Oak Knoll ‘Vaccine Angels’ Help Community Book COVID-19 Shot Appointments
While finding a COVID-19 vaccine appointment this year has been a burdensome task for most, for Samantha Werres Melworm ’98 of Clinton, NJ, there is nothing to it.
Melworm, a fourth grade teacher in Scotch Plains-Fanwood, has been unselfishly stepping up to the plate to help colleagues, friends and her fellow Oak Knoll community members book what is arguably the most coveted appointment of the decade.
“This is something I can do that is helping people,” said Melworm.
“I found out that this is something I’m good at. I already found my appointment, my husband’s, and my parents, so aside from work, if I’m not using my computer skills to help others now then what’s the point?” she said.
To date, Melworm has booked approximately 70 vaccine appointments for family, friends, and colleagues and strangers. While scrolling the NJ Covid Vaccine Information Facebook site one day, she noticed members of the Oak Knoll community posting asking for help to book their appointments. So far she has booked nearly a half dozen appointments for the OKS community.
And Melworm isn’t alone in her hunt for vaccine appointments.
Oak Knoll History Department Chair Nicole Johnston has secured appointments for more than 200 people, 60 of whom are Oak Knoll School community members, relatives, or friends.
For Johnston, it’s personal.
She lost her 60-year-old mother to COVID-19 in early January.
“I didn’t want anyone else to go through losing a loved one,” said Johnson, whose 2-year-old nephew also endured a long, hard battle against the widespread virus.
“I finally understand the phrase of taking the sour lemons life hands you and trying to make something resembling lemonade,” Johnston said.
Oak Knoll adjunct music and drama teacher Matthew Wiggin is also pitching in to help others, including the Oak Knoll community, book their vaccine appointments.
To date, Wiggin has booked nearly 40 appointments for others and approximately a dozen for OKS faculty or family members.
“For me it comes down to helping and doing what I can to end this awful pandemic,” said Wiggin.
“It’s also personal. I’ve had friends and loved ones effected by COVID and I’ve also seen the effect it has had on the performing arts industry I love so much. It has decimated theater in a way we’ve never seen, and it is absolutely heartbreaking,” he said.
Wiggin’s family has run the New England Music Camp for 85 years in Maine and this past summer was the first time in history that the camp had to close due to the pandemic.
“Booking appointments is the least I can do to try and help us all get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said.
Melworm, who recently assisted her Oak Knoll fourth grade teacher Jeanne Mackin in booking a vaccine appointment, agrees.
“Samantha contacted me directly after I posted on the Facebook site,” said Mackin, who taught Melworm 30 years ago. “She helped to get my 91-year-old mother and myself our appointments,” she said.
Melworm also helped to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Maria Barry, Assistant to the Lower School Division Head and her older daughter.
“Samantha is a hero,” said Barry. “It was a huge relief and gave us hope that life will eventually return to normal. Samantha helped us happily, selflessly and quickly!”
With a genuine willingness to help others and quick, savvy computer skills, Melworm, Johnston and Wiggin have been helping to book appointments when they can, all while juggling their own jobs during this unprecedented school year.
“The booking system was not designed for people who are older or for people who are not technological savvy, so if I can help out within my schedule than I’m happy to,” said Melworm.
Tara Leone ’96 from Summit, has helped nearly 20 people total, many within the Oak Knoll community, to book their COVID-19 vaccines. Most of the appointments she scheduled were for the elderly or non-tech savvy population. In fact, Leone added another layer of assistance and compiled documents listing the ways for seniors 75+ to book a vaccine and then shared it on the NJ Vaccine Facebook group.
“I am most proud of these documents, and a document listing all of the NJ Walmart location phone numbers, for people to call when Walmart started allowing seniors to call directly and book,” said Leone.
“I copied and pasted them on various people’s pleas for advice in the discussion boards, and within hours, I started seeing strangers in the forum copy and pasting my documents to help other strangers. The documents were also posted as ‘Guides’ so people could find them easily. I absolutely felt like this was the very least I could do compared to what I saw family and friends go through as doctors on the front lines,” said Leone.
Wiggin said that while the vaccine is there for us, he agrees with Melworm that it’s not an easy system to navigate.
“We can all wear a mask, we can all wash our hands, so this is one more thing I felt like I could do to help,” Wiggin said. “COVID-19 is a sneaky virus and the sooner we can get vaccinated, the sooner we can send this virus packing!”
Melworm’s service to helping those in need can be traced back to the education she received at Oak Knoll School.
“At Oak Knoll, we always emphasized being kind, caring for others and service to others,” said Melworm. “While quarantined in our homes this past year, I didn’t feel like I could contribute to giving back but booking COVID-19 appointments was my way to serve the community and to hopefully help all of us to get back to some way of a more comfortable normal moving forward.”
Patti Cepparulo, Lower School Drama Teacher who taught Melworm in third grade, said she’s an angel and is bringing to life the message of Oak Knoll School’s founder Cornelia Connelly –“You must not hide the gifts God has given but use them in his service.”
“Samantha works full time, wakes up early each morning and goes through her list of people that requested her help and always answers with a joyful response and a genuine willingness to help all in need,” said Cepparulo.
“There has been a lot of selfishness in our world recently and I hope I’m setting an example of how to be helpful and kind and to give back to others,” Melworm said. “I hope this is making our world a kinder place in my own small way.”