In this week’s volunteer interview, Elaine Gordon discusses her passion for helping people and her work on Bi-National Vaccine Day, an upcoming collaboration between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico.
Gavriel: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you spend your time?
Elaine: I live in El Paso, Texas, and I have an oxygen facial spa. I’ve been doing that for 10 years and I’m also a board certified health and nutritional consultant. I work with clients in my private practice and take them through lifestyle changes to help them stay healthy and fit. My goal, especially during this pandemic, is getting to the root of keeping people healthy. Vaccines fit into wellness because that should be part of what we do every year anyway. I’m really hoping the country will shift their mindset to taking their own health care in their own hands through their own personal responsibility for staying healthy.
Gavriel: How did you initially become interested in working in the health/wellness field?
Elaine: I am an ambassador and alumni graduate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition out of New York City. They’re the largest holistic health coaching school in the world. I was 57 years old and decided to get into a career that was going to really benefit me as I got older. Twelve years later, at 69, my body is the healthiest it’s ever been. I thought, at least I can teach [the people I love] how to stay healthy, because a lot of times we don’t have the knowledge or the tools to do it. It was the best thing I’ve ever done–what a real life changing experience.
Gavriel: I can certainly tell you that all of us younger folks at 1Day Sooner really admire how active you are, and I would like to emulate that as I get older. So you’ve already spoken about wanting to help other people. How did you learn about 1Day Sooner?
Elaine: Well, when the pandemic broke out, I was in California for three days, and California shut down immediately. I wound up staying there two or three months, taking care of my granddaughter and teaching her school, along with isolating myself. My family wouldn’t let me get on a plane. I had mentioned to my older son, “I’m not ready to go out to pasture.” I have a passion to do things to change the world. He said, go online and see if you can find what you’re looking for, and I came across 1Day Sooner’s website. I signed up to volunteer for human challenge trials and then I reached out to you, Gavriel, on Facebook and you answered me. I sort of jumped in with both hands and feet and started reaching out to Congressional leaders, and I loved it. I felt I really had an opportunity to make change, so it was quite exciting actually. The hardest thing for me was knowing that I was older and I couldn’t be a part of a human challenge trial. When it came down to the vaccines coming out, Ginny [Schmit] had to say, “Elaine, you get your vaccination.” I was ready to hold out. I wanted to be in a biocontainment facility in a human challenge trial so that scientists could see how older people hold up during a challenge trial. However, good peer pressure convinced me that getting the vaccine was the right thing to do.
Gavriel: You’re working on developing Bi-National Vaccine Day (El Paso, Texas, & Juarez, Mexico across our border) now, following up from Boston Vaccine Day. Tell me about the project, how the idea sparked for you, and what it’s like.
Elaine: That’s really an exciting project. This community is amazing. We have almost 750,000 people just in El Paso alone and we work with Juarez, Mexico across the border and then Las Cruces, New Mexico. So in our region, we have close to three million people that we deal with all the time. It’s the biggest smallest town I’ve ever lived in. I’m amazed every day on how people are so willing to jump aboard and help. Early on in the inception of 1Day Sooner, Josh and I had a conversation and I brought up National Vaccine Day and that’s when we all started reaching out to Congressional leaders to try to make it a holiday. Boston Vaccine Day popped up, and I met the county judge [Judge Ricardo Samaniego] at a function here in El Paso and started talking to him about the possibility of having the first Bi-National Vaccine Day. He got so excited. He made national news when he mandated that everyone wear masks here in our county. He shut everything down when we were having our highest rate of deaths from COVID. There were refrigerator trucks lined up downtown with bodies and he said he’s never seen anything so horrific. So he was on board and through the process of being persistent and really encouraging, we’re moving ahead now quite rapidly. We are working across the border, so we have to be in consideration of [Mexico’s] schedule and their national holidays.
Gavriel: What was the thinking behind why El Paso and Juarez would be the perfect places to have this type of event? How did you set up that partnership?
