Health ambassadors with university officials

University and LEI students honored for community COVID-19 vaccine and testing

August 10, 2022
By: Nancy Sheehan

Worcester State University and the Health Ambassadors Team from the University’s Latino Education Institute were recognized by the United Way of Central Massachusetts for their extensive vaccination and testing efforts that have benefited thousands during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tim Garvin, United Way President and CEO, presented the Edwin B. Coghlin Award for Community Service to President Barry M. Maloney and the LEI Health Ambassadors during a brief ceremony at WSU Aug. 2. 

The award is presented annually to recognize an individual or individuals who make a notable difference through their involvement, engagement, and commitment to community-service activities.

Juliann Ngo and Angelica Pizarro

Health Ambassadors Juliann Ngo (left) and Angelica Pizarro with their diplomas. Juliann is headed to nursing school and Angelica has been accepted to medical school in Mexico

Worcester State operated a large-scale vaccine clinic which dispensed more than 83,000 doses of COVID vaccines. The clinic was a collaboration among Saint Vincent Hospital, Worcester State University, University of Massachusetts Medical School, the Worcester Department of Health and Human Services, and Worcester Division of Public Health.  It ran for four months on campus at the Wellness Center at the height of the pandemic in 2021.

The LEI Health Ambassadors group was formed at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in collaboration with UMass Memorial Health. Later, LEI received a $312,513 federal grant and, in conjunction with the Worcester Division of Public Health, the ambassadors’ Equity Task Force made extensive outreach efforts to underserved communities and underrepresented populations, benefiting thousands of residents with information on testing, vaccinations, PPE, as well offering as other health-related information.

“Over the past two years, some community members have relied only on us, LEI Health Ambassadors for help, and resources,” said Claudia Paiva, Health Ambassadors Team manager.  “One mother from Worcester’s Main South neighborhood told me ‘I could not have been able to enroll my children in the Worcester Public Schools if it wasn’t for your support. Thank you for speaking my language. ” 

“The United Way is thrilled and honored to present this award to Worcester State and the LEI Health Ambassadors for the amazing work of making sure vaccine equity was realized here in Worcester,” Garvin said. “You have saved lives. It’s as simple as that. Well done, all of you.”

“This is a very proud moment!” said Mary Jo Marion, assistant Vice President for Urban Affairs & Latino Education Institute. “This is the beauty of Worcester State – we meet the community where people’s needs are, and LEI helps make that happen.”

The more than 7,200 volunteers it took to run the on-campus clinic included nursing students and many others from the Worcester State

Claudia Paiva with the United Way award

Claudia Paiva, manager of the Health Ambassadors team, holds the United Way award.


“I appreciate the recognition from the United Way,” President Maloney said. “Certainly, the vaccine center was a project that not only helped the Worcester State community but the entire Worcester community, and I’m so proud that our students were in the lead on that.”

The Health Ambassadors have been primarily focused on Covid and flu but they also serve the community in other ways as needs arise. In

July, the group helped deliver 2,000 pounds of baby formula, funded by the United Way, to a drop off location in Worcester which then handed it out to nine local organizations for distribution to families in need.

“No one deserves to experience hunger,” said Health Ambassador Angelica Pizarro ’22. “The severe shortage of infant formula has predominantly affected under-resourced members of our community. This distribution has saved lives.”

Health Ambassador Juliann Ngo ’22 said families were very relieved to receive the baby formula. “It’s hard enough just being a mother, but to worry also about how to feed your child – doing research and endless telephone calls with doctors to see what can safely be used as a replacement for baby formula – is so exhausting and stressful,” Ngo said. “To be able to provide help for families in that situation was really rewarding.”

Because a community’s health needs don’t take a vacation, the LEI Health Ambassadors Team won’t be taking much time off this summer either. “There is still a shortage of baby formula, so we are open to any opportunities to help alleviate the burden whether that means handing out resources or helping with distribution,” Health Ambassador Anabelle Santiago said. “We also are continuing our aid in the Equity Vaccine Clinics around Worcester and hoping that we can get the vaccination rates raised before the end of the summer.” 

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