Public employees across the nation give back to their communities in extraordinary ways every single day. From donating to food banks to helping their neighbors and protecting their communities, public employees have always been there when their community needs them the most. 

Here are stories of public employees in service to their communities.

Sewage sleuths helped an Arizona town beat back COVID-19. For wastewater epidemiology, that’s just the start by Megan Molteni. Rolf Halden, the director of the Center for Environmental Health Engineering at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, is a unique public employee. He, his staff, and students prevented COVID-19 outbreaks throughout Arizona by examining feces. Halden examined feces from designated areas across the state at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to see if traces of COVID-19 were present. He did this with the help of utility workers from cities and towns in Arizona who would send sampling from sewage pipes. In turn, Halden was able to alert state health officials of a soon-to-be outbreak in the small town of Guadalupe, outside of Tempe, Arizona. Officials were then able to marshal resources to the area. Halden commented on identifying clusters of the virus before testing was widely available: “We’ve seen from our data how important it is to have a fine enough resolution that you can catch clusters of infections in specific areas, like Guadalupe. We could only have observed that by having this neighborhood-by-neighborhood network.”

Teamster public service workers get America vaccinated by Throughout the pandemic, public employees have been on the frontlines caring for our communities. For public service Teamster members, they rose to the occasion across the country. In Kentucky, Louisville Metro Emergency Medical Services (LMEMS) played an essential role in administering vaccinations. LMEMS Captain and Teamster member Mark Fuqua commented, “I am overwhelmed with pride when I think about how first responders at LMEMS are helping with the vaccine rollout, and the important work we have provided to the community throughout the pandemic. In addition to assisting with the vaccine, we have been on the front lines since COVID-19 first hit, and we responded to a lot of people in need, so getting folks vaccinated was extremely important to us after an incredibly hard and stressful year.” 

South Orange teen librarian named Librarian of the Year by Amanda Valentovic. A librarian in South Orange, New Jersey, was named the 2021 Librarian of the Year by the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) because of her tremendous efforts over the last year. In 2009, teen librarian Keisha Miller created the VolunTeen Program, and started to recruit students in grades six through 12 to volunteer at her library each summer. This year, the program is back as more and more teenagers are returning to the library. Miller commented, “Teens are the one population of people who are undervalued. We often don’t give them the credit they deserve. They have so many ideas and initiatives, so if I can help them navigate that through the library, then that’s a way to give back.” Miller also works on other projects, including founding the NJLA Librarians of Color Roundtable in 2019, now called the Library Workers of Color. She continued, “It’s not often you see a librarian of color, but there are so many who do that work behind the scenes. Everyone needs to feel welcome. If a person comes into the library and sees someone who looks like them, they’ll go to them.”

Be sure to check back next week for more stories of public employees giving back to their communities!