A pandemic is a strange place to find the most noble types of volunteers: those who would put their own health and safety at risk in an effort to help the greater community around them, and for nothing more than the gratitude of that same community.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strong passion for helping others and giving back to the community,” explained Mia Otten, an 18-year-old student at St. Theresa’s Catholic High School in Midland.
"So, I applied to become a volunteer at Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH) immediately after reaching the minimum age requirement, which is 16. I started in the summer of 2019, and have been a dedicated emergency department volunteer since then.”
Otten is just one of 20 hospital volunteers helping out at vaccination clinics located at the Askennonia Seniors Centre in Midland, and at the Penetanguishene Arena.
“Through the pandemic, volunteering has been one of the things I’ve missed the most. (GBGH) contacted me and let me know about the opportunity, and I jumped right on it,” she added with a laugh.
Lucille DeVillers, a 67-year-old retiree from Penetanguishene, has worked in the public life for a bank and a dentist, but ultimately it was the tragic loss of many family members over the years which guided her on a path to helping others in their times of crisis.
“I seem to always go into something that’s health-minded,” said DeVillers. “I’ve done victim services, hospice and now I’m here.”
Arriving at a vaccination clinic on the time of their arranged appointment, a pre-registered resident will be welcomed by a GBGH volunteer asking a short series of questions regarding health and background information, while also providing instructions on how to navigate once inside the clinic.
Added DeVillers, “If somebody needs help with a wheelchair, we have wheelchairs there and we take them where they need to go.”
Once the vaccination is provided, registrants must sit in a safe seating area for 15 minutes, identical to the procedure for getting an annual flu shot.
While helping to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through vaccinations, volunteers helping to guide the mass numbers of citizens do face a health risk themselves. And yet, the volunteers signed up nonetheless.
“We’ve all been vaccinated and had our first shot, because we’re volunteering there,” DeVillers explained. “And it just didn’t worry me too much, as we take our precautions and stay our distance.”
Otten, who is aiming for a science degree toward medicine at McMaster University, shared the perspective. “I believe the risk is low enough for the outcome, and I was able to give back and help others. Everyone’s been struggling through this, and just being able to give someone a positive experience or have a smile on their face makes my whole day.
“And as much as you fear going out, there are safety precautions that are there that we follow, and we’re just being as safe as we can while still being able to try to get back to normal,” Otten reasoned.
Statistics for North Simcoe’s response to the COVID-19 vaccinations are changing on a daily basis, and as of the time of this article, over 22% of North Simcoe residents (or approximately 140,000 people) have received their first vaccination shot.
Likewise, according to the Public Heath Agency of Canada, nearly 20% of all Canadians (or 7.2 million citizens) have received their first vaccination shot.
Karen Roberts is the manager of Volunteer Services at GBGH, and the person whom the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit asked when looking for people to assist at the clinics.
“(The volunteers) really do help to get people where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there,” Roberts explained. “They’re also there to help people feel comfortable with the process — it can be daunting when you’re asked all these questions and you’re wearing masks, and you’re not used to the processes.
"So the volunteers are there just to answer their questions and get them to where they need to be; to put a little comfort into their process. They really are very valuable over there.”
Reception to the vaccination clinic and the volunteers present has been overwhelmingly positive, according to DeVillers.
“Oh, (the residents are) so grateful,” shared DeVillers with an uplifting voice. “They are so glad, and they leave so happy that they are getting (vaccinated). You never hear anybody leave angry.”
The Georgian Bay General Hospital Volunteer Services are always looking for people to help out, according to Roberts.
"What I’m looking for in people, are people who just really want to help out, people that have a few hours to spare on a regular basis. They have the option of working directly with patients, or on the floors helping with staff; we also have our coffee bar, our gift shop, and other little fundraising events that we do.”
For further information on becoming a GBGH volunteer, contact Roberts at (705) 526-1300, extension 5374.