short-term to do that would give me good experience for my next round of graduate school applications and allow me to help out with something important. In my mind, the most pressing need was getting people vaccinated.
I created an AmeriCorps program account and chose the opportunity at La Clinica, a community health center that delivers care to underserved populations. This is my first six-month service term and it’s been challenging, going into a new environment and trying to learn a bunch of things on the fly and help people out but not take up too much of their time. But you grow the most when you’re challenged.
Covid caused a lot of restructuring at La Clinica and I quickly became the vaccination site’s acting volunteer coordinator. It’s actually worked out better than I thought it would have. I spend a lot of time at the vaccination site and every time I’m there I’m sitting next to a retired physician and anytime there’s down time to talk to them, I get to hear stories about their experiences and learn from them. It’s given me access to a wealth of information.
Rima was one of the first retired doctors I worked with at the vaccination station. She’s easily one of the most exuberant characters we have there. She’ll be singing and dancing at the station. It’s an exciting moment, when someone is making the decision to get vaccinated.
Rima is firm, but also understanding and interested in supporting me. She could tell that I’m a little socially anxious, and she’d come up to me and tell me that I seem to be getting more comfortable, and that she used to be quiet, too. She establishes trust. I’ve seen her do it hundreds of times now when asking people how they’re feeling about getting the vaccine.
Our supervisor Daisy has also been incredible. Rima and Daisy both regularly inspire me to keep trying my best and make it easier for me to remain positive in an innately stressful environment. I feel lucky to be at La Clinica, where there is so much support offered even when, at times, I’m clearly out of my element.
If you have a certain amount of time and you haven’t figured out a direction you want to go in, I couldn’t think of an experience more beneficial than an AmeriCorps service term. It gives you the freedom to experience a different work environment, gain skills that will be applicable no matter where you’re going, and there’s a small stipend that helps, too.
Covid-19 Vaccine Clinic Manager
I’ve been with La Clinica for 11 years now, climbing my way up to be a supervisor and then moving into Covid operations — starting with our testing team, and then overseeing vaccinations across our agency. I support each vaccination site that we have, and I manage a team of people who are handling different aspects of the operation.
La Clinica has 32 health centers, but only six are doing vaccination clinics. At the beginning, we tried running our vaccine sites with La Clinica staff. But bringing volunteers on board was a big help, because we were able to release our staff and allow them to return to day-to-day operations at the health centers.
During the summer, a lot of students volunteered. But now that school is back in session, our older folks have been our most stable source of volunteers. Some of the retired doctors only want to administer the vaccine and don’t feel like they’re doing as much for the community if they aren’t giving shots. But the administrative volunteer roles are just as important. To be able to run and sustain a vaccination site, it takes a village. Each role is very important.
For me, being at La Clinica has been a full-circle experience. My mother migrated from Mexico and, when she was pregnant with me, she went to La Clinica for prenatal care. I was what they called a “La Clinica baby” and I remained a La Clinica patient throughout my adolescence. Years later, when I was between jobs and pregnant with my daughter, I went to La Clinica for prenatal care and my daughter is a La Clinica baby, too.
La Clinica is my community. They were there for my mom and me when we needed them and I want to be there for others in the community that need the same kind of support. My sister works here, too. It’s definitely a family environment.
Bay Area Community Health
VIP-HART AmeriCorps Member
For me, volunteering is about building a connection with my kids. I volunteered in my daughter’s school, going on field trips and participating in robotics competitions, and we have so many good memories together. This time, the inspiration came from my son.
He was working as an EMT when Covid first hit and I was so worried about him. He was driving an ambulance and coming into contact with Covid patients all the time. After the vaccine became available, he went to Gallup, New Mexico, to volunteer at the Indian reservation clinics. I missed him so much and I wanted to be part of his life and to see what he was seeing.
I quit my job in early 2021 after more than 20 years in the software development industry. At first I thought I might want to get back involved with the robotics competition organization that I’d volunteered with when my daughter was in high school. But then I learned that AmeriCorps was looking for full-time volunteers to help with medical response and food insecurity during the pandemic.
Their VIP-HART program was really eye-opening! I didn’t realize you could be a full-time volunteer. The bar seemed really high, comparing the opportunities listed to other volunteer work I’d done before. And it felt very aligned with my purpose, so I applied.
It took about a month to do the application process and get accepted. I went to interviews with different local health centers in my neighborhood and I ended up with Bay Area Community Health (BACH).
BACH believes everyone deserves quality health care, no matter their ability to pay. At the beginning of my six-month service term, I was working remotely and focused on trying to find out where the empty space is where we could deploy mobile units for testing and vaccination. To date, I’ve scheduled and deployed 51 Covid testing and vaccination community events in Fremont, Union City and Newark.
I’ve also been looking at volunteer infrastructure and working with a full-time coordinator to try and understand demand for volunteers at each clinic. Volunteers are a very important and integral part of the whole operation and recruiting and onboarding can be quite expensive. We want volunteers to not only provide value to the organization, but to feel satisfied and want to stay with us as long as possible.
This has been the perfect experience for me. Now I can talk to my son and we have a common language.
The Encore Intergenerational Vaccine Corps is a pilot — or, as AmeriCorps Seniors calls it, a demonstration program — designed to help develop best practices in intergenerational service.
Over the next year, Encore.org, with the help of independent researchers, will evaluate the program’s impact, assessing the extent to which older and younger volunteers interacted and collaborated, what forms that collaboration took, and changes in attitudes that may have resulted from the interactions. We will report on our findings next year.
Learn more at https://encore.org/vaccine-corps/.