Tom Beretich, right, of North Yarmouth assists Nancy and Denis Berube of Auburn on a recent Saturday at the COVID-19  at the Auburn Mall vaccination site Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

More than 100 people from inside and outside Androscoggin County have signed up as volunteers at the Auburn Mall mass vaccination clinic in recent weeks with the hope of helping other people get protection from COVID-19. Today, we introduce you to four of them, sharing their stories of who they are and why they care.

Tom Beretich: North Yarmouth engineer

“I can see the relief on people’s faces.”

Standing in the middle of two socially distanced lines, Thomas Beretich constantly scanned the Auburn Mall vaccine center focused on keeping people moving.

“Hi! How you doing?” he asked a couple next in line — a man in a wheelchair and his wife.

There were four tables where COVID-19 vaccine shots were being given. “Come with me sir,” Beretich said, escorting the couple to a table where a chair was removed to make way for the wheelchair.

Beretich, 55, an engineer who from North Yarmouth, has a busy life, a demanding job, a family, and geese.

But he’s also making time to volunteer as a line manager at the clinic. Like an air traffic controller, he makes sure people who come in get to a table and a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible. “I don’t want anybody waiting,” he said.

Married to a doctor who has friends in Italy, Beretich said watching the pandemic strike Italy last year, and then the United States, “was heartbreaking. When things started to move in the direction of vaccinations, “I offered to volunteer wherever I could. I wrote to Dr. Shah and sent in my resume,” he said.

His electrical engineer talents are different than the needs of the medical profession, “but I’m a warm body, am pro-active and willing to help. Anything else, like a nice smile, is a plus. I think I do have a nice smile,” he said with a chuckle behind his mask.

Beretich was put in touch with staff at Central Maine Healthcare, who jumped at Beretich’s offer to volunteer. The necessary paperwork was filled out, background checked and screening done “and I was ready to go.”

He started as a greeter at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. When the Auburn Mall vaccination center opened March 17 “it was very exciting. There was a huge increase in foot traffic.”

As the weeks have gone by, operations have improved with greater efficiency, he said.

Many people show up early; if their appointment is 1:30 they’re there at 1 p.m., he said. “They magically show up on the hour.”

The work is important. “I’m happy that I’m making a difference, however small that may be.” One position by itself may be small, but when there’s a lot of small parts “the impact is huge,” Beretich said.

He likes meeting people, talking to them. “I get to see 700 people go through the line.”

As Beretich moved people through the line on a Saturday, Cheryl Proctor of Sabattus waited her turn for a vaccine. Proctor said the past year has been bad.

“My husband passed away,” she said. “I couldn’t get him buried for a long time. It was hard.”

Proctor said she’s impressed with how resilient people are, that after her shots she’s looking forward to some normalcy, to safely “being out and about.”

That’s what it’s all about, Beretich said. As people come through, “I can see the relief on people’s faces. They’re so happy to get the shot. It is a matter of life and death.”

Vicky Wiegman of Leeds gathers information Saturday from a woman at the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Auburn Mall. Wiegman is a volunteer vaccine registrar, gathering information from people prior to them receiving a vaccine. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Vicky Wiegman: Substance abuse educator at Lewiston High School

“I just wanted to play a part helping people get vaccinated.”

On a recent Saturday at the Auburn Mall clinic, former Marine Tysen Wyman, 36, of Sabattus, sat down in a chair between a nurse giving the shot and volunteer Vicky Wiegman, whose day job is a substance abuse educator at Lewiston High School.

Like many, Wiegman was giving up six hours of a Saturday to volunteer at the Auburn Mall clinic.

“I’m a vaccine registrar for (nurse) Morgan,” said Wiegman, 59, wearing a detectable infectious smile even though she was masked and shielded.

Wiegman’s day job is counseling students about substance abuse at Lewiston High School. Her Saturday stint at the mall was one of many six-hour shifts helping out.

Needle in hand, the nurse told Wyman to relax his shoulder. Within seconds the shot went into Wyman’s tattooed arm.

“Woo hoo!” someone nearby said, celebrating Wyman’s first shot.

The nurse, Wyman and Wiegman chatted briefly as if the three were longtime friends. Wyman said he was a “pin cushion” in the military, getting lots of vaccines depending on where he was assigned. “I wasn’t hesitant at all about this.”

He’s excited to get his vaccine to protect the older folks in his family. “My dad died of cancer last year,” he said, adding it was difficult not seeing family members during the pandemic. “Now we can get back together.”

By volunteering at the clinic, volunteers like Wiegman are helping make that possible.

She explained what she does as vaccine registrar. “I enter data about their medical conditions” into a computer. “I confirm who I have. I document what shot they got, what arm they got it in.”

She volunteers because “I just wanted to help.” As shots were becoming available, she signed up “to do anything. … I just wanted to play a part helping people get vaccinated so we can get past this pandemic.”

Many show up anxious about getting their shot. Afterward, Wiegman said, “They say, ‘Wow! I didn’t feel that.’” And they are so grateful they’ll soon be able “to see loved ones,” she added.

The pandemic has made life harder for everyone, she said. “My kids live in the Boston area. Seeing them was challenging.”

At Lewiston High School, students attend a few days a week on a hybrid model, unless there’s a total shutdown due to outbreaks.

“I look forward to getting back to normal at school. I miss our kids,” Wiegman said.

