Cliff Bellone is passionate about serving others, something he made a point of doing after retiring from St. Louis University (SLU) where he was a professor for almost 40 years, teaching in the School of Medicine as a PhD scientist and immunology researcher. When he retired, Cliff decided to attend SLU’s School of Nursing and become a nurse to give back to his community.
“I taught a lot of biomedicine as a professor, so other than some of the practicalities of nursing that were brand new, I already understood the basics,” says Cliff. “I did find that it was tough keeping up with the young people. They could really run rings around me on certain things because I was already 71 years old.”
Cliff first heard about the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) through his friend Dr. Kathy Garcia, MD, who was a full-time staff member at the time. She suggested he might be interested in volunteering after his job search upon graduating from nursing school proved unfruitful.
“I wanted to work for a year and really solidify my nursing, but nobody would hire me,” says Cliff. “I was almost ready to start finding a lawyer thinking it must have been an age thing. I looked around for volunteer opportunities instead, and of course Kathy knew that, so that’s why she urged me to check with VNA.”
As a volunteer, Cliff’s sole job is to do house calls for flu shots, though he wants to get involved with COVID-19 vaccinations as well. “You know these people you’re going out to are mostly bedridden and really can’t get out, but they need a flu shot just like they’re going to need COVID shots,” says Cliff. “I feel like I’m doing something useful. I really do enjoy it, and it gets me out of the house. With this COVID business, you can go crazy.”
Cliff thinks it’s important that people, especially nurses, volunteer during the pandemic as the need for qualified individuals to go out into the community and administer vaccines is as great as it has ever been. Not only that, but he thinks nurses should look into volunteering with VNA specifically.
“I think VNA does a darn good job, and a really important job that I think is only going to get more important as we go along,” says Cliff. “We have a huge aging population, and one of their great services is taking care of homebound patients… Also, in cases like this pandemic, they can do mass immunizations, go to sites and centers and round up nurses to do emergency work. I think it is really critical, and I think they’re well-posed to do that.”
“I was a professional immunologist, which means I studied the science behind all the vaccines,” explains Cliff. “So it was kind of neat to get on the actual end of what we all did basic research for, to be able to actually vaccinate someone. It was really full circle for me.”
VNA is thankful for Cliff’s steadfast support of the organization and all of the hard work he has put into keeping fellow seniors safe. His story goes to show that no matter how old you are, you can still find new ways to serve others. To learn more about how you can get involved at VNA, visit our Volunteer page.