Heroes on the COVID-19 front lines

While a horrifying pandemic quickly raged, many Kiwanians stayed on the front lines ready for the fight. These are just a few of the brave members among us.

NOTE: Interviews for this feature took place in December 2020.

Angelo Ciardella, Photo by Dax Melmer Photography

Angelo Ciardella Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Personal support worker in long-term care; nursing student at St. Clair College
Secretary-treasurer, Kiwanis Club of Windsor; district administrator for CKI Eastern Canada

For two months, I volunteered to relocate four hours away to Mississauga in order to help another home owned by the company I work for that had been heavily affected by COVID-19. I spent my birthday — and all of May and June — living in a hotel and working alongside an amazing group of dedicated people to care for those who call that facility home. 

It was a humbling experience and one I will never forget. Seeing the pandemic firsthand was a jarring experience.   

There have been many challenges throughout this time for me. Having to cancel my club’s signature project, our residential summer camp at Kiwanis Sunshine Point, was absolutely devastating, but the right thing to do. We will open our doors again when it is safe. This was the first time since 1947 that camp didn’t run, but now more than ever we are committed to continuing to support the children of our community.  Another tremendously difficult thing has been having to step away from my work as a personal support worker in order to attend my clinical placement for school, as healthcare workers are barred from being in two healthcare facilities in Ontario at this time. My extremely dedicated colleagues at the long-term care facility where I am employed have been working to the bone to support our amazing residents.  

The pandemic has taught me so many things. Wash your hands. Cover your sneeze. Be patient in line. Perhaps most important though, the pandemic has taught me that a little kindness can go a very long way. At a time where so much is unknown and so much is unfolding, there is still so much to do for the children of our communities. And even though that may look very different from what we are used to, it is so vitally important now more than ever.

Mike Delfs, left, and a colleague

Mike Delfs Jamestown, North Dakota, USA
President & CEO, Jamestown Regional Medical Center
Kiwanis Club of Jamestown

Whether it’s a pandemic or not, there is no average day in healthcare. Sometimes we’re making strategic decisions. Sometimes we’re rounding with departments and building individual relationships. Today, half of my time is spent preparing for and reacting to the pandemic. While we’ve had a long year and hard days, I’m so proud of this team and how it is continuing to care for the community. 

During this pandemic, I’ve learned how resilient people are. Most people, provided you give them support, do amazing work. My role is to remove roadblocks. And so far, what we’ve seen is legendary. Human nature in healthcare is to step up and go above and beyond. That’s what we saw in March 2020 and that’s what we continue to see today.

The pandemic requires the level of seriousness you see in the media. Today, people are confused or distrust the media and I understand their reasons. However, these preventive measures are important. For example, North Dakota had one of the highest rates of positivity in the world. In any year, due to the flu, we have people in the hospital, of course. However, we never had half of our census as all flu patients before. As Kiwanians, our purpose is to improve the community one child and one community at a time. Right now, easy and inexpensive ways to do that are washing your hands, wearing your mask and practicing physical distancing. When the vaccine is ready, with few exceptions, we recommend people receive that too.

To fellow front-line workers: Keep fighting the good fight. We’re here with you and for you.

To the general public: Please be aware, if you’re not on the front lines, your decisions have consequences that mean people end up in the hospital. 

As the vaccines come out, educate yourself. We recommend everyone on our team receive them because herd immunity is our ticket to normalcy. Won’t it be nice to have our traditional events, meetings and pancake days again?

Courtney Taylor Fallway

Courtney Taylor Fallway New Braunfels, Texas, USA
Activities director, memory care facility
Kiwanis Club of New Braunfels, Texas; past Key Club member, New Mexico District; past CKI member, Louisiana-Mississippi-Tennessee District

When the pandemic hit, we closed our facility to all outsiders, including musicians, exercise leaders and volunteers. With social distancing guidelines, my calendar focus shifted from large group activities to one-on-one and independent projects that could be enjoyed safely by individuals spaced throughout our large common space. We remain in a complicated position now with the government pushing us to open our doors while we strive to protect our residents and staff against new waves of the virus.

