Volunteers are the heart and the hands of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC).
During the COVID-19 response, units across the country saw a surge in new volunteers, growing the network from approximately 179,000 volunteers in early 2020 to over 300,000 in 2022. During roughly that same time, volunteers contributed 3.8 million hours with an economic value of $132 million.
During this, Global Volunteer Month and National Volunteer Week, we pause to say thank you to the volunteers of the Medical Reserve Corps. While it is impossible to recognize each individual who contributes to the network, this month we are highlighting just a few of those MRC volunteers who support their communities.
Theresa Bechtel, Johnson County MRC (IA)
Theresa Bechtel is a full-time faculty member at the University of Iowa College of Nursing and a Staff Nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. She has been a volunteer with the Johnson County MRC since about 2018. While she is a medical volunteer, Bechtel says she’ll “do anything.”
Locally, she has assisted with “a little bit of everything” at vaccination clinics. This has included serving as an instructor for nursing students who were volunteering at clinics, traffic control during drive thru clinics, vaccination, assisting with paperwork, and monitoring patients post-vaccination.
“I love getting out into the community and meeting people where they are,” said Bechtel. “Volunteering with the MRC is a fulfilling part of my busy life. It gives me an opportunity to use my skillset for the community.”
On the state level, Bechtel spent about three days in Des Moines assisting to set up a clinic that would serve those repatriating to the area following cruises.
In her role with the university, Bechtel introduces nursing students at all levels to the MRC, incorporating this part of emergency preparedness into their learning. She has had several students reach out after graduation to share that they have joined their local MRC units.
“Involvement with the MRC is an amazing way to get students involved,” said Bechtel. “They get hands-on experience in a community setting and get to see the organization and collaboration that goes into things like setting up PODs.”
Brian Fingerson, Louisville Metro MRC (KY)
Brian Fingerson’s retirement from community and correctional pharmacy practice 20 years ago coincided with the launch of the MRC. He has been a volunteer with Louisville Metro MRC ever since, which has served as a good way to use his professional training.
Fingerson has taken part in multiple training exercises, including for mass casualties like plane crashes and mass shooting. He has also assisted in providing medical care during shelter events like those following ice storms or in support of evacuees from hurricanes.
During the H1N1 outbreak, Fingerson assisted with mass vaccinations. More recently, he volunteered in multiple roles during the COVID-19 pandemic. He assisted with drawing up vaccines and monitoring the recovery area for the LouVax Broadbent drive thru vaccination operation, which hosted six-to-eight drive thru lanes at the state fairgrounds from January through April of 2021. Fingerson also assisted in the LouVax Mobile effort which provided vaccinations around the city in areas where transportation is an issue.
“It’s a joy to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile for the community,” said Fingerson.
Darline Gaspard, Stamford MRC (CT)
Darline Gaspard began volunteering with the Stamford MRC in 2021 when she joined the health department staff as a nurse. Gaspard was looking for opportunity to support her community and has served in medical and non-medical roles.
During COVID-19 response, Gaspard helped with vaccination and registration. She also helped to distribute test kits and made phone calls in both English and Haitian Creole to let residents know the fire department was coming around to distribute tests.
Gaspard has since helped to translate materials including mental health awareness and vaccination awareness materials into Haitian Creole.
“It’s been really wonderful to give back,” said Gaspard. “At the end of the day, it feels good to know you can have an impact on someone.”
She encourages others to “come join the MRC—you’ll find something you can do.”
Jennifer Glen, Stamford MRC
Jennifer Glen has been a volunteer with the Stamford MRC since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
“I’m an aspiring physician, so this was something I was passionate about,” said Glen. “In tumultuous times, volunteers were needed, and I felt a need to help my community.”
As a non-medical volunteer, Glen assisted at COVID-19 testing sites with helping to label testing tubes and ensuring things were clean and organized. At vaccination sites for first responders, she also helped with traffic flow and organization.
Glen has also served as an unofficial translator. The Stamford community includes a large Hispanic population and Jennifer herself is Hispanic and bilingual. During COVID-19, Glen assisted with translation for patients coming to testing and vaccination sites, helping to build bridges between the medical staff and patients and to allay fears.
Glen has also helped to translate a mental health brochure and boating safety materials.
“Knowledge is power,” said Glen. “I don’t want language to be a barrier for knowledge and a great quality of life.”
Volunteering with the MRC has provided Glen a way to give back to her community.