Elaine: The vaccination program [in Juarez, Mexico] is a good program and the community is all for vaccinations, but they’re short on vaccines. El Paso County Officials arranged for people who work in the maquiladoras [U.S. owned factories in Juarez] to come to the Tornillo port of entry for a mass vaccination back in early July, 2021, so we thought we could have a celebration to commemorate the fact that we have vaccinations and make it a family event. People would be much more comfortable if it was a festival and their family and friends and neighbors came out. Also, I thought we can be an example, not just to our own communities, but nationally and globally. We all know if you don’t vaccinate everyone and they’re not safe, we’re not safe either. We’re really concerned about them getting healthy and having what they need because we’re so closely linked. Many of the people here in El Paso have their families living in Juarez, or they were born there. We do a lot of business with our neighbors across the border in Juarez and so we’ve always been like a family. It’s not really the way the world thinks a border city is. It’s amazing, and most of our country does not know about El Paso that way. I go across the border, just walk across the bridge and the feeling over there is so great. The community is incredible and our weather is near perfect. It’s not too hot, nor too cold. We’re called the Sun City. We have sunshine almost every day and we are surrounded by mountains. The best kept secret in the US is El Paso.
Gavriel: What gave you this passion for trying to have an impact on other people, events, and the city you live in?
Elaine: As a child, I grew up in the projects of New York on welfare. My father left when I was five, and my mom died when I was eighteen. I never thought of myself as poor. I always felt that I had an advantage–I can get to Park Avenue [an upscale neighborhood in New York] by working hard. I’ve always been a visionary and I always had this compassion to help people. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I’m 18. I just feel that I was born for a reason to help others. My worst nightmare in life would be, if I didn’t do enough to help others, before I died. I feel like there’s so much work to be done worldwide. Mother Teresa used to say all her work is but a drop of water in the ocean, but if that drop wasn’t there, it would be missed. I feel that if I can just contribute even a half of drop of water, I’d feel like I would be paying back for the air that I am privileged to breathe. Even if I live to one hundred, that’s not even enough time to do all the things I need to do.
Gavriel: What things might you hope to accomplish in the future with that drive?
Elaine: I really would like to help the poor, maybe reform welfare, or do something to empower people. I had a business, a house cleaning service that was the largest in Seattle. I started when I was 18 in Florida and sold it, then opened in Seattle and worked the cleaning service for 25 years more. During the 25 years running my business, American Maid, I launched about 5,000 low income women and single moms in their own maid service business. I wanted them to have the freedom to be with their children if they were sick. On their open days that they didn’t book work for themselves, they would freelance through my service. So we worked together to help each other and I mentored them for close to 3 decades and that was super rewarding. Then I sold it for sweat equity to every cleaner there, about 50 of them. We always had our clients prepay for house cleaning, which was great because it always guaranteed the cleaners work. I gave [the cleaners] the funds to finish out their contract with each of the clients through me, and then they took the clients over on their own. Every one of them are still working but with their own creative business style.
Gavriel: When you first joined 1Day Sooner, what were you hoping to accomplish?
Elaine: I just wanted to jump in and help. I definitely wanted to be in a biocontainment facility [for a challenge trial]. Two of my children were so upset with me because the news here in El Paso did a story on me, and I didn’t tell them. I figured I don’t need to tell them, they’re adults, and I’m an adult. My youngest son saw it on the news, and then he called my daughter and they were both upset with me. But they understood that I am driven with passion and I would probably not have volunteered had I not been so healthy. So I felt pretty confident, and if I was going to get sick, what better place could I be in, a biocontainment facility with scientist, doctors. I love everything I do at 1Day Sooner. I had to learn everything from the beginning because I didn’t know some of the technology or the terms of everything medically. I’ve learned a lot over two years and it’s been great. I’m thrilled to serve, to sit in town halls with ethicists, biologists, virologists, Nobel laureates and politicians. It’s been very exciting. I’m honored to be a part of the team.
Gavriel: I’m so glad you feel that way. A lot of volunteers contact us and say, “I don’t have any background in this and I don’t know how I could possibly help.” But most of us didn’t come in with biology experience or super specific relevant experience. This was a great place to learn on the job and it’s great to have the sense, “I can learn it and I can do something to help.”
Elaine: We learn so much from each other. You know, I’ve never put on an event in my life and now I’m putting on a Bi-National Vaccine Day. Just put one foot in front of the other and don’t be afraid to ask for help, and you’ll get there. My children used to say I didn’t know technology and they had to help me, but I learned with no experience at all. You don’t have to have a background in technology or medicine. All you need is a heart that is compassionate, and the will and drive to learn what to do.
Gavriel: What’s the pandemic situation where you are right now?
