By Jill Johnson, member communications team lead, Corporate Communications, Rotary International

My cheeks hurt from smiling, which was weird because I wore a mask all day. It’s not as if anyone saw my smile, but I couldn’t help it. It was a great day.

I volunteered at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic in my town on 15 April. I worked the registration desk, checking people in for their appointments. It’s a fun assignment because you interact with so many people. There was the young man who told me he just woke up — it was 1:00 p.m! There were the teenagers born the year I graduated high school who didn’t laugh at my lame attempts at jokes. And there was the young man with autism who, as his mom filled out the paperwork, sang me a song and showed me how he could dance.

I’ve always wanted to volunteer but struggled with finding the “right thing.” When Rotary members were encouraged to work with their local health organizations to support vaccination clinics in their communities, I thought, “I could do that.” I may not be a Rotarian or a Rotaractor, but I am a part of the Rotary community. And this felt like the “right thing.”

While the registration desk is fun (and busy), I also liked being a vaccination assistant on previous volunteer shifts a week earlier. There’s more time to chat than at the registration desk, so you get to interact with people in a different way. I’ve listened to residents talk about how excited (and nervous) they are. I’ve seen their faces light up when the vaccination is over and they didn’t feel a thing. I’ve heard more people say “thank you” than I can count.

While it’s mostly a joyful and positive experience, there have been some challenges. There was the patient who was there with her caregiver. She had a disability and was deaf, and was also very afraid — she really wanted her mom. Another man arrived in a wheelchair with his parents and started to get angry when he realized he was getting a vaccination. As a non-medical professional who works behind a desk all day, it was an eye opening experience.

When my shift was done, I was exhausted, but in a good way. I still had work to do and two kids to take care of, but I felt accomplished and happy. I had no idea volunteering would have this effect on me. I’m already looking for more clinic shifts to volunteer for.