‘It’s a happy place’


Newly retired and eager to volunteer in her community, Brenda Mitchner happily signed up to help at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic.

Several days a week, she puts in her ear buds and dances to the music as she greets people entering DeVos Place.

“The people will come around the corner or get off the elevator and see me moving, and they start dancing with me,” Brenda said with a laugh. “They are so friendly.”

The clinic, a large-scale operation that delivers thousands of COVID-19 vaccines a day, is a collaboration of the Kent County Health Department, Spectrum Health and Mercy Health.

It often gets high marks for efficiency and friendliness from patients. And volunteers like Brenda are a big reason for that happy vibe.

As they greet patients, organize supplies or provide help and directions, the volunteers infuse an extra dose of joy at the clinic.

“The volunteers make the experience,” said Jeremy Kelly, a Spectrum Health business assurance specialist. “We are very grateful to them.”

Giving back

Brenda had always planned to volunteer in retirement. When she left her job at Grand Valley State University’s housing department in August 2020, she hoped to work in the schools and help children with reading.

An avid traveler, she also had some big trips in mind.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on both plans. As she looked for other ways to stay active, she learned of the need for volunteers at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic.

“I decided to give my time here,” she said. “I just think it is important to give back to the community.”

Brenda also encourages others to consider getting vaccinated. She thought carefully about the vaccine before she signed up for it.

“I just made the conscious decision that this was going to be in the best interest of me,” she said. “I figure I have to do what I can to protect myself.”

And in getting vaccinated, she hopes she can help curb the spread of the virus in West Michigan.

A worthwhile cause

Jane Folkert has volunteered for 10 years in the pediatric intensive care unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

She has missed working with the kids during the pandemic as most hospital-based volunteer roles have been suspended to protect patients, caregivers and volunteers.

Volunteering at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic has been a good way to channel her energy and compassion.

“To me this is a very, very worthwhile community cause, to be able to help with vaccinations in this community—to put an end to this nightmare,” she said. “I am the biggest cheerleader about the vaccine. I think it’s awesome.”

On a recent afternoon, Folkert greeted patients and directed them to the health care providers who administered the vaccines.

“Hi! Welcome, glad you’re here,” she said as a young woman arrived.

She directed her to a cubicle, saying “I have a friendly face here to help you.”

The patients generally respond just as cheerfully.

“99.9% of them are excited to be here,” Jane said. “They are so grateful to be able to get the vaccine.

“It’s a happy place to be.”

‘It is a joy’

As an executive vice president for Our Daily Bread ministries, Luis Seoane often has a busy day of meetings on his schedule. But when he has free time in the afternoon or evening, he signs up for a volunteer shift at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic.

A native of Spain, Luis is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and English. He often helps Spanish-speaking patients navigate the clinic.

“I know it is intimidating when you go into a place where everyone talks to you in English and you don’t understand a word,” he said.

When he greets patients in Spanish, he often sees them relax and smile with relief.

He encourages patients to tell others that language services are available at the clinic. Interpreters can provide information in a wide variety of languages—either in person, on the phone or through a video visit.

“I tell them to tell their families and friends to come here,” he said.

Luis has volunteered for years with Kent County’s emergency services and as a victim’s advocate with the sheriff’s department.

When he heard the call for volunteers at the clinic, he gladly signed up.

“I believe the vaccine is important for everybody,” he said. “I was very happy to see that vaccines are becoming more available.”

His work with the clinic is a unique and rewarding experience.

“I can tell you that it is a joy,” he said. “Everyone who goes there has a smile on their face. People sometimes sing or jump and say, ‘Yay, I did it!’”

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