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Inter-Faith Vaccine Ambassadors
Inter-Faith Vaccine Ambassadors

More than a dozen Oxford students are partnering with local leaders of communities in need to increase COVID-19 vaccine accessibility and trust through an interfaith program that will run through the end of 2021.

Students from both the Oxford and Emory campuses are participating in The Interfaith Youth Core's (IFYC) Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors project. Oxford students are using a range of creative activities to raise awareness about COVID-19 vaccines in underserved communities.

Akash Shanmugam, an Oxford continuee and rising junior at Emory College, developed the Back-to-School Barbecue: Healthy by Choice community health event in Conyers, Ga. Shanmugam, who is majoring in neuroscience and behavioral biology, wanted to create a community gathering that would earn the support of local government and community organizations. Working with the Helping Hands Outreach Clinic staff, organizers at an August event distributed free barbecue and school supplies to the community, while offering COVID-19 vaccinations, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, and physicals.

Shanmugam, a California Bay Area resident, had worked with the Helping Hands Clinic for the last two years through an Oxford internship.

"Through my work, I connected with different levels of the Rockdale County community – churches, health clinics, school boards, faith-based summer camps, local pharmaceutical organizations, and county politicians and congressmen," he says. "I learned the meaningful roles they each played in this community and devised ways they could each contribute to improving vaccination rates."

Oxford College Chaplain Lyn Pace 02T 17T, oversaw and served as a mentor to the Oxford ambassadors. After the students completed an IFYC-led training curriculum, Pace provided individual and peer-based support.

"This project came out of our already-established connection with the Interfaith Youth Core," Pace says. "It's a win-win all around because our students get the opportunity to put their classroom and campus learning into practice while also working for good in the community."

Oxford College's Laura Gafnea, director of community relations, and Ricardo Horne 21L, assistant director of Student Involvement and Leadership, came to one of the cohort's early meetings to offer students training on connecting with community partners. Some students also met with them later to help develop those connections.

Inter-Faith Vaccine Ambassadors

Another team of Oxford ambassadors is developing a website with vaccine information for young people. They geared the site toward parents and educators of 12-to 18-year-olds who are eligible to get vaccinated.

Sarah Delfino, a rising second-year Oxford student from San Diego, is part of the website group. "We realized that creating the website would be further reaching than partnering with any individual community," Delfino says.

The trio – made up of Delfino together with rising juniors Payton Malone and Alan Sherman – developed their site with resources particularly helpful to Jewish schools in metro Atlanta.

"I truly believe in the vaccine, and I wanted to be able to share information and dispel misinformation to my own faith group," says Malone, who, along with Sherman, was active in Oxford's Jewish Student Union.

Malone, who is from Colorado and on Emory's pre-health dental track, acknowledged the difficulty with getting responses from organizations she reached out to this summer.

Yingrong Chen, a rising second-year student from Guangzhou, China, also found it hard to make those first connections with local providers.

As her mentor, Pace suggested Chen reach out to Georgia CORE – a crisis response organization partnering with the Georgia Department of Public Health to provide free COVID-19 vaccines through mobile units.

Chen spent the summer on the Oxford campus. She coordinated with Georgia CORE and Covington First United Methodist Church to provide free weekly vaccine clinics.

"I decided to take part in the ambassador program because, at the beginning of the year, my family took advantage of a similar vaccine promotion program," says the chemistry major. "I think, in turn, I should help with improving the trust and accessibility of vaccines."

Claire Qu, a rising second-year student from Houston, worked with Willing Helpers (Free) Medical Clinic in Covington. She collected educational information – such as vaccine videos – and made posters for patients and the clinic waiting room.

A biology major, Qu is on Emory's pre-health physician track. She and fellow ambassador Rebecca Deal, a rising second-year student from North Carolina, called higher-risk older adult clients.

The duo offered vaccine information and let patients know about the free vaccination clinics that Willing Helpers provided with Piedmont Newton Hospital. Deal, who plans to major in nursing, took part in the ambassador program to better understand vaccine hesitancy through partnerships with local community organizations.

Like Qu and Deal, Abel Lindley also plans on a healthcare career and is on Emory's pre-health physician track.

Inter-Faith Vaccine Ambassadors Check In

"I took part in the ambassador program to have a more proactive approach to fight the pandemic and create a safer and healthier environment," says the rising second-year student from Las Vegas.

Annabelle Zekeri, a rising junior at Emory College, applied to the ambassador program due to urgent issues uncovered by the pandemic such as health disparities and racial injustice.

Zekeri is a biology major who is on Emory's pre-health physician track.

"By working to ensure that more people are vaccinated," Zekeri says, "I hope to show that all those disproportionately affected by poverty, food insecurity, lack of educational resources, and other factors that contribute to medical disparities can receive access to quality medical attention."

Zekeri originally planned to work in Oxford because she fell in love with the community after serving with Volunteer Oxford (VO) for two years. VO is a year-long program that serves as the liaison between service agencies in the local community and student volunteers.

She eventually decided the best option was to work in her hometown of Jefferson, Ga. where she assisted with a pop-up vaccine clinic. She also traveled with Northeast Georgia Department of Health staff in the surrounding area to find more people willing to get vaccinated.

In addition, she used her photography skills to enhance the social media presence for Foundations for Living, a non-profit focusing on mental health, career development, domestic violence and HIV prevention.

Zekeri and her IFYC partner Eunice Amador created a TikTok account on vaccine hesitancy. Amador, a rising junior from Dallas, is also translating publicity into Spanish and distributing it.

"Oxford students have shared their gifts with each other and their communities this summer, and they have learned by listening," Pace says. "As the program extends into the fall, these ambassadors will continue to add to the quality of life in the places where they serve."

Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors

Eunice Amador, Yingrong Chen, Rebecca Deal, Sarah Delfino, Ellen Harnisch, Esther Holmes, Riesa Hoque, Fahd Kapadia, Abel Lindley, Payton Malone, Jiwon Park, Claire Qu, Akash Shanmugam, Alan Sherman, Annabelle Zeker

For more information about the ambassador program, contact Lyn Pace at

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