When the local health unit put out a call for help, Jody Mayhew was ready to receive it.
The retired principal moved to the South Georgian Bay area in 2013. She began volunteering for a few different organizations at the time and became an active member of the Collingwood Library Board. Then when COVID hit, she said for the whole first year, she “sort of sat around and didn’t really do anything.”
Restless and itching to do more, she began looking into volunteer opportunities where she could offer her time after she received her first vaccine.
“It was almost a calling… I really needed to do something,” said Mayhew. “I had a vaccination and I was staying at home, but there was that need to do… more.”
A friend recommended she look into opportunities with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), and she immediately got involved. After completing an extensive process to get accepted and ensure she was properly trained, Mayhew volunteered at her first vaccine clinic on Apr. 3, 2021.
“It became a moral purpose on some level, where you recognize there is an opportunity to help,” said Mayhew.
From April until the end of August, Mayhew drove to Barrie two to three times a week to volunteer at the Holly Recreation Centre. She also commuted to Alliston, Innisfil and Bradford when there was a need.
In August 2021, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit ramped down its community-based mass vaccination clinics and sent out a note of thanks to the approximately 550 people who collectively volunteered more than 27,500 hours in support of vaccine clinic operations.
In November, the health unit restarted the community mass vaccination clinics in step with the rollout of booster doses to the general population, and renewed their call out for volunteers.
Mayhew put her hand up again and has been back and forth between Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and Stayner ever since. She still volunteers about twice a week and has no plans on stopping as long as the need is there.
“For me, volunteering at the SMDHU clinics has reaffirmed the importance of kindness and empathy," said Mayhew. "Our clients range in age from five to over 100 years old and it is so important to acknowledge each of them and listen to their story. We work as a team and support each other wherever possible.”
Since the early days of the pandemic, thousands of volunteers, from college students to retirees, have performed a range of tasks, from greeting people at the clinics and conducting COVID screening, to directing them to their station for injection and checking in on them in aftercare.
Mayhew said a big part of her role is simply chatting with people and making sure they are comfortable with what is going on.
“I’ve learned to become a better listener in all of this and to really hear what people are saying,” said Mayhew. “The eyes tell everything, you can tell from a person’s eyes if they are in panic mode, if they are nervous or excited… Being able to pick up on those little things has become important.”
Throughout the year, Mayhew has heard stories from hundreds of people who have come through the clinics and dealt with several different situations, but she said one theme that has emerged most is that of “universal excitement.”
From a determined five-year-old girl who didn’t so much as flinch when she got her shot, to the gentleman over 100 years old that walked in to receive his booster without any support.
“Those are the magic moments you hang on to,” said Mayhew.
Another thing Mayhew learned was how to work with a team again — she humbly claims she is just a small piece in the large organization that makes a clinic successful.
“You truly are part of the team, and that’s really significant,” she said. “All the volunteers I’ve worked with, they all get it. Everyone is there for the same reason. We genuinely believe that this is important, and we need to help in some small way.”
The health unit is not currently recruiting volunteers for vaccination clinics. For future volunteer opportunities and to learn more about the work volunteers are doing, visit the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit website here.