In early 2021, vaccines emerged in the fight against COVID-19. But many senior citizens didn’t know how to make appointments online and the appointment slots would be gone within minutes. Enter 23-year-old Shayna Brookman, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She helped 350 seniors make vaccine appointments.
How did you get to helping others make vaccination appointments?
It was particularly hard because senior citizens don’t necessarily — if they know how to use a computer, they know how to send an email. That’s pretty much it. They don’t know how to locate a vaccine, stay up all night on the computer, refresh the page until things show up, and how to type fast enough, because the appointments would run out. And this was just a problem that was widespread, where the people who needed them most desperately could not get their hands on them. And it was impossible.
I saw it with my mother, too. She knows how to send an email, but she’s not savvy on the computer like that. And so I located an appointment for her, and then as soon as I figured out how to do it, I figured out how to locate which vaccine sites were available and when and what [vaccine] did they have in.
How tough was it to get these appointments?
Oh, my goodness, it was crazy. So I figured it out for my mom. And once I figured it out for her, she was telling me how desperate her friends were. I said, “Get me on the phone with your friends. I’ll take them there, I’ll do whatever and I’ll find them an appointment.” And so, eventually, I spread the word through a couple of Chabads. And I told everybody, “Anybody that needs help with a vaccine if you’re a senior, you don’t know how to use the computer, [only people ages 65 and over were able to get the vaccine at the time], please, I’ll get you help.”
I told them, “Send my number to people,” because senior citizens, how they operate with stuff is they call people [on the phone]. They’re old-fashioned. My number traveled, and then I did this for about four months. I did around 350 appointments for seniors.
Anybody that needed it, and it was kind of like, I would know exactly when the appointments would come out. It’d be at 11:59 p.m. and then I would have everybody ready to go and I would have about a minute and a half to secure appointment spots for all the seniors, and then, once I had them secured, I would put in all their info. And it was like always a rush. It was like, you know, you’re sweating. You’re in, like, fast mode because you have to put in everything so fast. And it made so much sense why seniors couldn’t do this. Like, it was so complicated to locate them and then also input the info fast enough. So that you don’t lose your spot in line. It was just insane. So it just grew and grew and, thank God, 350 people were able to benefit from it.
What Jewish values do you follow every day?
I think that every person should bring chesed [kindness to others] into their lives. You know, Hashem created this world based on chesed. Every little thing around us, the blades of grass, all the little animals, you know, gusts of wind. These are all chesed. Hashem, like, created this world. He was the ultimate giver. And He gave us life, He gave us Torah. And we should take it upon ourselves like, in any way we can to do acts of loving-kindness for other people. And this is, like, the ultimate way to emulate Him and to bring good into this world.
There’s a book called “Ahavat Chesed” [Love of Good Deeds] based on the teachings of Chofetz Chaim and this book is amazing. He teaches that we should make [chesed] a part of our business. We should act as salespeople when it comes to chesed. And we should make it our business. It should be a part of our everyday life. It doesn’t matter if you’re just doing a data entry job or doing whatever simple life things. We should make it a part of us.
What do you mean by “be a salesman” for acts of loving-kindness?
Some people don’t know how to ask [if you need help], and some people are sitting idly and they’re kind of waiting. It’s not a part of some people to ask and it feels sometimes embarrassing for them. So to be a salesman is to be in front of them here. “Hello, I’m here to help you, what do you need?” Or not even saying, “What do you need?” Instead, you say, “Here, take this. Why don’t I do this for you?” Helping in any way that you can is very important.