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Nonprofit Leadership Alliance students lead volunteer teams at vaccination sites

A person wearing a face mask and bright orange vest poses by a sign reading "1,000,000 vaccines strong!".

Yamile Martinez stands next to a sign reading “1,000,000 vaccines strong” at the Phoenix Municipal Stadium COVID-19 vaccination site while volunteering as a “Team Lead” on Feb. 19, 2021. Many NLASA students jumped at the opportunity to serve at the sites and provide care and assistance to Arizonans.

Studying to earn the Certified Nonprofit Professional credential, ASU students bridge the public and nonprofit sectors with volunteer efforts

by Alexandra Conforti, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

March 10, 2021

Members of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance Student Association at ASU have embraced a volunteer opportunity this year to serve and assist those receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at Phoenix-area sites. As volunteer supervisors, many NLASA members have found a way to support and positively impact their local communities in the fight against COVID-19, leading as prime examples of what volunteers and young leaders are capable of.

The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance is a national network of colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations dedicated to educating, preparing and certifying professionals to strengthen and lead nonprofit organizations, culminating with the Certified Nonprofit Professional credential. This semester, many of ASU's NLA students have started volunteering at both the Phoenix Municipal Stadium and at the State Farm Arena COVID-19 vaccination sites to learn how the nonprofit and public sectors work together, put their studies into practice, and help their communities.

3 people, all wearing face masks and orange vests, smile.Yamile Martinez, a junior at ASU and a member of NLASA for five semesters, has been volunteering as a “team lead” at Phoenix Municipal Stadium along with Decora Stevens, who is part of the supervisor team, a senior at ASU and a member of NLASA since her sophomore year. These students have been working for the past four weeks in the data verification department of the vaccine distribution centers.

Both Stevens and Martinez have juggled the duties of training and shadowing new volunteers, keeping track of patient information and assisting with patient concerns, monitoring patients after receiving the vaccines, and managing the schedules of the volunteers, incoming patients and appointments. The work flow is heavy, but “it’s been a really great experience, and there's so many different types of people that have been coming out to serve … It's cool to see all the diversity,” Stevens said.

Martinez said that problem-solving and system organization have both played a large role in making sure the vaccination distribution centers run smoothly. With around 200 cars coming through an hour with appointments and volunteer shifts starting at 6 a.m., the process has to be strictly organized and systematic.

“I definitely like being in the role of a leader. Anytime there's a particular issue with registration or a system isn't working they flagged me down,” Stevens said. “I feel like I excel in stressful situations because I can remain calm and talk people through the process, and one of my personal goals is to make people feel confident and comfortable. Having that level of confidence makes the volunteers and the clientele feel at ease.”

As part of a five-stage process, Phase 1A and 1B of vaccine distribution are in full effect in Maricopa County, with over 715,000 vaccines given to date. Included in these first phases are the populations of healthcare workers, education and childcare providers, law enforcement, older adults, and those with high-risk medical conditions. As volunteers at the sites, Stevens and Martinez were able to receive both of their COVID vaccination doses.

When asked why she decided to volunteer, Stevens said, “I hadn't really been involved in anything COVID-related this past year, and I think that was something that I felt was important to contribute to. I love being a part of the vaccination process because this is the solution to solving the issue. Seeing people relieved and thankful to receive their appointment … that means a lot as a volunteer to help them.”

With multiple semesters as NLASA members, Stevens and Martinez agreed that the program has helped prepare them for opportunities like this one. By learning the core values of marketing, communication, recruiting, event planning, community development and more, the vaccination process and procedures were much easier to understand and manage.

“Working at this COVID vaccination site has opened my eyes to see that even the smallest things that a volunteer can do to another human being can change one’s day,” Martinez said. “I gained professional relationships, but I also gained a lot of positive messages from patients that were coming to the site. I got people thanking me for helping them and making them feel comfortable before getting their vaccine.”

Currently the two-dose vaccines available and being distributed are Moderna and Pfizer, but a new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson has been authorized by the CDC. It is the first of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines that comes in a single dose and is awaiting distribution.

As an advocate of community building, Stevens said she prefers working in-person and has embraced being able to serve such an important leadership role during these trying times.

“Being online this year has been more difficult for me and this opportunity just emphasized the fact that I need to be doing something that's very interactive and engaging. I feel this experience was a testament to the type of work I want to be invested in in the future,” Stevens said.

Visit the Maricopa County website for more information, answers to questions, and help on COVID-19 vaccination sites in Arizona.