This SF woman has gotten hundreds of people vaccinated. Here’s how she did it.


One thousand two hundred and seventy. It is a number Felisia Thibodeaux can list at the top of her head. That’s because it’s the number of people it has been vaccinated by direct recommendations so far – and the number continues to grow.

Thibodeaux is the executive director of the Southwest Community Corporation, which operates out of the IT Bookman Community Center in San Francisco at Ingleside Heights.

Prior to the pandemic, Thibodeaux’s job was to conduct daily operations in primarily senior organizations. But as the coronavirus began hitting the U.S. in 2020, its priorities changed to ensure its community was protected from COVID-19.


Seventy-six percent of Oceanview / Merced / Ingleside residents were vaccinated, as of Aug. 9, according to city data. That works out to about 21,000 people – a piece of Thibodeaux people personally called to ensure they had access to the vaccine.

The number 1 he faced when he got people vaccinated, he said, is access.

“Having access was half the battle,” he told me during a recent conversation. “If we could establish a center for access, then we can do a lot of things, not to mention building continuity, whether there’s an earthquake, fire or smoke.”

Felisia Thibodeaux, executive director of the Southwest Community Corporation, posed for a photo at the IT Bookman Community Center in San Francisco on August 11, 2021.

Felisia Thibodeaux, executive director of the Southwest Community Corporation, posed for a photo at the IT Bookman Community Center in San Francisco on August 11, 2021.

Mariah Tiffany / SFGATE Special

“We faced a lot during the pandemic,” he said.

Because the majority of IT Bookman people serve them seniors, they don’t drive or they can’t drive. Thibodeaux said, he travels by bus to the Moscone Center or Bayview for shots that are often unbearable for people in the Lakeview area, and he requires long-term buses. So he led them to the vaccine.

Thibodeaux bought a 15-seater van with money from an anonymous donor and also turned to drive one or two people at a time to the immunization center at San Francisco City College. To make sure people in his community knew about the vaccine and how to make appointments, he and his team called hundreds of people – Thibodeaux estimated the number at about 700.

I wanted to know how Thibodeaux managed to not only get many people vaccinated, but convince people to catch them. Beyond access, he said much of the vaccination hesitation in his community – the community center serves about 60% Black people, 30% Asians and 10% Latinos, whites and other races, Thibodeaux estimates – revolves around fear. But it is not always presented as such.

Some of the food delivered by Felisia Thibodeaux, executive director of the Southwest Community Corporation, sits ready to be distributed at the IT Bookman Community Center in San Francisco on August 11, 2021.

Some of the food delivered by Felisia Thibodeaux, executive director of the Southwest Community Corporation, sits ready to be distributed at the IT Bookman Community Center in San Francisco on August 11, 2021.

Mariah Tiffany / SFGATE Special

It tells me the story of a young man who walked into the senior center one day.

“Did you get the shot?” Thibodeaux asked, to which the man replied, “No, I do not put that-t in my arms.”

Thibodeaux paused. “What are you talking about, what st? The vaccine? He remembers asking. “What about the shot?”

“I didn’t let him off and say,‘ I don’t put that st in my arms, ’” he said.

A longer conversation revealed to Thibodeaux that the man was scared, whether it was from information he had read online or heard in the neighborhood. He returned a few days later and told Thibodeaux he could not get his voice out of his head.

He was vaccinated, then went on to become an ambassador for vaccinations at the center.

With Thibodeaux’s support, he helped organize a focus group with a UCSF doctor at the center and other young men reluctant to be vaccinated. Eight men left the group that day to get their shots.

“We took the focus group to the block,” Thibodeaux said proudly.

Many vaccinations occur in the oral neighborhood, Thibodeaux said. Someone finds it and tells another, then they tell another, and the cycle continues. Thibodeaux says the key to convincing reluctant people is to keep it personal.

“The secret is to keep him 100,” he said.

Thibodeaux has lupus. He also had a kidney transplant. He said by revealing his own health conditions to others, he helps them overcome their own fears.

Felisia Thibodeaux, executive director of the Southwest Community Corporation, gave a thumbs up during an interview at the IT Bookman Community Center in San Francisco, August 11, 2021.

Felisia Thibodeaux, executive director of the Southwest Community Corporation, gave a thumbs up during an interview at the IT Bookman Community Center in San Francisco, August 11, 2021.

Mariah Tiffany / SFGATE Special

“I talked to them like one of them,” he said. “I don’t set up jerky and have a seizure [from getting the vaccine], I just shared my own story. ”

Thibodeaux cited the historical mistreatment of Black people by the American health system and medical research system. People in his community, he said, do not necessarily trust medicine because there have been many wrongdoings.

“I’m just saying straight up that you can sit here and keep talking about what happened in 1977, or you could do something in 2021 that changes your life and history,” he said. “… Times have changed.”

Until recently, Thibodeaux often worked 20 hours a day, wearing “many different hats.” Does anyone need help in the kitchen? Thibodeaux rolled up his sleeves and cooked. Does anyone need food delivered? Thibodeaux got into his van and brought it to them.

“It really took everything,” he said. “I’m not proud of it because I was way over my limits, and when you go beyond your limits, it costs you something.”

After a year and a half of continuous work, Thibodeaux said he could not eat and began to lose his vision.

“It started to get really hard,” he said. “And it wasn’t about money, I like not even being paid [for the long hours I work]. “

But for Thibodeaux, it was a meaningful struggle. Recently, the last hold of his staff was vaccinated.

“He then changed his mother’s mind. Then his brother,” and so on and so forth.

The key goes back to Thibodeaux’s philosophy of one person at a time.

“It just changes the ideas of one person at a time and meets them where they are,” he says. “We’re afraid to talk to people, but you have to come straight and not give people an opportunity to give you an excuse.”

More San Francisco history



Leave a Comment