Peace Corps Volunteer Shifts Toward COVID-19 Testing In Bay Area
His Dominican network came to the rescue for Dylan Martins ’19 when his Peace Corps service was cut short due to COVID-19. Now, since his return to the United States, Dylan has been drawing on his Dominican experiences in his new roles, first working with Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) to provide drive-through coronavirus testing in Los Angeles then being assigned as a new site development manager for CORE in Bakersfield and the Bay Area.
CORE, a nonprofit co-founded by actor and former Marin County resident Sean Penn, has been working with the L.A. Mayor’s Office and the L.A. Fire Department to provide free drive-through testing for L.A. residents. By staffing these sites, CORE is insuring firefighters and police officers return their focus to everyday emergencies around the city of Los Angeles while also easing the burden on hospitals and healthcare professionals.
Dylan, who earned a degree in Biological Sciences with a minor in Community Action and Social Change, was serving as a Health Education Volunteer in the Republic of Moldova in Eastern Europe with the Peace Corps when the coronavirus began to spread.
“We were doing our in-service training sessions on project development and grant writing when the Peace Corps Medical Director gave us a brief overview of the coronavirus,” he recalls. “At the time, I pushed it to the back of my head, not being really concerned with it because of how remote the village I worked in was.”
The situation started to worsen almost overnight. Soon Dylan was working alongside local health officials to implement community-level interventions to help mitigate potential risk. Within two weeks, he got notice that local schools and public areas would be closing.
“Immediately, I knew what was coming next,” he says. “We enacted Peace Corps evacuation protocol and began the consolidation process within a few days of the first case of COVID-19 in Moldova.”
Dylan was told to prepare to return to the U.S. on March 16 – only nine months into his Peace Corps assignment. His former Dominican classmates stepped up to make sure his return was as smooth a transition as possible.
When he returned to L.A. to begin his quarantine, Dylan had time to reflect on what he had just been through – and what was next.
“I spent the first few days worrying about what life was going to look like. Returning back to a lot of uncertainty was unsettling,” he recalls. “It is hard to describe what it was like driving out of LAX to an empty 405 freeway. The home I was returning to was much different than the one I knew."
The work with CORE is custom-made for Dylan.
Through his Service-Learning courses at Dominican, Dylan had interned at the RotaCare Clinic as a triage specialist, helping at-risk clients access healthcare services. The summer before his senior year, Dylan applied to AmeriCorps VISTA and accepted an opportunity to serve as a nutrition education facilitator in Ohio. There, he worked with an inner-city youth program, developing close relationships and deepening his understanding of generational poverty.
“On my first day I was trained as a site generalist, I directed patients on how to self-administer the tests, processed new patients and helped out where I was needed,” he says. “We are seeing these patients filled with fear on their worst day, it is our duty to be as compassionate as possible.”
Dylan was immediately able to draw on his Dominican experience.
“Learning how to listen was one of the most important lessons I learned in the Service-Learning program,” he says. “The CASC minor has taught me how to address difficult situations and has ingrained in me the value of community voices and the lived experience.”
“Our site is staffed with some of the most amazing people from every industry,” he says. "My site manager has applied his years of experience in the fashion industry to managing our site, and in the process helped me become a more effective compassionate leader as well.”
Since then Dylan has assigned as a new site development manager for California and has been helping on expanding sites throughout the state including Bakersfield, Napa Valley, and Oakland. CORE partners with local organizations and help support and build their capacity to reach more specific communities.
"I am working on the Bay Area's first walk-up and walk-in testing clinic," says Dylan who recruited a friend from Dominican, Brenda Vasquez '20, to serve as a medical translator. "I am helping to get these sites operational and fully self-sustaining. We are trying to target migrant farm workers in Napa and low-income communities in east Oakland who do not have access to smart phones or cars to register online and go to the available drive-through sites in California. My team is working on developing standardized procedure that will be published so any organization will be able to replicate and safely execute walk-up and walk-in testing centers."
Just as he did at Dominican, Dylan is listening and learning as he goes along.
“The passion, courage and pure dedication every day from these volunteers, on the hottest of days or in the pouring rain, is truly inspiring,” he says. “Everyone is here for a reason and to be part of the solution.”