Stay home had been a mantra of many Mayors, Governors, and individuals as COVID-19 hit the United States. But for some employees in the Office of Environment, Health, Safety, and Security, they’ve walked out into their communities to play a role as essential workers to fight back.
I’ve always been that person to reach out to the community in times of crisis.
Regina Griego has been with the U.S. government for 24 years, 17 of which were at the U.S. Department of Energy. Beyond managing her day job as the Senior Policy Advisor in the Health and Safety Office of the Office of Environment, Heath, Safety, and Security, Griego has joined the Alexandria Medical Reserve Corps, a team of medical and non-medical volunteers trained to respond to emergencies that impact public health.
“I’ve always been that person to reach out to the community in times of crisis,” Griego said. In March, she was looking to volunteer in her local school system – she has a daughter in high school and a son in college – she ran into the website for the Alexandria Medical Reserve Corps. “I thought wow, this is the perfect fit. I signed up in March and went through the orientation. Once they found out I had a public health background they started having me do more,” she said.
Griego started volunteering on weekends and taking annual leave to support the Medical Reserve Corps call center, then moved into admin work to help keep them organized. “Then contract tracing came up and I immediately signed up for that,” Gina said. She has also started to go out to nursing homes to inspect and observe contract control procedures, working full days on weekends and part time during the week.Griego has been volunteering alongside retired military and police officers, psychologists, teachers, students, contractors, and other current and former federal employees. Volunteers are provided with full PPE, and Griego takes precautions to avoid bringing her work home with her, like showering and changing immediately upon arrival to her home. “My kids think it’s cool, and my boyfriend, while concerned about my wellbeing, is proud of me and my passion for public service,” she says, but beyond that she feels that the work has brought her perspective and closeness to her family.
“It makes me appreciate life more, and prioritize what’s important with respect to being kind to each other, respecting each other it has made us become closer,” Griego said. “It makes you realize how fragile life is too. You see how real this virus is when you’re dealing with it like this on the front lines. There’s so much opportunity to get involved.” She’s now contemplating running a drive to collect coloring books and crayons as a stress reliever and children’s activity through a local youth group.
It has been amazing to see how people have kicked in to do what they can.
Cecelia Kenney, Supervisory Management Analyst in the Office of Environment, Health, Safety, and Security, has also been putting her skills outside of the office to work, using her talent for sewing to create masks and protective gear for first responders and her friends and neighbors.
“It has been amazing to see how people have kicked in to do what they can,” Kenney said. “My mom and I are both quilters and my mom is a hoarder of fabric and sewing notions so we jumped in and have made over 500 masks and 50 caps with a sheepskin type padding to bring some relief for the shields workers have to wear in the COVID Unit.” Her daughter works at a hospital in Hagerstown, and making supplies for her and her colleagues has helped Kenney have a way to address her anxiety over her daughter’s potential exposure to COVID-19.
“It has been hard for us knowing my daughter is so close to all of the nastiness,” Kenney said, “but she loves her job (not the chlorine baths) and was made for this. I just try to support her.”
There are people out there that are thinking of them during these tough times and just want to help.
In March, Sabeena Khanna, a Supervisory Security Specialist in the Office of Environment, Health, Safety, and Security, started trying to find different opportunities to give back to the community, and ended up joining forces with other volunteers to create a group called the Helping Hands Army, taking food, masks, and other supplies to front line workers at hospitals, police stations, and fire stations. “For me it’s important also to show my three children to care for those that are not as fortunate because at some point we all need a helping hand,” she said.
Sabeena has found that the recipients of their efforts are extremely appreciative and grateful that “there are people out there that are thinking of them during these tough times and just want to help.” Her husband and children have been volunteering with her, and they along with Sabeena’s parents are providing a meal for over 30 people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore later this month.
I guess I just like to help people.
In Bart Drummond’s case, his son started the family volunteer spirit. Bart is a COVID-19 Response Team B Lead, and works as a Safety & Occupational Health Manager. Back in February, his son saw early news coverage warning of a potential pandemic and ordered ten 3D printers, designed a quality face shield, and had a production line going within a week. Barton II, Bart’s son, is an active duty Air Force member stationed in Hawaii, and his team there has now made over 2400 face shields, with a second base in Idaho making over 600 so far. Bart advised his son on organizing the team, and they originally scoped out a plan for two people to manage the operation that has now grown to twenty six full-time volunteers running equipment 24/7.
“I was a USAF Fire Fighter for 20 years, coached 44 youth teams, volunteered for our COVID Response Team…I guess I just like to help people,” Bart said. “ As far as my son leading the team… I’d like to think the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
I understood the loneliness and fear that accompanies trying times.
For Health Physicist Kathy McLellan, her church’s virtual prayer ministry was her foray into giving back during COVID-19. “So many people were feeling isolated by COVID-19, I felt that if I could reach out to one person then I could make a difference in one person’s life,” Kathy said. “I have been through many personal challenges in the past 4 years without direct family support so I understood the loneliness and fear that accompanies trying times.”
She has made calls in evenings, weekends, her days off – anywhere she can find time to connect with people who might not otherwise have people to speak with. Last month she also started volunteering with Germantown Help, a nonprofit group in Germantown serving local residents by delivering food to families who were in need of basic food and diapers. “The news reports giving updates on the numbers of people at food banks and help offices looking for food was stunning,” she said. “After having lost everything in a fire at my apartment building 33 years ago, I could certainly relate…. The surprise that I end with each time I do this is a feeling of happiness/joy that I was able to make a difference in one family’s life when they were in a crisis.”
Trying to be helpful in an otherwise helpless-feeling situation.
Alicia Williamson is “trying to be helpful in an otherwise helpless-feeling situation,” and certainly sounds like she’s succeeding. Alicia, an Environmental Protection Specialist, started volunteering in late March by delivering dinners to seniors and persons with disabilities several times a week in Washington D.C.’s Ward 4 with the World Central Kitchen and her DC City Councilman’s office. The meal recipients have “repeatedly commented on how happy they are not to have to venture out in such an uncertain time”, Alicia says.
“I felt scared and somewhat at a loss of what to do while the virus was spreading,” Alicia said. “But at the same time I felt very blessed to be able to continue working from home and providing for my family. I wanted to be able to assist in any way I could, to alleviate some of that stress.”
To find a volunteer opportunity near you, visit www.serve.gov.