Austin Angels Help Over 4,000 Get Vaccinated | Shalom Austin

Austin Angels Help Over 4,000 Get Vaccinated

Community News, The Jewish Outlook

Jun 23, 2021

Wendy Corn (right) drove Linda Stein (left) to an Austin Vaccine Angel arranged appointment. Photo courtesy of Wendy Corn.

By Taylor A. Harrison

In February 2021, Rachel Wimberley, Shalom Austin adult programs director, and Rabbi Amy B. Cohen, LMSW, Shalom Austin chief social services officer, Jewish Family Service executive director, received a request from Shalom Austin Women’s Philanthropy members for volunteers to help senior members of the community who wanted to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Wimberley and Cohen also received a volunteer offer from Jodi Bart Holzband, a Shalom Austin community member, and Kathleen Denyer Hall, a friend of Cohen and Holzband, who wanted to start a vaccine angel network. Holzband now serves on the Shalom Austin Volunteer Engagement Committee and has a passion for these types of initiatives. 

Vaccine Angels 2

Marcel Humpries (left) after receiving her vaccine at Dr. Allen Lieberman’s (right) office. Photo courtesy of Dave Hawks.

Soon after receiving the request for assisting the senior community with booking vaccine appointments and helping them have proper transportation to and from the appointments, staff members and volunteers met to discuss the forms that would need to be created for those wanting to sign up, and the steps that would need to take place to create them. Within a few days of the meeting, everything was set up that was needed to launch the initiative. With the forms being ready, Wimberley was able to share all the necessary information with over 2,500 senior community members through email and social media. 

Danielle Ezor and Kristen Backor, members of the Jewish community, soon joined the initiative and helped lead this effort. Holzband stated, “Ezor took an early leadership role, and I wouldn’t have been able to keep the momentum going if it wasn’t for her passion and commitment.” 

Brandi Westheimer, a member of the Jewish community, helped train Holzband and others early on about how to get the appointments, and provided helpful tips that continued to be shared with new volunteers as they joined. 

Wendy Corn, a member of the Jewish community, took the lead on helping to connect individuals in need of transportation to their appointments with available volunteer drivers.

In order to reach as many seniors as possible, Holzband, Ezor and Backor dedicated their time and energy into building the volunteer network over social media and creating a WhatsApp Messenger group in order for all the volunteers to communicate with one another.

Holzband explained, “Together, we built a network of about 80 volunteer Austin vaccine angels to help book appointments, manage our spreadsheet, translate English into Spanish, make phone calls, and arrange transportation or drive those that need assistance. We helped individuals aged 60 and up first, and then expanded to those who are less technically savvy, have a day job that limits computer access, or experiences language barriers. And now, we help anyone who asks.”

According to Holzband, other vaccine angel programs had been happening around the country. Repair the World organized training sessions and webinars that proved to be quite informative and crucial for volunteers. Holzband met with Repair the World professionals for support and guidance. Holzband also credits Wimberley and Cohen for getting this life saving initiative started. 

Cohen shared, “Without the generous gift of Holzband’s time and expertise, I don’t believe this vaccination effort would have taken off and become so successful.”

Shalom Austin plans to continue to be an incubator for volunteer projects that individuals can get involved with, that create change in the community. Because of staff and volunteers working together and sharing tools, projects are able to be that much more successful and widespread. 

As of June 2021, approximately 4,000 vaccination appointments have been made, and over 4,700 individuals have been assisted, thanks to the dedicated efforts of volunteers and Shalom Austin staff members.

Several of the appointments arranged by the Austin Vaccine Angels took place at a longtime Shalom Austin community member’s office, Dr. Lieberman. 

This is just one way volunteering has made a meaningful and impactful difference recently.

For more information, visit shalomaustin.org/volunteer, austinvaccineangels.org, vaxtogetheraustin.org

Shalom Austin Supports VaxTogetherAustin with Vaccine Services for the Underserved Community

By Wendy Goodman

Austin Jewish community member Sharon Cohan founded VaxTogetherAustin, an initiative to assist underserved individuals with receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In partnership with Shalom Austin Jewish Family Service, VaxTogetherAustin received the United Way vaccine equity grant for $25,000 to expand their services in Austin and the surrounding area. 

VaxTogetherAustin, operated by volunteers, provides simplified online sign-up forms for individuals to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments at clinics they have set up at schools in the Austin area. Although the majority of their clinics are at schools because they are effective community-based vaccination sites, VaxTogetherAustin also serves communities like AustinLighthouse for the visually impaired and Settlement Home for foster children, as well as any organization that asks for help bringing a clinic to their community. In addition to clinics, VaxTogetherAustin is working on reaching underserved populations through outreach and education.

VaxTogetherAustin

Cohan has a special fondness for AustinLighthouse and serving the visually impaired community saying, “It was such an honor and joy to meet so many members of the visually impaired community through helping them find a vaccine appointment, and it opened my eyes to the struggles of this community to navigate the pandemic and have access to all the resources that sighted people have. Also, their facility, and everything they do to support individuals with disabilities to have meaningful work and to help them with skills, training, education, etc. is truly inspiring. The clinic at AustinLighthouse was the beginning of our partnership with Walgreens and was my first clinic, and one of the most profound moments in my life seeing so many vulnerable people who had been working throughout the pandemic as essential workers, but missed in the vaccine rollout, to finally get their vaccines.”

“After I was able to get my COVID vaccine, I felt an enormous relief and a desire to pay it forward. Through VaxTogetherAustin, I can help connect people to easily get a vaccine appointment with no barriers. Thanks to Shalom Austin, we were able to secure the funding to expand our services,” said Cohan.

Cohan estimates that she and her team of volunteers through VaxTogetherAustin have reached over 60,000 people and administered approximately 10,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cohan finds motivation through Judaism, “I’m inspired by my Jewish background. The work that I do in the community and for underserved individuals is all about the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world and never turning anyone away.”

Cohan is a Temple Beth Shalom member and was the first president of the Temple Beth Shalom Sisterhood. She has served on the Women’s Philanthropy Cabinet and was a proud Pomegranate Society member. 

VaxTogetherAustin is now a 501(c)(3) organization operating under TogetherAustin with the goal to do more equity work and expand their focus from vaccinations to rebuilding and restoring.

For more information, visit vaxtogetheraustin.org

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