Skidaway Island Vaccination Volunteers Named 2021 Volunteer Group of the Year

By Lynn Lewis -
Communications Manager

Not all real-life superheroes wear capes, but they all have huge hearts and a passion for helping others. This most certainly is the case with the Skidaway Island Vaccination Volunteers. The group recently was named The Landings Association’s 2021 Volunteer Group of the Year.

COVID-19 hit the world by storm in 2020 and has been sticking with us ever since on an unwelcomed extended stay. In early 2021, Jason Conley of the Village Walk Pharmacy, along with assistance from Scott and Amy Pierce of Coastal Care Partners, opened the COVID-19 vaccination clinic in The Village in a vacant storefront made available by the Wistar Lewis family. Shortly after, large numbers of Landings residents answered the call for volunteers. During the first six-to-eight months of the Village Walk Vaccine Clinic, more than 140 volunteers provided the workforce to keep the Clinic running smoothly. Click here to see a complete list of all Skidaway Island Vaccination Volunteers.

During the height of the pandemic, every shift required as many as 10 volunteers. Five or more of these individuals handled the registration and intake process and kept things organized. Some volunteers focused on matching paperwork to ensure the correct first or second doses were administered. Others screened individuals for eligibility and reviewed their medical history to ensure they shouldn’t forego the vaccination for medical reasons. Two or three people per shift oversaw entering the vaccinations into the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS). And finally, volunteers who were licensed doctors, nurses, or pharmacists assisted in the vaccination process, with the organizational assistance of Sheila Stallings, a registered nurse.

“It was an absolute joy and a pleasure to have the opportunity to help recruit, schedule, and work alongside these amazing medical volunteers as well as those making the gears run smoothly,” Stallings said. “Being able to do something to get our Savannah community immunized was so satisfying. Getting to know the Village Walk Pharmacy team and the Coastal Care Partners team was inspiring, and I am so glad to have them on our island. What a wonderful group of heroes!”

Scott Pierce said this honor is well deserved for the volunteers who gave so freely of their time and talents to assist with this endeavor.

“This is an amazing honor for all who helped with the Vaccination Clinic,” he said. “I must say that none of this could have been done without Jason Conley, who had the foresight to get this going, along with the fantastic community spirit of The Landings and Skidaway Island resident volunteers. Amy and I are blessed to have been a part of it.”

Rick Cunningham is one of the many volunteers who helped with the Vaccination Clinic. He was recruited to help set up a process for volunteers to record vaccine inventory and track all the details of each dose of vaccine administered.

“The pharmacy computer systems use a direct uplink to the state GRITS system, but that couldn’t be extended to a clinic environment, and the pharmacy staff had little experience with the manual system,” he said. “This reporting and data entry was critical to the overall effort because the state allocated vaccine where it was most needed, but only if it was being handled properly and administered quickly, and the only way to demonstrate that was through the interface to the GRITS system. We learned the system, trained others, who then trained more people, and within a week a group of more than 40 people were organizing and staffing two shifts of three people for five, and sometimes six days every week.”

Dr. Cary Shapoff volunteered to help with the Clinic because of his medical background as a licensed Periodontist. When the project began, he was unsure of his role but found himself involved in everything from organizing the registration of patients to administering vaccinations. He was able to see firsthand the positive impact he and his fellow volunteers made during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The impact of our registration process volunteer team, as well as the other two teams, became quite effective in serving the large number of community residents and surrounding Savannah area residents seeking vaccinations,” Shapoff said. “The eligibility requirements for patients changed over time, and the registration forms, policies, and processes were very fluid as our team learned and worked together with changing Georgia and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The responses from those getting vaccinated were very favorable, grateful, and appreciative.”

Chris Jones, who scheduled the GRITS volunteers, agrees with Shapoff that the efforts of the volunteers and the Clinic itself made a positive difference for many people, especially the residents of The Landings and others on Skidaway Island.

“At first, vaccine availability was scarce, and appointments at the local Health Department and other locations were hard to make, and we were another important conduit for this beginning phase of combatting the pandemic,” she said. “We even did several offsite clinics at schools to help the teachers get their first and second shots. We always had enough people to cover what was needed to get the job done. When we suddenly required extra help for a session or people to go offsite, volunteers raised their hands to put in more time. Never once were we short-handed. What is especially significant is that it involved a collaborative effort between several different volunteer teams to make it work. Time and again, we saw the people of The Landings stepping up to help.”

It is no secret that The Landings is known for volunteerism on-island and beyond, so it comes as no surprise that so many people volunteered to help the COVID-19 Clinic. Although this undertaking was a lot of work, volunteer Paulette Hamilton said it was a pleasure working with her neighbors and friends.

“Congrats to all, especially those that made the schedules and helped with the electronic records,” Hamilton said. “It was those people who made the whole situation tolerable, and everything run smoothly. I was responsible for updating records in GRITS. There were four of us updating records in the beginning, and it was hectic. We were all green at first, but once everyone got into their routines, we were a well-oiled machine.”

Hamilton added that she volunteered to help because she realized that everyone was in this crisis together. Being proactive and getting vaccinated, while helping others do the same, was her best chance to ensure she and her neighbors were as safe as possible.

“The volunteers and the employees from Village Pharmacy and Coastal Care Partners certainly made a positive difference on Skidaway Island as far as keeping the numbers down,” she said. “We are very fortunate not to have felt some of the hardships that others experienced through this pandemic. We are all blessed and proof that Landings’ residents come together and accomplish great things. Volunteers in this community are the heartbeat for whatever the cause or organization.”

Both Shapoff and Cunningham echo Hamilton’s sentiment that there is nowhere else quite like The Landings when it comes to volunteering countless hours to make this already great community even better. Shapoff says the Clinic is just another example that volunteerism is alive and well in The Landings. He adds that he and his wife, Carol, have forged new friendships thanks to volunteering at the Clinic. As for Cunningham, he is pleased but not surprised that the community turned out to support the vaccination efforts.

“Our neighbors in The Landings are smart, energetic, caring, and always willing to help out wherever they are needed,” he said. “The number of people who volunteered, and the number of hours they gladly contributed, week after week, and eventually month after month to this important work would be astonishing anywhere else. But on Skidaway Island, it’s not that surprising. Nearly every person I know on the island regularly contributes considerable time and effort, as well as financial support when needed, to any number of charitable, educational, and service organizations. And that’s not only on the island but also in the greater Savannah community. I feel very lucky to be able to be a part of this amazing community!”

Marguerite Baxter, a retired nurse who worked with the group, believes the significant impact made by the team to the residents of Skidaway Island and the local community is just another example of the giving spirit of The Landings and will long be remembered by the community.

“The people on this island come together for so many needs, and that is what creates the community in which we live,” Baxter said. “We always tell our friends and family who visit us here that we thought we bought a house, but instead we bought a community. Whatever the need, some driven souls on the island get together, hatch an idea, put out a call, and the wonderful and generous people on this island respond. We have lived a lot of places before moving to The Landings, but the volunteer enterprise and the sense of community that is created by the people we have come to know and love is unlike any other we have experienced.”

This article was originally published by The Landings Association on their website.

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