Alumni and Philanthropy Staff Give Back at Kroger Field

A large group of UK staff members line up at Kroger Field for a photo.

On the morning of April 6, Amanda Trail knew there was only one pair of shoes to wear that day: her UK basketball shoes, a gift from her Duke-loving boyfriend. We won’t talk about that part.

More importantly, Trail, a University of Kentucky gift and estate planning philanthropy associate specialist, wanted to show off her UK pride at the Kroger Field COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic as she signed up to volunteer with 32 of her colleagues from the Office of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement.

“I am so proud of my state and my alma mater and I wanted to give back to show my appreciation,” Trail says. “I had already been vaccinated and volunteering was something I had been wanting to do. The opportunity to volunteer amongst my peers was the perfect opportunity.”

Trail started working in the Office of Philanthropy in December 2020 and had hardly met any of her peers in person due to the pandemic and working remotely. She not only wanted to give back to her community after being vaccinated but saw it as an opportunity to develop and create relationships with co-workers she had yet to meet.

“Coming to UK from a small company meant I was entering a large, new network and I wanted to take any opportunity I could to establish myself and meet people at UK,” Trail says.

Lori Eckdahl, senior director of administrative services and planning, saw the urgency for volunteers from emails and UK news articles and thought it would be a great team building opportunity. “After not seeing each other for a long time and with new faces on our team, we thought it would be a soft reintegration back to life on campus for our staff while also giving back to an important cause.”

Eckdahl wanted the Office of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement staff to be together while volunteering at the vaccination clinic so she called on Health Corps director and alumni engagement coordinator for the UK Alumni Association Hannah Simms to help organize the day.

“Hannah and the Health Corps team made the process very easy for our group to volunteer together,” Eckdahl says. Simms has been supporting the COVID-19 response and relief effort through Health Corps in addition to her daily duties with the UK Alumni Association. “We picked a day, and I was given instructions on exactly what to tell the staff in order to make the day a success. It couldn’t have been easier,” Eckdahl says.

“The UK Kroger Field COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic is the largest in the state of Kentucky,” Simms says. It launched in January 2020 and supported the administration of more than 240,000 doses of the vaccine to first responders, K-12 employees, essential employees and the general public.

“Volunteers are the backbone of the operation and having groups like this volunteer for a day is a win-win for everyone involved. We can keep vaccinating the community, and volunteers leave with a rewarding feeling knowing they are serving the Commonwealth.” The 33 volunteers assisted with non-clinical volunteer responsibilities including registration, wayfinding and transporting patients in need of mobility assistance. Finding volunteers to support the infrastructure of the Kroger Field COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic is crucial, according to vaccine clinic logistics coordinator Sean McCarthy.

“We require up to 120 volunteers each day to run the vaccination clinic and we are always looking for extra hands,” McCarthy says. “Many of our volunteers are going back to their old jobs or finding new jobs and its harder and harder to fill these spots.”

Before the Office of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement staff volunteer day, major gift officer Tina Pugel volunteered at the Kroger Field COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic on her own because she knew the need for volunteers was great.

“The first time I volunteered, it was an incredibly moving experience,” Pugel says. “I saw people of all ages, ethnicities and abilities coming through to be vaccinated and they were doing it for themselves, their family and their community.”

Plus, she wanted to see what the process was like behind the scenes so she could share with others. “I wanted to be able to tell people how easy it is to be vaccinated and encourage others to be vaccinated,” Pugel says. From her first-hand vaccination and volunteer experience, she was able to tell her friends and family how quick and easy it is to get vaccinated. “Volunteering and getting vaccinated is the best way to love your neighbor and I wanted to do my part.”

Mike Richey, vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement, also participated in the volunteer day and was moved by the rewarding experience. “We truly have a remarkable team that’s always willing to go above and beyond. I was so impressed that day with their commitment to giving back,” Richey says.

Work-life balance is also important to Richey’s leadership of the Office of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement. Every other year, the UK @ Work Work-Life Survey of Faculty and Staff is conducted on campus and the Office of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement typically scores high in all categories. In September 2019, more than 95% of staff said they believe strongly in the goals and mission of UK and more than 90% of staff agree the people they work with are willing to help each other, even if it means doing something outside their usual activities.

“Our philosophy is to give of ourselves and our heart before asking others to give to this university,” Richey says. “We are dedicated to advancing this institution one day at time through not only fundraising, but through acts of service to our community.”

Trail also commented on the correlation of volunteering and her position in the Office of Philanthropy. “We are not here just to fundraise. We also care about the future of UK and generating help and support for UK is just what we do.”

Due to the positive feedback from the Office of Philanthropy staff, a second volunteer day was added April 30.

“No one left not smiling that day,” Trail says. “If I could motivate someone to volunteer, I would tell them to put on their favorite UK gear and help out for a day.”

Jill Smith, associate vice president for alumni engagement and executive director of the UK Alumni Association, was grateful to add the experience to list of memories at UK.

“Since coming to the university as a student 20 years ago, I’ve missed very few home football games at Kroger Field,” Smith says. “Over the years, Kroger Field has been a place full of UK memories for me. I’ll always remember the clinic that was housed in this space as our university served the community and the Commonwealth through the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. I was delighted to join my colleagues to serve our community through this outreach.”

The UK Kroger Field COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic will conclude its operations on Friday, May 14 due to decreasing levels of COVID-19 vaccine demand. Beginning Wednesday, May 19, on-campus vaccine operations will move to clinical and pharmaceutical settings operated by UK HealthCare at University Health Pharmacy and Alumni Park Plaza. For more information about the location and times, click here.

“It’s been rewarding to see volunteers come help — not paid — just knowing they are serving a purpose bigger than themselves with the hope of returning to a world without COVID-19,” McCarthy says. “I can’t stress enough how appreciative we are for our volunteers and we can’t do this without them. Now, I hope, it’s a sprint to the finish.”

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