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URMC / Strong Memorial Hospital / Friends of Strong / The Best of Friends Blog / February 2021 / Friends of Strong—At the Heart of Protecting Our People

Friends of Strong—At the Heart of Protecting Our People

Volunteer Melissa WhelenThis past December, with UR Medicine and Strong Memorial Hospital facing the remarkable public health challenge of vaccinating more than 20,000 of the system’s health care workers against COVID-19, Friends of Strong found ourselves among those honored and eager to help rapidly protect our front line staff, and our community.

At the forefront of the challenge was a need for a large, secure space that could quickly be converted into a vaccination center onsite at URMC, where hospital staff who work directly with patients could quickly go to receive their vaccination.

With space at the Med Center always at a premium, and restricted visitation significantly limiting its current use, few areas fit the bill as well as the hospital’s main Family Waiting Room—operated by Friends of Strong and connected to our office suite.

“We quickly got to work, partnering with Employee Health and hospital leadership to redesign the Family Waiting Room space match the urgent need,” says Sandy Arbasak, director of Friends of Strong. “We redeveloped our operations not only to provide the space, but also to provide extra hands on deck to help expedite the vaccination effort.”

Indeed, along with space, the ongoing surge in COVID-19 case in December meant that additional hands would be crucial to the efficiency of vaccine clinic operations and, two months in, many Friends of Strong staff continue working in URMC’s on-site vaccine clinics.

“Just about this time last year, we sprang into action to open a pop-up donation center in College Town,” Sandy reflects. “Today, we’re equally proud to be here, serving at the heart of the initial vaccination efforts at URMC.”

“In addition to Friends of Strong staff helping, we’ve been blessed to invite back many of our pre-experienced volunteers to help in Primary Care’s patient vaccination efforts,” adds Karen Keating, interim volunteer manager. “These are the folks who’ve spent the majority of the past year on pause from their normal volunteer roles, and were happy to volunteer in this new and important way.”

Penfield’s Melissa Whelen, who originally began volunteering with us in Golisano Children’s Hospital, Wilmot Cancer Center, and the Emergency Department in 2016, is now picking up weekly shifts in the vaccination center. “When I found out I could volunteer in the vaccination clinics, I was eager to say yes . . . to do my part and be a part of the solution to this public health crisis,” she says. “To me, it’s a fulfilling way to give back to the community, and I feel good to be able to contribute to what’s hopefully going to be an end to the coronavirus.”

Volunteer Sue SennettA retired speech language pathologist, Brighton’s Sue Sennett first began volunteering at our hospital gift shop and Better Day Buddies program in 2017. This past summer she returned to volunteer in a new role in the cancer center, and was also exceedingly happy to volunteer in the vaccine center. “I was very happy to receive the invitation to volunteer in the vaccine clinics,” she remembers. “When I retired, I wanted to volunteer at Strong to give back to the community, and I can’t think of a better, more meaningful place to serve. The nurses and staff are wonderful, helpful and supportive to everyone.”

Volunteer Wayne LeeRetired R.N. Wayne Lee, who has volunteered in various roles at Golisano Children’s Hospital since 2011, and drives in from Nunda to now volunteer in the clinics multiple days each week was especially honored to “be a part of this historic moment.” “I was thrilled when I learned that I could come back and help in this way,” he says. “Every time I volunteer, I receive frequent compliments regarding the speed, efficiency and organization of all involved. How wonderful it is to be part of this effort!”



Please Note: We are not currently in need of new volunteers. However, future volunteer roles may potentially become available at COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics. If you would like to provide us with your information—in case this opportunity develops—you can complete our Volunteer Interest Survey at



Matt Ulakovic | 2/11/2021

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