Elaine: We have a lot of Omicron cases right now, and the community is really working on their boosters and masking and keeping their distance. Not a lot of people are going out doing things. The medical community is definitely overtaxed right now because there’s a lot of diabetes here.
Gavriel: What are some changes to public health you would like to see?
Elaine: Besides helping people not be hesitant about vaccines, I would also like to see if we could reflect on our health and maybe in each city they can get together and have classes or materials for people where they can learn how to take care of themselves health wise. I would like to see more health coaches incorporated into the mix in the medical community. I think if we had health coaches working with people, it could change the health and lifestyles of our communities. I’m hoping that we just won’t focus on vaccinations–which are very important! We focus on getting our immune system strong, and then doing all the other things that are going to keep us healthy, especially vaccines and boosters. Move your body, go for a walk, do the things that you love, eat foods that are healthy, and sleep. Destress–if you’re overstressed at your job, all that cortisol will be affecting your body. So your life has to be balanced. Healthy lifestyle education should also be taught in schools.
Gavriel: You have all these projects that you do for other people. What are some personal projects or things you’re curious about?
Elaine: About a year and a half ago I finished writing and publishing my first book of my memoirs, “Unbroken Vessel,” on Amazon, which spans over the first 20 years of my life. My memoirs are going to be a series of about three to four books. My life definitely could be a movie. I feel as though I lived three or four lifetimes. As I mentioned, I grew up in the projects and my life growing up was really dysfunctional. My mother was really ill, and she went through a really rough time with alcohol and prescription meds she was addicted to. She didn’t live very long, however, she did teach me how to care about others and love people. My father left when my brother and I were five. My brother and I were pretty much on our own at age 16, making all our own choices. So my second book is probably going to be a little harder to write because it’s about all the mistakes that I made. The first book was all the things that happened to me. The theme throughout my books will be all about love and forgiveness, and that includes forgiving myself. I realized that you’re not made by what happens to you but rather, you’re made by what you do with what happens to you. That’s what makes you a person of character and integrity. I don’t regret my childhood. Sure, it would have been great if I’d had an easier life, but I learned so many lessons and wonderful skills. I went right into entrepreneurship and supported my children myself. How do you do that? You do that by having the will to survive and taking care of your three children. You cannot afford to give up. You have to make your life work, you don’t have any other options than to succeed.
Gavriel: How do you think you were able to come out of that hard background with this really positive mindset?
Elaine: Even though my mom had her problems, she’s really my hero because she taught me how to love. I learned how to fight and how to dance where I grew up. That was what you do when you live in the projects. I still had a little bit of a rough edge, but my mom really taught me how to love and care about people. My building was mostly African American and Puerto Rican people and not very many Caucasian people lived in my housing project. You grow up with a sense of community and your neighbors become your family. I didn’t even realize that the color of our skin made any difference. I was taught to love my neighbors as myself. So I believe the way my mom loved me and believed in me made all the difference in the world regarding my success. Reaching out and helping others is the thing that drives me. It’s been the joy of my life. It doesn’t take much to do something so that we will have a better planet to live on. While still living in the projects, my father somehow paid for me to go to finishing school. I barely passed my modeling course, because I had to learn how to walk like a lady. I had a hood walk, a bop, and my modeling teacher said I would never pass the class unless I learn how to walk like a lady. It was really funny but I think all of what I was exposed to really gave me the skills to deal with all kinds of people and know how to navigate through life professionally..
Gavriel: Is there anything you wanted to add or any questions that you were hoping I would get to?
Elaine: I really hope that volunteers call in and get involved in our volunteer meetings. There’s so much work to be done at 1Day Sooner and we’re growing. I really hope that the United States would really take the lead in challenge trials. We’ve done challenge trials before for influenza, dengue fever, yellow fever, smallpox and polio to name a few. Our volunteers should talk to their representatives and senators. We can know so much about the variants that are mutating and our correlates of protection plus so much more through these challenge trials. We have rescue therapies now, so challenge trials are safer. We’re going to be the persistent squeaky wheel until change happens. The staff and volunteers at 1Day Sooner have contributed greatly by making a difference in using their voices for change and transparency when it comes to advocating for volunteers for human challenge trials and other vaccine studies. What was created here at 1Day Sooner is truly phenomenal. We have to grow and become stronger voices for the survival of all people. Look at what young people have created. Look at how far we’ve come.