I don’t see things getting back to normal soon. Every step forward is riddled with concerns: Is this too soon? Is it going to backfire? We kept COVID-19 out of our facility for more than seven months. We heeded the state’s order to allow families to finally come inside for visits with a plexiglass booth, then we got hit. The timing was coincidental; we do not believe a family brought us the virus. All the same, we had to push our quarantining more strictly than ever before, and we had to utilize our isolation unit. We have halted the virus and returned to the level of socially distanced engagement from prior months, but we are once again concerned about authority recommendations to allow public vendors back inside.

The main change in our club was the shift to meeting through Zoom. During the first few months of isolation, we didn’t meet at all. We slowly got into the swing of alternating club and board meetings, then added speakers and online socials. Our satellite club has resumed monthly meetings in person, but our primary club meetings remain online. Meanwhile, most of our service projects didn’t miss a beat. The needs in our community didn’t fade, and neither did our determination to serve.

Nicole McDermott in her classroom

Nicole McDermott Annandale, Virginia, USA
Kiwanis Club of Tysons, Virginia; past Key Club and CKI member of New England District

This is my 16th year leading the independent Pinecrest School in Annandale, Virginia, and there has never been another time like this. There has been a constant need for innovation. Rethinking how things are done and figuring out how to do them — or do away with them and start from scratch — during this surreal time. My experience certainly helped navigate this moment in time, but there really was nothing to compare it to. A big change being in person at school during a global pandemic has been the tremendous focus needed on health, safety and wellness: masks and shields, distancing, sanitizing, cleaning, limiting interactions around the school and maintaining class pods, supporting staff and families that are feeling anxious and so on. Teaching is not easy on a regular day, and all of this has significantly increased the challenges. There has also been a need to learn new skills. Prior to March 2020, I had used Zoom a total of six times. I then went to using it daily. 

This time has reaffirmed for me the importance of grace (for myself and for others) and gratitude. I also think meeting this moment by staying present and being open has really been a critical part of doing well in this time of uncertainty. Getting too far ahead of anything these days is not productive. 

I think Kiwanis clubs have also had to think critically and innovate to continue to engage members. Our club is having virtual meetings and there have been some physically distanced service projects. Our club has a foundation that would have spearheaded a large-scale in-person service project this past Kiwanis year had it not been for COVID. Now we are seeking input from members and planning to distribute mini grants to local charities in need. We are still investing and supporting the community, but in a different way than we had imagined. 

François Brolly

François Brolly Saverne, France
Retiree called back to Sainte Catherine Hospital
Kiwanis Club of Saverne, France

I worked for more than 35 years at the Saverne hospital. I was a young retiree and was called back by management to take part in a COVID-oriented consultation with three of my other retired colleagues. This consultation is carried out seven days a week. 

None of us hesitated to return to serving in an unusual situation where the values of solidarity and cohesion between caregivers and patients were clearly felt. The population was thankful toward the hospital and its stakeholders, as everywhere else in France.

And to go back to the patients we consulted, we witnessed the usual range of illnesses, unfortunately with some very affected patients on the one end, whose grim prospects we were very well aware.

Kiwanis has also been a big supporter of the hospital through fundraising campaigns.  

Finley Jeffrey

Finley Jeffrey St. Andrew, Grenada
Permanent secretary, information communication technology, Public Service of Grenada
President of the Kiwanis Club of St. Andrew, Grenada

When Grenada registered its first case of COVID-19 in February, the government immediately instituted a national lockdown and 24-hour curfew. The Ministry of Information Communication Technology was suddenly thrust into the role as an essential service provider. 

It was my responsibility to facilitate virtual sittings of the cabinet, thus ensuring that the main decision-making arm of government continued to function during the lockdown. Additionally, I was responsible for ensuring that important information from the Ministry of Health, the Royal Grenada Police Force and the government agencies in general was disseminated via virtual means to the citizenry on a timely basis. Thus, the ministry facilitated all of the government’s press briefings, broadcasts and updates. 

