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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Charlotte-Area Students Promote COVID Vaccines At Games, Churches And Markets

A soccer game is not one of the first places you would look to get vaccinated for COVID-19. But thanks to the Faith in the Vaccine initiative and its student ambassadors, that’s where you’ll find it.

On a hot July evening at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews, two soccer clubs from Honduras — Club Deportivo Olimpia and Fútbol Club Motagua — played to a 0-0 tie. More than 1,000 Spanish-speaking fans attended, decked out in team colors. Near the stadium entrance, at least 12 COVID-19 volunteers staffed two green vaccine tents.

The game-based vaccine project was one of a series of events staffed by university students and recent graduates in two organizations, Bridge Builders Charlotte and the Interfaith Youth Core. The foundational ideas of their initiative are pro-activity and community credibility. Essentially: Don’t wait for people to come and get the vaccine; take it to where they shop, live, and gather as a community, and leverage the credibility of leaders and influencers within that community.

“I’ve noticed that the best way to attack these issues is to speak to the leaders within the community,” said Fatou Sall, who just graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne University.

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Nación Olimpista and Queens University News Service
Queens University News Service
Fans of Club Deportivo Olimpia and Fútbol Club Motagua, two Honduran soccer teams playing on July 30 at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews, were supported by a faith-based student initiative to increase COVID-19 vaccinations.

More than 40 students from Central Piedmont Community College, Davidson College, Johnson C. Smith University, Queens University and Wingate University were trained for the initiative.

“Everyone wants the world to get back to normal, but we can’t until we take the first step in getting this vaccine and respecting the rules and laws that are going to come with that,” Sall said. “By taking the vaccine, you’re protecting your community.”

The Friday night soccer event showed some of the tough slogging faced by the program. Trained professionals delivered free, one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccine recipients received $25 Visa debit cards provided by the North Carolina Community Health Center, with funding from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Vaccinated people were entered in a raffle for a chance to win two season passes to the 2022 season of the new Charlotte FC MLS team.

At a soccer game attended by about 2,000 fans, with public address announcements by Spanish-speaking broadcasters every few minutes, 14 people were vaccinated.

“Being a part of the Hispanic community, there’s a lot of lack of knowledge on what COVID is and the vaccine,” said Marlene Pulido, a recent Queens University nursing graduate. “There’s a lot of doubts about getting it, so I think it’s really important to reach out and provide accurate information for everybody so that they can be encouraged to be a part of this and get vaccinated.”

Student ambassadors reach out to religious groups and nonprofits in Charlotte to identify opportunities where they could help. Their work is often focused on low-income areas and within ethnic communities.

The organizers are learning the complications of vaccinations at this stage of the pandemic.

Queens University News Service
Irene Kuriakose is one of about 40 Charlotte-area university students recently trained through the "Faith and the Vaccine" initiative supported by Bridge Builders Charlotte and the Interfaith Youth Core. Students consult with nonprofit organizations and faith communities and provide COVID-19 information.

“One of my biggest takeaways has probably been how many people aren't vaccinated,” said Irene Kuriakose, who just graduated from Queens. “I assumed that in Charlotte, with a lot of young people here, there would be a lot of enthusiasm for the vaccine. But there's actually a lot of communities where people aren't being vaccinated. They're wary of the vaccine, or there's also barriers in place like transportation."

Kuriakose also said she's heard from people who have questions about how COVID-19 vaccines were developed and who worry about potential side effects.

“As a student ambassador we're all doing independent projects in our communities and going into groups that are important to us,” she said. “So for me, I first went out into churches and South Asian communities, as I'm South Asian, and now I'm specifically partnering with nonprofits in my area.”

She's partnering with Pineville Neighbors Place, which is providing a vaccination event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14, at Pineville Pharmacy, 311 S. Polk St. People who are vaccinated will receive a $50 Visa debit card and be entered in a raffle for one of five prizes to receive $500 for payment of rent. Information is available at 704-972-8722 or info@pinevilleneighbors.org.

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Grace Wesoly, of Greensboro, North Carolina, is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news.