Local doctor + community support create innovative vaccination drive-thru

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Celeste Reese-Willis, M.D, is leading an initiative to get more Alabamians vaccinated with support from United Way of Central Alabama and others. Photo via Jacob Blakenship for Bham Now

Drive up, get your shot, drive off. Thanks to Celeste Reese-Willis, M.D., Birminghamians have a hassle-free option to receive their COVID-19 vaccine at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport’s drive-thru vaccination site. But she’s not alone—learn how United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) and its affinity groups play a role in this monumental feat.

“I feel like all we’re doing is what we’re supposed to be doing.”

The above quote is a humble response to Dr. Celeste’s accomplishment. When the local physician learned of other doctors across the country giving their patients vaccines, she bought a freezer and put plans into motion.

“I wanted to make sure that my patients had a place that they would be able to get a vaccine and so that our team would play a role in helping to vaccinate the citizens of Alabama. I didn’t want us to be the last on the totem pole.”

Celeste Reese-Willis, M.D., CEO, Dcrw Medical Group

A big group of supporters and volunteers at the drive-thru vaccination site

To help get the ball rolling and the vaccines flowing, she worked with a logistics team and several people who collectively said, “Hey, we’re tired of COVID-19.”

Dr. David Hicks and Dr. Wilson at the Jefferson County Department of Health, the Bruno Event Team and Ron Mathieu, CEO of the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, make up a few of those supporters.

Then, you need someone to help ensure everything runs smoothly. From paperwork to directing car lines, UWCA volunteers devote time to help with administration at the vaccination site.

“We wouldn’t be able to do everything that we’re doing without the support of the volunteers at United Way, they’ve been just amazing.

I’ve heard of them and what they do. But (it’s amazing) to actually see it and feel it—interact with (the volunteers) and feel the positive energy, the love, the wanting to be there to help support what you’re doing because they love the community.”

Celeste Reese-Willis, M.D., CEO, Dcrw Medical Group

It takes a village and then some

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Sarah Beth Wilcox is a volunteer at the vaccination site and also head of the New Member Committee for Tocqueville Society. Photo via Jacob Blakenship for Bham Now

In a joint effort, two generations of leaders—the Young Philanthropists Society (YPS) and the Tocqueville Society—teamed up to lend a hand at the vaccination site.

YPS is a group of young professionals who live in Central Alabama and want to make sure they prioritize philanthropy with their careers. Similarly, the Tocqueville Society has a commitment to service in Alabama and consists of over 800 members who contribute $10,000+ to United Way.

When UWCA asked for volunteers, Tocqueville member Wendi Boyen showed up and found others did too.

“Wow, it is probably nothing like anything that I’ve done before. We’re bringing people all over the community to one spot to help get them the vaccines that we all need to start living the lives we want to live.”

Wendi Boyen, UWCA Campaign Community Division Chair and Tocqueville Member

Everyone’s hoping for COVID-19 to be a thing we read about in history books, not watch on the local news. Dr. Celeste, the team at UWCA and community supporters are helping to make that a reality.

We’re trying to do our part and to help decrease the number of COVID-19 within our community, Jefferson County, and even throughout the state. And it’s an honor to serve the citizens of this community in this way.”

Celeste Reese-Willis, M.D., CEO, Dcrw Medical Group

We all want the same thing

Working together, YPS and Tocqueville members learn from each other and bond with a shared goal.

“It’s inspirational, to me, because (YPS) comes in with broad energy. They are very philanthropically oriented, and they do a lot of hands-on work.”

Wendi Boyen, UWCA Campaign Community Division Chair and Tocqueville Member

While Wendi admires the YPS’s commitment, it’s the Tocqueville Society members who set that first example in YPS member Callie Nashs’ eyes.

“We are looking to the Tocqueville Society members as mentors. They lead by example, so having them out here is great. Communing with them and volunteering with them is a great opportunity because they’re leaders in our community as well.”

Callie Nash, Member, Young Philanthropists Society

Some volunteers at the vaccination site have been volunteering in Central Alabama for nearly three decades. For others, it was a new experience.

YPS member Pamela Rodgers was eager to get out and help the community—she even took off work.

“I thought this was the best way for me to make the effort to step out there and help. I’ve been blessed that I haven’t been sick, and I just wanted to help somebody out.”

Pamela Rodgers, Member, Young Philanthropists Society

Nearing the finish line

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A volunteer hands back an vaccination card. Photo via Jacob Blakenship for Bham Now

Imagine this time a year ago. Now, seeing rows and rows of cars line up to receive a vaccine is almost emotional for those involved.

“I think about how many people are coming in today and what everyone has been through the last year to lead up to this point and it’s just touching, really. It’s exciting.”

Sarah Beth Wilcox, New Member Committee, Tocqueville Society

This type of volunteer opportunity just makes sense for UWCA and its volunteers. The nonprofit involves itself in many aspects of the community—from emergencies to daily living.

Throughout COVID-19, the organization worked to find new ways to deliver vital services and carry on recurring ones despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Now that vaccines are available to most Americans, they’re stepping up to fill a new need.

“Our mission is having one equal way for everybody to have access to the same services. I think that we all feel passionate that people have access to health care.”

Sarah Beth Wilcox, New Member Committee, Tocqueville Society

You can be a part of positive change, too! Learn how to get involved with United Way of Central Alabama through their website and when you follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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