It’s hard to believe that we’re more than a year into the pandemic. Yet even with all of these months behind us, each new development in dealing with it–from Covid tests to getting the vaccine–takes a lot of learning. That’s why we’re so lucky to have people like Lake Forest’s Nicole Phelan in our community who just jump right in and figure things out.
When the vaccine became available earlier this year, Nicole was determined to get appointments for her parents. She realized early on that it wasn’t as simple as calling and making an appointment.
“The technology required to make all of this work is very intimidating,” says Nicole, married mother of two amazing kids and a lawyer who runs her own wellness business Phelan Phine. “And that coupled with the supply and demand issues with the vaccine, booking an appointment is very complicated.” Nicole ultimately connected with another Lake Forester named Marybeth O’Shea who ultimately helped her mom find an appointment.
Grateful to Marybeth and frustrated with how tricky the whole process was in booking appointments, Nicole decided to volunteer with the Chicago Vaccine Hunters. This group was started in the city to help seniors get their vaccines.
“I was so impressed at how effective they were,” Nicole says. “With just a google doc and a dedicated bunch of volunteers, the Chicago Vaccine Hunters took the hard part out of seniors getting the appointments they needed. They made it so simple and I wondered if we might be able to do the same thing in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.”
So with the help of Marybeth (who also has a full-time job), Nicole reached out to Tricia Schwall, the executive director at Dickinson Hall, to see if they would be interested in launching a program similar to Chicago Vaccine Hunters. With Tricia’s buy-in, they looped in the City of Lake Forest to help promote their efforts.
“We started small, with a handful of volunteers, and began finding appointments,” Nicole says. “The first person we helped was a Lake Forest woman who was 100 years old. She was so excited to get her appointment. We felt so good making that happen for her.”
By the end of their first week, Nicole and Marybeth with their team of volunteers–who call themselves the LF/LB Vaccine Buddies–had booked more than 280 appointments.
“It kind of took over our lives,” Nicole says with a laugh. “I had dirty laundry and dishes all over my house and my family was ready to kill me, but we were just so busy. It was worth it, though. Most of the people we talked to had been through so much in the last year, separated from their families, and the vaccine gave them a real sense of hope.”
Now a little over a month since launching, the LF/LB Vaccine Buddies has more than 40 volunteers and has booked nearly 700 appointments.
“It’s really incredible to think about this number,” Nicole says. “So many terrible things happened because of Covid, but there were a lot of wonderful things, too. People have been inspired to do so many good things, so many hard things for other people–it’s really special.”
The LF/LB Vaccine Buddies have a Facebook page they update regularly with current Covid and vaccine information. For the time being, they’re only helping seniors and very special cases make appointments. The hope is that as the vaccine supply becomes more abundant, and a more tech-savvy population becomes eligible for it, the process will become easier.
When I asked Nicole where she gets her “jump-in and fix-things” mentality, she laughs me off. “I tend to leap before I look, and I feel very lucky when it all works out like this has. Every time we get someone vaccinated, we’re one step closer to getting our normal back.”