Thursday, August 19, 2021

On Saturday July 24, the Beach Cities Health District (BCHD) team welcomed its volunteers to the AdventurePlex site to celebrate everyone’s unprecedented level of support during the pandemic. 

The event’s title ‘Ohana Luau’ said it all.

Ohana is the Hawaiian term meaning family and historically, a Luau is a Polynesian and ancient Hawaiian social gathering meant to unite people of a town in celebration of a significant life event or achievement!

During COVID-19, volunteers of all talents and ability levels stepped in to help keep the Beach Cities safer and healthier..

On March 15, 2020, BCHD activated its emergency operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on April 3, 2020, with the collaboration of other county departments and partnership, opened a COVID-19 testing site (originally at the Galleria and later at BCHD’s site on Prospect Avenue).

Volunteer Jim Hannon, who admits to having a tendency to raise his hand to offer help, contributed to the high need for COVID-19 testing at the BCHD drive-through site. After thorough training on administering the tests while minimizing his own exposure to the virus, Jim was one of 49 BCHD staff and 71 volunteers helped administer 155,684 COVID-19 tests. As Jim explained, “as my working life came to an end, I saw volunteering as the second chapter in my life. A very valuable chapter for the beach cities community!”

Another vital part of BCHD’s COVID-19 response was calling people who had received positive COVID-19 test results. Jane Park served in this role twice a week. “As a ‘Care Navigator Volunteer’ we called up everyone who tested positive to guide them through the process and give them the guidance they needed,” explains Jane. She continued, “many people were naturally scared so it was important to ensure they were managing their symptoms at home, getting the proper support services and medical attention they needed, and of course giving them peace of mind that they were not alone.” These Care Navigator Volunteers also played a fundamental role in ensuring people knew how to slow the spread of the virus.  

From March-June 2021, 204 volunteers and 36 BCHD staff helped administer the Pfizer vaccine to 15,590 members of the community with more than 5,000 doses administered to educators and 6,029 to youth ages 12-18.  During this time, BCHD, in partnership with South Bay Family Health Clinic, also ran a public vaccination site administering 3,727 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Medically trained volunteers, such as registered nurse Ann Jones, gave up their time to help administer the vaccines. Having worked at various schools delivering vaccines during the 90s, Ann was the perfect fit for the position. “After retiring, I wanted to help out. It has been great to be a part of the solution that was organized by BCHD so successfully. It was a happy assignment working in a happy environment,” explains Ann. 

There were also plenty of volunteer duties for those who didn’t have medical training. Stephanie Goldman for example helped out at the vaccination site. She explains, “we helped people complete the relevant documentation, made them feel more at ease and ensured they were safe and well enough to get back in their cars to head home.”

Karen Blanchard, a dedicated volunteer, has been an event ambassador, meal delivery volunteer, and holiday gift bag distributor- among other roles. Karen naturally put herself forward for being at the vaccination site, helping people with parking and supporting the less mobile members of the community. “I do it and I love it!” exclaims Karen. 

Aside from testing and vaccination site volunteers, other BCHD volunteers were busier than ever helping the community with vital support needed to stay safe throughout the pandemic. Debbie Hannon continued to run errands for the more ‘at risk’ members of the community, including one 80-year-old Beach Cities resident. “I don’t volunteer just to feel good about myself,” explaines Debbie, “I just like to feel I’ve helped people.” Cheryl Kahnamour is another valuable errand volunteer who helped the team deliver a total of 4,712 meals to vulnerable members of the community who wisely wanted to stay at home. 

 “People are so grateful for the support; it has been the most wonderful experience,” says errand volunteer Terri Cannon. All volunteers followed safety health guidelines and stayed outside at a safe distance while delivering supplies.

Colleen Otash who has been a long-time Blue Zones Project volunteer and Moai leader stressed how important it has been to keep the social groups alive. Now more than ever, there are many lonely or socially isolated individuals. Colleen engaged moai groups virtually so everyone could share their stories, including their experiences of being at home during COVID-19. While some were feeling very low, the virtual chats helped them to talk freely and remove the feeling of isolation.

In the words of BCHD’s CEO Tom Bakaly, “today has been a celebration of all these efforts! We could not have done this without you, and our community will be forever grateful for what you have accomplished. Thank you for being a part of our BCHD “Ohana.” 

If you’re interested in volunteering (getting back to it or taking the next step to volunteer) with BCHD, we have COVID-19 safety protocols in place for every role.