She’s been volunteering every Saturday and often during the week. She said she likes learning new tasks and enjoys being part of an emergency preparedness clinic.

“I told them, ‘Put me to work anywhere.’ I love it. It’s fun.”

Dave Andrews asks questions of Cole Isherwood of Portland, 16, on Tuesday at the Auburn Mall COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Andrews is a retired anesthesiologist volunteering at the site to administer vaccines. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Dave Andrews: Retired Falmouth doctor

The nation’s vaccination effort “is an enormous accomplishment.”

Dr. Dave Andrews, 68, retired in December from Mercy Hospital in Portland after serving 33 years as an anesthesiologist.

Turns out the Falmouth resident wasn’t done taking care of people.

Andrews is one of many health care professionals who’s rolling up other peoples’ sleeves and giving COVID-19 shots at the Auburn Mall clinic.

When the vaccines started to emerge in January, Andrews wanted to help.

“It’s an enormous task we’re all facing, trying to get millions of people vaccinated,” he said.

He offered himself as a volunteer to a number of health care organizations. Central Maine Healthcare was the first to respond.

At first he volunteered at the hospital clinic, then moved to the Auburn Mall clinic when that large-scale site opened March 17.

Giving shots now “is fairly routine,” he said. “We try and move people through as quickly and safely as possible, getting the documentation done, making sure they’re safe candidates for it — and the vast majority are.”

As people come through, some are worried, he said. Anticipating getting a shot is always worse than getting one, he said.

Once Andrews has injected the vaccine in their arms, “they’re very grateful and relieved. People are very happy. They have more security. It opens up their life.”

As for his own vaccine, “I waited longer than I would have liked,” he said. If he retired a month later than he did, as a working doctor he would have been vaccinated right away. Since he was retired, he had to wait with his age group.

As time goes on Andrews hopes any mistrust among politicians and the public about the dangers of COVID-19 and vaccines will dissipate.

Compared to other countries, the United States is fortunate to have three of the vaccines available. “The percentage of people vaccinated already is well beyond most countries,” he said.

Familiar with the science and how the body works, Andrews is downright dazzled by how doctors and scientists were able to diagnose the novel virus and develop good vaccines in record time.

“To get this vaccine out and up and running in a year is an enormous accomplishment,” he said. “We have three products (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson). That is unbelievable. It really took a public-private partnership. It’s so easy to take it for granted,” but what was achieved in one year “is beyond belief.”

Ann McKenney of Lewiston gives Craig Castonguay of Auburn a COVID-19 vaccine recently at the Auburn Mall. McKenney is a volunteer at the mass vaccination site. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Ann McKenney: Retired Lewiston nurse

Volunteering is “extremely rewarding. It’s extremely important.”

For years, Ann McKenney of Lewiston worked as a nurse at Central Maine Medical Center in the maternity ward, helping bring little ones into the world, a rewarding career she retired from in 2015.

Now 69, when the call went out to health professionals to help with the public vaccination effort, McKenney couldn’t sit still.

“I decided to do it,” she said. “I wanted to do it, to use my skills. They needed more vaccinators.”

“I contacted Ron Hood at the hospital and was met with great enthusiasm.” Hood is system director of volunteer services.

McKenney said she’s delighted to help out.

“It’s a wonderful, rewarding experience,” she said. “Patients make it a very rewarding experience. And maybe these people I give vaccinations to will not get ill.”

McKenney, a grandmother, said the topic of grandchildren came up a lot as older people received their shots. “People often said, ‘I’m going to be able to hug our grandchildren.’ That’s the most common thing I heard,” often with tears of joy in their eyes.

McKenney said her personality is reserved. “I tend to be quiet, subdued.” But the relief and joy people shared with her after they were vaccinated was emotional. An introvert, she wanted to hug them nonetheless.

Dr. Sarah Skelton of Auburn gives Owen Fish of Lisbon Falls a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination site at the Auburn Mall. Skelton is a volunteer at the mass vaccination site. Fish is a senior at Lisbon High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Another volunteer at the Auburn Mall, working a Saturday after a busy week, was Dr. Sarah Skelton of Auburn.

The clinic is going well, she said that day. “It’s been awesome. It’s a great community effort. … The patients are happy, grateful. Volunteers come back again and again. People who are organizing this are doing a great job.”

On the other side of the clinic was her daughter, Emma Skelton, 20, a college student at a university in New Brunswick, Canada.

Emma Skelton, 20, of Auburn volunteers recently at the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Auburn Mall. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I’m online this semester studying from home, majoring in psychology. I hope to go into patient care,” she said. She was also volunteering, registering people for their shots and monitoring them after. Volunteering is great on-the-job training, the younger Skelton said.

“I have free time at home, so why not?” she said. “I don’t get much socialization. Here I see people. I meet so many people who’ve been cooped up and want someone to talk to. It’s really great, because I wouldn’t meet these people if I wasn’t here.”

It’s nice, Sarah Skelton said, helping her community get closer to herd immunity, one person at a time. And it’s nice, she said, “hearing how thankful people are.”

McKenney said the immense relief people feel is understandable.

During the pandemic she worried about getting COVID and has been careful. Even though she’s now fully vaccinated, she’ll continue to be cautious, following CDC recommendations.

As the clinics continue in the coming months, more volunteers will be needed. “I would encourage any retired nurse to consider this,” McKenney said. “It is extremely rewarding. It’s extremely important.”

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