By Sharon Chin

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — A San Francisco woman has led the charge to get more than 1,500 of her neighbors vaccinated against COVID-19.

Hundreds of senior citizens already come to the IT Bookman Community Center in the San Francisco’s Lakeview neighborhood for hot meals, food giveaways, and activities from quilting to computer labs. So why not also make it a COVID testing and vaccination site?

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Felisia Thibodeaux worked with the city to make that happen.

She is the Executive Director of the Southwest Community Corporation which serves more than 300 older adults like Josiane Stokes.

“You shouldn’t have to travel outside your community to get access to everything you need so we’re extremely thankful for that,” Stokes said.

Thibodeaux and her staff called all their senior citizen clients and got more than 75 percent of them vaccinated earlier this year.

But by spring, she said she encountered more people of all ages, afraid to get the shot.

So she and her team went block by block, person to person, countering what she calls misinformation with truth and personal stories.

“What it means is if you are unvaccinated, and you get COVID, when you take it home to your grandmother, mother, father, wife, and your children, then you very well could be spreading it,” Thibodeaux said.

And she hosted discussion groups with a doctor on hand. Like one for African-American men.

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“I’m really proud, after that for sure, I know 7 of the 9 attendees of the focus group ultimately got vaccinated,” she says.

And word spread.

“When it took one person who said, ‘All right, Ms. Felisia, I’m going to get the vaccine,’ another young man who walked to the center said,’You got the shot? I’m going to go get mine,’ and just that quick, we had a whole change.”

She even shares her own health challenges. She’s had a kidney removed. She wears a cap to cover her bald head.

“I took off my cap, and said, ‘I have lupus.’ Let people see I’m still here even with all the ailments I live with,” she said.

Thibodeaux’s next project is to drive to neighbors’ homes to administer the vaccine if they hang a certain placard on their doorknob.

She has an extensive background in serving her community. She was Chief Operating Officer of Bayview Senior Services. She found jobs for formerly homeless folks in the Tenderloin who graduated from a training program. She also helped 500 families move into new housing after the implosion of the Geneva Towers housing project about two decades ago.

Senior citizen Katie Hamilton says Thibodeaux simply cares.

“She is compassionate and concerned about the individual,” said Hamilton.

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So for helping more than 1,500 of her neighbors get vaccinated against COVID-19, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Felisia Thibodeaux.