It was just after Christmas, the Avalon Holiday play had just been completed and the bleakness of winter was setting in and magnified by the bleakness of the pandemic and rising case and death rates here in Talbot County. There was an inkling of hope however. The country had been promised a vaccine but delivery and scheduling of appointments created issues only seen during war time efforts. Jessica Bellis CFO and COO at The Avalon Foundation knew Easton would be no different than the rest of the country in terms of managing vaccine rollout and immunizations.
She also knew she had a staff that wanted to get back to work as soon as possible and not only that, they were perfectly suited to help take reservations over the phone. “I think a lot of people have seen memes across the web touting how the concert industry was a perfect occupation for getting things managed and done in a pandemic. Nothing about our business is cookie cutter in design. Each individual event we do is a personal experience for us and the patron, each one takes months to occur and involve hundreds of people each time,” said Bellis.
So in early January, Bellis reached out to The Talbot County Health Department and offered her staffs services. On January 22nd the Avalon was officially running and staffing the newly implemented Vaccine Call Center. The Center was housed in The Avalon Theatre itself where there was ample room to cover safety protocols. A full two months and some 5000 calls later the Health Department is ready again to take over the center as vaccination rates have gone up and calls for appointments have ebbed. “I don’t know why the calls have slowed so much in the last few weeks,” said Suzy Moore who worked with Easton Utilities to set up phone lines and assisted Bellis from the start, ”maybe we registered everybody.”
The early days of the Vaccine roll out were an entirely different story with phones ringing non- stop. In a letter informing the staff, Avalon Board Members, and volunteers who worked the phone lines Bellis wrote, “Thank you, first, for answering the call to serve. More importantly, I want to thank you for the way that you answered the calls. You were met with a lot of fear, loneliness, some anger and every day, you listened. Each of you took the time to empathize, support, commiserate and share. You took the time to help and counsel. Residents hung up their phones feeling heard and cared for. I know that this work was important, especially during the transition timeframe for which it occurred. I heard firsthand the relief in caller’s voices. Thank you for the way you made our community feel in this time.”
A Talbot County resident since last October Carolyn Yanavich had this to say about her volunteer experience at The Avalon. “I was truly impressed with the compassion and dedication of the Avalon team in supporting our community during these challenging times. My shifts as a Call Center volunteer have been rewarding ones. As a relatively new resident of the county, it was wonderful to not only engage with my new community members, but also help them with pre-registering or scheduling them for a vaccination appointment. Hearing the excitement and relief in their voices when I said ‘Yes, there is an appointment available for you!’ is an experience that I will not soon forget.”
Officially on Monday, March 29th the Vaccine Call Center will be in the hands of The Talbot County Health Department and The Avalon Foundation will get ready to do what is does best, hosting and bringing to town some of the best new music from across the country. “In our industry we have to be ready to react immediately. You try to plan for everything so when something happens out of the ordinary, you are ready to handle it and keep things running smoothly” said Bellis. “The phone calls we received were individually significant and we answered them with the grace and uniqueness that they deserved.”
Doctor Maria Maguire, Chief Health Officer at The Health Department agreed. “The Talbot County Health Department is incredibly grateful to the Avalon hosting and staffing the health department’s vaccine call center since its beginnings this past January. The information and reassurance provided by call center workers alleviated a lot of the anxiety and confusion felt by many Talbot residents as they tried to navigate the vaccination process, especially early in the process when call volumes were high. It was truly an example of this community’s ability to come together to help each other in tough times.” The American poet, Maya Angelou wrote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
The Avalon wishes to extend the following thanks. Thank you, Talbot County Health Department for this opportunity to help. Thanks especially to Carrie & Kate for their training and ongoing guidance and to Lisa for helping to coordinate so many great new volunteers. Thank you Tracey for leading the charge in improving community vaccine communications.
Thank you to Easton Utilities, especially Fred Christie & Hugh Grunden for making all of our technology challenges disappear! Finally, thank you to Dr. Maguire for your tireless work on behalf of the health of our community.