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Potsdam Prepared: COVID-19 Updates

When the global pandemic took hold this spring, Waldy Perez ’20 & ’22 was in the middle of an internship with the American Red Cross.

His work for the non-profit changed as social distancing became the new normal and instead of installing smoke detectors at residents’ homes and educating them about fire safety, he switched gears and started working at blood drives throughout St. Lawrence County. Now he’s looking ahead to the fall when he will pursue a master’s degree in community health at SUNY Potsdam—at a time when there’s never been a greater need for community health advocates.

“I have always been interested in helping others, especially when they are in the most need. The American Red Cross is a great organization. It's mission-driven which is why I decide to be a part of their mission and give back to the community,” Perez said.

In January 2020, he started his 14-week internship with the American Red Cross. With the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, Perez responded to emergencies and assisted families after house fires to help meet their immediate needs. He was also tasked with visiting homes throughout St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson County to install free smoke alarms and educate the community through their home fire campaign.

“As part of my job, I was in charge of education—teaching individuals the importance of having smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, a fire escape plan and testing the detectors every month,” Perez said.

But when the novel coronavirus started sweeping across the globe, it affected everyone, including Perez. “Things were changing rapidly, and a lot of the services that the American Red Cross offers were put on hold until further notice,” he said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of a great team. They supported me through the process of taking on new virtual and in-person assignments that allowed me to continue my work in a safe manner through the pandemic.”

With the need for blood donations on the rise, he helped the American Red Cross Blood Services staff find locations for blood drives, and then worked as a blood screener at locations throughout St. Lawrence County. In that role, he would greet people as they arrived, and take their temperature to make sure they didn’t have a fever. He asked donors if they had been in contact with anyone with COVID-19, or if they had recently traveled outside of the country.

“We are going through difficult times with a lot of uncertainties and fear and that has led to blood shortages across the United States—donating blood helps save lives. I enjoyed the opportunity of working for blood services because I was able to support this cause and gain the experience of working with donors,” Perez said.

In an effort to support doctors and nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, Perez visited local hospitals to deliver coffee, donuts and chocolate. He also worked closely with new volunteers joining the American Red Cross. “One of the most rewarding opportunities was working with new volunteers as their mentor,” he said. “I have been able to guide them through each of the steps for new volunteers. I was able to answer their questions and most importantly, I made sure they were well prepared before going out to work in the field.”

Internships are an essential component of the community health program, providing a springboard from the classroom to applied learning experiences—something that resonated with Perez during his time at SUNY Potsdam and the American Red Cross. “The program allows students to go out in the field and experience real-world scenarios. Students are able to use their knowledge, and skills, and most importantly, it allows them to navigate different job opportunities of their interest,” he said.

Perez entered SUNY Potsdam through the Educational Opportunity Program—a special admissions program offering academic support and financial aid to students who show promise for mastering college-level work, but who may otherwise not be accepted. “I had amazing advisors who did an excellent job supporting me since I started my journey at SUNY Potsdam,” he said.

When Perez chose his major, Assistant Professor Janelle Jacobson and Internship Coordinator Sarah Lister gave him the guidance he needed to succeed. “I strongly believe that I have been more successful in the field because of them,” he said. “Throughout my college experience, I had the support of faculty, friends, and family, every step of the way.”

Perez will be returning to SUNY Potsdam in the fall to pursue a master's degree in community health, where research and in-depth analysis of community health needs will form the backbone of his education. “Through this program I will be able to study in greater detail the ways in which I can improve the living standards of the community. I am excited about the excellent opportunity,” he said.

After getting his master’s degree, Perez hopes to land a job as a healthcare administrator. “I would like to be able to run my own facility. I want to make sure that all the patients are receiving the care they need in a timely manner,” he said.  “There are many ways we can improve individuals’ lives today, and a lot of that is through health education.”

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Article by Jason Hunter