There are many ways to donate to those in need. From canned food, clothing and toy drives to holiday bell ringers and religious tithing, we love to chip in when we can. But one of the greatest needs organizations like United Way of Thurston County have isn’t for socks, scarves, or money. They rely on in-person volunteers to be their hardworking hands, feet and smiling faces throughout the community.

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United Way volunteers like Curt Vaniman and Steve Hall know the importance of being the organization’s hands, feet and smiling faces. Photo courtesy: United Way of Thurston County

Even before the pandemic, United Way had an ongoing call for volunteers to donate time to an amazing cause. “United Way is a resource for volunteers all year round,” says Director of Volunteer Programs Lindsay Fujimoto. “Our Volunteers United program helps individual and group volunteers get connected to local opportunities where they can make a difference.”

And these hours do more than help the community. “Volunteers who are 55+ years old can also opt in to receive additional benefits through our AmeriCorps Seniors program,” says Fujimoto. “We also work with local businesses through Workplace United to help them reach their social impact goals, which includes creating customized community engagement plans and volunteer projects for their team. Finally, we also have opportunities to volunteer as a member of national service through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, where individuals can serve as a volunteer full-time with AmeriCorps benefits.”

Lately their need has grown to staffing local COVID-19 vaccination clinics in partnership with Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. With the approval of booster shots and vaccinations for young children, their mass vaccination clinics and Capital Mall clinic site, currently open seven days a week, are going strong.

Clinic volunteers work a set shift but there’s no requirement to cover a specific number of shifts. “We welcome volunteers to join us as often as they desire, or their schedule allows,” shares Fujimoto. “We have some volunteers who are with us every day, and we have some volunteers who join us every so often. All make a difference!”

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Dan Graves, Qiang Gui, Amanda Ruston and Rachel Bernhard recently staffed a COVID-19 vaccination site in conjunction with Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. Photo courtesy: United Way of Thurston County

Duties at these clinics vary and volunteers can sign up wherever they feel most comfortable. “One of our exciting new positions is the Kids’ Vaccine Buddy,” says Fujimoto. “This position provides support and a positive experience for children during and after the vaccination process. These volunteers remind the children about how brave they are, and if requested, help distract the children during vaccination. The volunteers then pass out stickers, congratulate them, and help keep them entertained during the observation period.”

Another common role is as a greeter, a volunteer who welcomes patients, distributes information, answers questions, and directs patient flow. Reception staff check patients in and screen for health conditions. Observation volunteers monitor patients after their vaccination, watching for potential reactions. Check-out staff use tablets to clear departing patients.

Longtime volunteer Tobias started in the vaccination clinics while he was studying to be an EMT at Tacoma Community College. “I just started volunteering because I wanted to get involved with my community and it’s been really beneficial to see the effects of people getting their vaccines and it feels really good to help keep people in my community safe. There’s only so much you can do as one person when your entire community is hurting from something like this, so volunteering has been a really cool opportunity to see how the vaccine has affected so many people’s lives.”

Have questions about volunteering at a vaccine clinic? Reach out to Renée Hunsaker, the Non-Clinical COVID 19 Vaccination Volunteer Program Manager, at 360.634.2835 or rhunsaker@unitedway-thurston.org.

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First-time volunteers or experienced hands like Shea Wahlstrom, Kathy Leonard and Mike Leonard are always welcome. Photo courtesy: United Way of Thurston County

If you haven’t volunteered in a while—or ever—it’s okay. “We encourage folks who are worried that they may not be a good fit to give us a call to discuss their concerns,” says Fujimoto. “The variety of our positions allows us to be able to offer opportunities for volunteers that can meet their needs and interests.”

And, perhaps most importantly, “For those concerned that they may not have enough to give, every little thing makes a difference,” she stresses. “If you don’t have the time or capacity to volunteer, you can still make a difference by encouraging others to volunteer and helping us spread the word about these opportunities. Folks interested in making a monetary gift can also help support the work we are doing to serve members of our community who were and continue to be most vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic.”

“The vaccine clinics continue to change to meet the needs of our community, so first-time volunteers are not alone in this learning experience,” Fujimoto admits. “Folks who are new can reach out to our team if they have any questions or concerns ahead of signing up. Once they are registered, we will walk them through the onboarding process to get them set up successfully. At the clinics, we always have staff on-site who are there to support our volunteers, so help for our first-time volunteers is never far away! I hope that we continue to see our community join together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and see the impact of what it means to Live United.”

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