“Wherever you are in life, this is such a great experience and network,” said Glen. “This experience has been a bridge to pursuing a career in medicine. It’s confirmed that it’s something I want to do, and it’s been such a great experience.”
Virginia Jones, Southeast Idaho MRC
Virginia Jones has been a volunteer with the Southeast Idaho MRC for about two years. Having recently retired as a high school science teacher, Jones learned about the MRC just as the COVID-19 vaccine was becoming available.
“I saw that the health department was doing amazing work under difficult circumstances, and I wanted to volunteer with them,” said Jones.
While she has prior experience in first aid through ski patrol, Jones served as a non-medical volunteer. Early roles including post-vaccine observation and cleaning and disinfecting at vaccination clinics. Jones has also helped with various tasks at the health department including packaging diapers and learning kits for parents and teachers. Just recently she helped out at a readiness conference.
“It’s a really cool experience,” said Jones. “During the vaccination clinics I met people who were really nervous, and I played a part in comforting them and reassuring them.”
Jones encourages other volunteers to volunteer out of their comfort zone saying, “your MRC leader won’t give you a job you can’t do—be open to experiencing new things. The experience has been amazing.”
Cynthia Rigby, Louisville Metro MRC (KY)
Following a career which included experience as a social worker and OB-GYN, Cynthia Rigby became a volunteer with the Louisville Metro MRC in about 2009. She first heard about the MRC through volunteer work with another organization, Remote Area Medical (RAM), which provided medical clinics in the region.
Mostly recently during COVID-19 response, Rigby served as a vaccinator for the MRC in the LouVax Broadbent drive thru vaccination operation. At the end of that four-month mission, she joined neighborhood pop-up vaccination clinics.
“I like the idea of being prepared,” said Rigby. “If you’re prepared and part of a group like the MRC, you can actually help your community.”
Through the MRC, Rigby has taken part in trainings like Naloxone, trauma informed care, and Stop the Bleed. She has also used her affiliation as an advisor at the local medical school to recruit the next generation of medical volunteers for the MRC.
“I’m hoping things will blossom and medical students will be interested in getting to use their skills while getting hands-on practice with the MRC,” said Rigby.
Outside of the MRC, Rigby’s volunteer experience has included work both internationally and locally with organizations like RAM, the Kentucky Nurses Association, and UP for Women and Children primarily in a medical capacity but also helping with projects including building wheelchair ramps.
Lee Wayman, MRC of North Idaho
A friend referred Lee Wayman to the MRC of North Idaho. Since joining the unit in January of 2021, he has served over 580 hours at events in four of the five counties served by the unit.
As a non-medical volunteer, Wayman traveled around north Idaho to help at COVID-19 vaccination clinics in a variety of settings, assisting with registration and traffic flow. He even developed his own way to keep the lines moving at vaccination sites using a deck of cards. Similar to a ‘take a number system,’ Wayman would set cards decks in order and give one to each visitor to the site.
“It was sometimes humorous,” said Wayman. “It was something that was easy for others to understand, and they realized it would ensure they didn’t get skipped.”
Following each clinic, Wayman would clean every card with alcohol and reset the deck.
This is one example of why Unit Leader Tami Martin calls Wayman “one of the most ‘prepared’ people I know. He is happy to share his knowledge of preparedness.” Wayman keeps a two-wheeled cart in his truck that has come in handy transporting tables at events.
“It’s the old Boy Scout in me,” said Wayman.
Wayman has supported a variety of other missions including distributing posters to area businesses to promote national HIV testing day, helping at Veteran Stand Downs, and assisting with vision testing for Pre-K to 2nd graders, scoliosis testing, and a preparedness fair.
“Just realize that you’re helping somebody,” said Wayman. “I’m trying to help the people of North Idaho.”
Looking for low-cost ways to thank your volunteers?
The MRC Program Office makes available for download volunteer appreciation certificates that can be customized for use with local volunteers. National programs like the President’s Volunteer Service Award and Daily Point of Light Award are also open to MRC units. Points of Light makes a National Volunteer Week Toolkit available for download.
Last year we shared how the Bucks County MRC in Pennsylvania worked with local elected officials to recognize volunteers. We also shared how the Southwest Virginia MRC uses painted rocks to express appreciation to its volunteers.
What low or no-cost methods are you using to recognize volunteers? Send your successes to NACCHO at [email protected] and we will share them in future newsletters.