BY SOFIA VALDES
Telemundo and NBC recognized Maspeth High School social worker Justin Spiro for volunteering to register the elderly to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Navigating online platforms can be difficult, especially for senior citizens, so Spiro has provided the service to assist.
“You had so many groups of people eligible. You know, you had 80-year-olds eligible and at the same time you had younger teachers and educators and social workers like myself eligible,” Spiro said, “It just created this inequity and this unfair imbalance where an 80-year-old had to compete with the computer, tech-savvy skills of a 30-year-old who is much better able to refresh pages constantly and check multiple websites and multiple devices. An 80-year-old would be lucky enough to check their email.”
Since the pandemic started, Spiro fell in the group of many New Yorkers who have felt helpless and hopeless about the whole situation. He wanted to help in any way he could but knew there was nothing he could provide on the medical front. Further, schools have been remote, so the kind of work he can offer has been limited.
When the vaccine was released, Spiro saw an opportunity to make a tangible difference in fighting back.
“I started at first by helping my own family members, getting my grandmother an appointment for her vaccine, and other people who I am close to in my personal life,” Spiro said. “I started going online and booking for people and it started out small and then it grew and grew until I was working with other people as well, and people were helping me, I was helping them, to book for many, many people.”
According to Spiro, the websites have proven to be unpredictable, so he spends a lot of his time scouring the internet for vaccine sites, available time slots, etc.
“Sometimes there are dry days where you can go three or four days in a row that no website has availability and then unfortunately, I’m not doing much volunteer work. Then, there are other days where all these different sites start loading and I might spend hours on those days because there are always different appointments that become available so I try to book as many different people as possible.”
A couple of weeks ago, Spiro volunteered at a vaccination site in Brooklyn, which inspired him even more to involve himself in helping elderly people get the vaccine.
“There were over 800 people who came through over the course of the day and I was helping them get registered and get through the line and I noticed that there were relatively fewer senior citizens,” Spiro said. “The group that has the highest rate of deaths from COVID was least represented among those there and I think it’s because they are not tech-savvy enough to get those appointments, so that’s not right.”
Through his efforts, Spiro continues to stress the importance of getting vaccinated.
“There is an expression in Judaism, ‘You save one life, it’s like saving a whole world,’” Spiro said. “I think that’s even more true here because a vaccine doesn’t only protect the person who’s getting it; it’s potentially protecting everyone that person might interact with.”
Volunteering his time assisting the elderly community is not the only area in which he helps his community. Spiro is a social worker at Maspeth High School, focusing on the mental health of the student body, overseeing the mental health clinic, and assigning social work interns to help students in need. He meets with students one-on-one to ensure they get the proper care needed as well.
Spiro is known around the high school campus as “such a kind, caring and dedicated individual,” Maspeth High School’s Assistant Principal Jesse Pachter said. “He never stops. His office is always like a revolving door. I’ll walk by his office and it will never be just him. There’s always a student in there and he always just wants to keep busy and talk to students 24/7.”
Maspeth High School places a strong emphasis on community and serving others. In November, Pachter was able to find a way to help the community while maintaining COVID precautions by encouraging students to clean up their community through their new club “Maspeth Makes a Difference.”
Additionally, Pachter continues to advocate for students to build relationships with their counselors. “I don’t want a student to go around their entire high school with never having an interaction with their guidance counselor or only having it for the college application process,” Pachter said.
Spiro helps carry this message through by really going the extra mile to make sure students are getting the guidance they need. In the seven years that Pachter has worked with Spiro, he has seen him routinely check on students to make sure they don’t “fall through the cracks,” Pachter said. Spiro has agreed to stay after school on numerous occasions as late as six or seven at night to meet with parents when it is most convenient for them, rather than opting for a phone call to discuss a student in need.
“He’s that type of guy that just won’t give up and he will never give up on a student,” Pachter said. “So it’s so interesting when you see that that’s not just him in school; that’s his personality in general.”
“As I got older that calling [to social work] stuck with me and I went to graduate school for social work and I learned mental health expertise, enabling me to then not just work with kids in a camp capacity, but actually be able to provide the mental health support they need which to me was an even more meaningful way of supporting them,” Spiro said.
Since being noticed for his activism by NBC and Telemundo, Spiro has seen growing support from the community.
“There is so much need out there and so much desire to help and I’m just, along with my existing volunteers, trying to figure out how to manage all that and how to harness all that and have people help as best possible,” Spiro said.