Viral Volunteerism – Young Alumnus Responds to Pandemic

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High schoolers who attend Maine Coast Semester are adventurous, hard-working, and community-oriented, and we are often inspired by their work beyond Chewonki. When the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the last few months of his senior year, Callum Becvarik, (an alumnus of Maine Coast Semester 61 and Camp Chewonki) put these traits to work in service of others. He signed up for the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a national volunteer network that responds to natural disasters and public health emergencies. While American social life and economic activity slowed to a standstill, Becvarik drove to New Mexico and began working twelve-hour-a-day volunteer shifts caring for underserved populations.  

Becvarik’s first assignment in New Mexico placed him at a casino-turned-field-hospital. The temporary facility provided shelter for medical workers and family members of people who had tested positive for Covid-19. Becvarik helped by checking in with patients via phone on a set schedule. After his volunteer stint was over, he drove back to Colorado, only to be called again by the MRC a few days later. 

During his second stint in New Mexico, the intensity of the work began to ramp up. Becvarik was placed at a step-down facility in Gallup, New Mexico – a center for patients who no longer needed to be in the hospital, but were not yet well enough to return home. A significant portion of the nearby population is Native American, including Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribe members. The facility provided much-needed care in a community where many families live in multi-generational households, sometimes lacking electricity and running water. What Callum thought would be a two-week commitment turned into two-and-a-half months, ending in a twenty-five-day streak of twelve-hour shifts – 6:30 pm to 7:30 am. 

Although the pace was exhausting, Becvarik was prepared. He’s been training for this type of work most of his life. As a child, Becvarik accompanied his father when he responded to emergency calls. Later, he served on ski patrols in both New Mexico and Colorado. For the last year, Becvarik has been readying himself to begin his pre-medical degree at the University of Vermont College of Health Sciences, completing over two-hundred hours of clinicals (way above the required 40!) and a four-hundred hour internship at his local hospital. Becvarik also obtained his EMT and IV certifications soon after his eighteenth birthday last August, in addition to his Wilderness EMT upgrade. 

In Gallup, however, the patients had already weathered their personal health crisis’ and were more likely to be battling an emotional one. Gallup has the highest per-capita infection rate in the country. Many patients had lost friends and family members in the pandemic and were dealing with their grief in isolation. Becvarik said that it wasn’t unusual for him to spend three or four hours in a patient’s room, simply providing companionship. 

At the end of his stint in Gallup, Becvarik briefly returned to Santa Fe to help with Covid-19 testing efforts and then drove the eight hours back to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for his high school graduation. But his work with the MRC wasn’t over. When we spoke to him last week, Becvarik had just returned from another two-and-a-half-week stint in New Mexico. The patient numbers at the step-down facility in Gallup had wound down, so Becvarik was placed in an emergency room as an ER Tech and then an intensive care unit at a local hospital. 

Becvarik says that his time at Maine Coast Semester helped him develop the robust leadership skills he’s relied on in New Mexico. Like when he had to work with his fellow leader-of-the-day to plot a course through thick fog on the last day of his wilderness trip. Becvarik felt a tremendous sense of responsibility, and deep pride when the group of canoers arrived at the correct point.

Becvarik also says that Maine Coast Semester helped him learn how to live and work with people who are different than himself. There were a few bumps along the way, but living in a cabin with six other boys from around the country helped him appreciate how people with different perspectives can effectively collaborate. The tight-knit community that Maine Coast Semester famously fosters also strengthened Becvarik’s confidence. He left Chewonki with not so much a newfound sense of self, but a heightened self-awareness and ability to effectively articulate his thoughts to others. 

What’s next for Becvarik? He’s already back in New Mexico with the MRC. Then he hopes to put his EMT skills to use in Boston this summer before beginning his freshman year of college in the fall. We hope to see Becvarik back at Chewonki soon, but until then, thanks for all the work you are doing to serve our community, Callum!

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