The government also announced that public workers were expected to work remotely and that schools should also convene remotely. In response, the Ministry of ICT implemented the Avaya Remote Worker Solution. The solution allowed officers to answer, make and transfer calls to other office extensions throughout the public service from the security of their homes using their mobile devices. A number of Office 365 licenses were commissioned, and training was delivered virtually to public officers so they could communicate and collaborate remotely via Office 365, OneDrive and Microsoft Teams. In addition, the ministry developed solutions to facilitate virtual sittings of the court. 

Meanwhile, once the schools in Grenada closed their doors, the Ministry of Education was able to launch a platform to facilitate remote teaching and learning. The M-Star Learning Support Platform, developed by the Ministry of ICT, brought both students and teachers together on an integrated platform, providing user-friendly tools and resources and making proactive engagements with students a simple matter. 

I was also responsible for ensuring that all government IT systems were fully functional during the lockdown period, that connectivity was at its optimum and that all government servers and data were safe and secure. Hence, though the public service was on lockdown, the Officers of the Ministry of ICT functioned as normal.

Aaron Salinas

Aaron Salinas Edinburg, Texas, USA
Nurse practitioner
Kiwanis Club of Edinburg

Texas has been hit hard with COVID-19. In November, we became the first state to reach a million novel coronavirus cases. In the Rio Grande Valley, we have seen our own sets of challenges as we continue to fight this pandemic. As a nurse practitioner, I have continued to provide patient care to the patients that I serve, addressing their medical needs and their mental health needs as well.  

The pandemic has certainly brought on many challenges to how we deliver patient care. One of the biggest challenges has been how we see and examine our patients. Traditional exams are face-to-face with close proximity, allowing the caregiver and patient to use body language to help with communication. Currently, we are seeing patients via telehealth (audio and video), by phone and on rare occasions we have them come in for a face-to-face consult. For a lot of us, this has been challenging because seeing the patient’s overall appearance is an important part of our examination. One of the things that I have noticed since the pandemic has been the higher volume of patients experiencing issues with anxiety and depression.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced during the pandemic has been the limited resources that are available to address my patients’ needs. I have seen patients who have lost loved ones, their jobs, their homes, the ability to pay for their medications and are experiencing food insecurity. 

This pandemic has taught us many lessons. I think the biggest lesson is that we must always strive to be prepared for the unexpected. We must learn to work with others and be aware of the resources that we have available. 

I think the role we have as Kiwanians is amazing and we do a great job by supporting our cause and our mission. I would like Kiwanians to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Things will get better and we must continue to be hopeful. As a person and healthcare provider, I would like to remind everyone to practice safety and to continue to follow all CDC recommendations. 

Miguel Stevens and Lady

Miguel Stevens Ieper, Belgium
Kiwanis Club of Roeselare Rodenbach; vice governor of the Belgium-Luxembourg District 

I’ve been working 25 years as a military veterinarian, 15 of which I’ve served as chief of the Belgian Military Veterinary Service and the last three years as chairman of the NATO Veterinarians. 

A colleague of mine had the idea (to use working dogs to detect COVID-19 in people) and tested it with positive results with a few dogs of the Paris Fire Brigade. I still know a lot of people worldwide in the area of working dogs, and I wanted to bring all people in Belgium together to avoid spreading of efforts. I got the approval of the government to perform the study, and the Ministry of Public Health of Belgium gave us 60,000 euros. The biggest success was bringing together universities, the Ministry of Defense, National Police and Civil Protection on this project.

We were discussing in the district board how to develop a program to create visibility for Kiwanis. Since I am active in both, I saw an opportunity with a double-win situation. Kiwanis has a huge network that can bring in a short time volunteers for the project. I was hoping for a lot of media coverage for this original project, so good for Kiwanis to be associated with a project with a very good social impact. The result of media coverage was much more than expected.

We have started training the dogs. I am excited and hope to prove that our dogs can indeed indicate positive carriers of the COVID-19 virus. Then I hope to convince the government to invest in dogs and people, so schools and all other economic and social activities can go back to normal as soon as possible.

Learn more about Miguel Stevens’ project with working dogs at kiwanis.org/covid19dogs.

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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