From her home in Texas, rising sophomore Tanvi Kosuri has been hard at work early this summer coordinating a Johns Hopkins volunteer effort at the M&T Bank Stadium vaccination site. It's been a challenge, she says, organizing volunteers, scheduling shuttles, and problem-solving from a different time zone. But a challenge she's found motivating.
"Being a part of the Vaccine Volunteer Project has given me a deeper understanding of public health and real, meaningful experience I couldn't get in a classroom," says Kosuri, who is considering majoring in public health studies. "Hopkins has a reputation for being one of the best colleges in health care, but I chose this school not only for its pre-med reputation, but also for how much it gives back to Baltimore and how, for me, I could make a difference in my community."
After opening in late February, the mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium scaled up operations to vaccinate roughly 6,000 people a day at its peak. Kosuri—who started her volunteer efforts from Baltimore before returning home to Texas for the summer—is among more than 200 JHU student volunteers who have supported non-clinical operations at the downtown stadium, serving as on-site greeters, guides, runners, or observers and as shift leaders and coordinators on- and off-site. Over the course of 10 weeks this spring, Hopkins students volunteered more than 3,000 hours at the stadium, equating to an estimated $90,000 of economic impact.
"At our peak, we were sending as many students as we could provide transit for—often about 35 per day," says Misti McKeehen, executive director of JHU's Center for Social Concern, who is providing staff support for the efforts. On April 22 during spring break, she said, a large-scale service day brought out about 80 volunteers in a single day.
As the focus in Maryland now shifts from mass vaccination sites to community locations, the M&T site will close operations on July 2. But the Vaccine Volunteer Project will continue, supported by the JHU students in Baltimore this summer who are serving at the state-run community vaccination clinic at Morgan State University, which operates three times a week through July 30. In May, student volunteers also supported the community clinic in Charles Village at the Village Learning Place and will begin serving there again June 16.
"Our students have been dedicated and reliable in lending their support, and the clinics we serve have expressed a lot of gratitude for the long hours," says McKeehen. "We're proud to connect our students' passions with Maryland's need for support at these sites."
Bloomberg Philanthropies has provided support for JHU's Vaccine Volunteer Project, covering transportation (a combination of shuttles and Lyft rides), supplies, and pay for work-study shift leaders.
For the student volunteers, the experience has enhanced a sense of connection to the city of Baltimore. Rising sophomore Aanya Shahani says she was especially moved when a patient at M&T Bank Stadium receiving a second dose of vaccine remembered her from their first dose.
"Volunteering at M&T really made me feel like a part of the Baltimore community, especially as a new international student," says Shahani, who, according to McKeehen, provided more than 150 hours of on-site volunteer service. "Mass vaccination sites like this one really drill in the belief that these vaccines can help end the pandemic. Every person from every community—that's the end goal."
For Kosuri, whose first year in college was marked by social distancing, single-occupancy residence halls, and a virtual fall semester, the volunteerism also gave her chance to meet others who share her interests.
"Especially with the nature of the semester being distanced and with the whole pandemic, it's been hard to have a social life and make friends," Kosuri says. "So I'm really glad that I was able to have this experience to make friends, but also I can hopefully attest for the other shift leaders as well that this project let us make a difference to help end this pandemic."