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Pandemic Heroes

These teens have all found ways to make a difference as the nation continues to grapple with the coronavirus

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated communities and upended lives all over the country. Many hospitals are overrun with sick patients. Millions of people have had to file for unemployment. Everyone has been forced to adjust to the uncertainty of the current moment.

But through it all, young people have continually stepped up to help their communities. Despite dealing with plenty of their own struggles, many teenagers have decided to focus on others instead, whether it’s making masks, buying groceries for older and at-risk adults, or ensuring that young kids still get an excellent education, even when classes are remote.

These are the stories of five inspiring young people who found their own ways to make a difference during the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked communities and upended lives all over the country. Many hospitals are overrun with sick patients. Millions of people have had to file for unemployment. Everyone has been forced to adjust to the uncertainty of the current moment.

Young people are dealing with plenty of their own struggles. But through it all, they’ve continually stepped up to help their communities. Many teenagers have decided to focus on others. They’re making masks and buying groceries for older and at-risk adults. And teens are ensuring that young kids still get an excellent education, even when classes are remote.

These are the stories of five inspiring young people who found their own ways to make a difference during the pandemic.

Courtesy of Teens Helping Seniors

They Buy Groceries for Seniors

Matthew Casertano, 15, and Dhruv Pai, 16 • Montgomery County, Maryland

 

When lockdowns began this past spring, Dhruv Pai worried about his grandparents. He’d heard about how dangerous Covid-19 could be to older people and wanted to keep them safe.

“I thought, ‘Where in their lives can I minimize the contact between my grandparents and other people who might have Covid?’” he says.

He began shopping for food for his grandparents, leaving deliveries on their doorstep every week or two. One day, he saw that his friend Matthew Casertano was doing the same thing for his grandparents. The two then started talking about other people who might not have anyone to shop for them.

To solve that problem, they rounded up a few classmates to start Teens Helping Seniors, an organization that connects older adults with young volunteers who go shopping for groceries, prescriptions, and other supplies.

Within a week, requests for help were pouring in from other states.

“We quickly realized the demand was much bigger than we anticipated,” Matthew says.

When lockdowns began this past spring, Dhruv Pai worried about his grandparents. He’d heard about how dangerous Covid-19 could be to older people and wanted to keep them safe.

“I thought, ‘Where in their lives can I minimize the contact between my grandparents and other people who might have Covid?’” he says.

He began shopping for food for his grandparents. He left deliveries on their doorstep every week or two. One day, he saw that his friend Matthew Casertano was doing the same thing for his grandparents. The two then started talking about other people who might not have anyone to shop for them.

To solve that problem, they rounded up a few classmates to start Teens Helping Seniors. The organization connects older adults with young volunteers. These teens go shopping for groceries, prescriptions, and other supplies for older people.

Within a week, requests for help were pouring in from other states.

“We quickly realized the demand was much bigger than we anticipated,” Matthew says.

Within a week, requests were pouring in.

They expanded as it became clear that young people all over the country wanted to lend a hand. Today there are 33 chapters of Teens Helping Seniors in 17 states, and a branch in Montreal, Canada. More than 750 teen volunteers have made thousands of deliveries.

Dhruv and Matthew have been touched to see how the organization’s work has affected people of all ages. Many volunteers are putting handwritten notes in with the groceries. Some also make Zoom calls to check in with the older people who use their service. And on one senior’s 85th birthday, a volunteer baked a cake to leave outside his door.

Says Matthew: “We’ve seen a lot of strong bonds form between volunteers and seniors.”

They expanded as it became clear that young people all over the country wanted to lend a hand. Today there are 33 chapters of Teens Helping Seniors in 17 states, and a branch in Montreal, Canada. More than 750 teen volunteers have made thousands of deliveries.

Dhruv and Matthew have been touched to see how the organization’s work has affected people of all ages. Many volunteers are putting handwritten notes in with the groceries. Some also make Zoom calls to check in with the older people who use their service. And on one senior’s 85th birthday, a volunteer baked a cake to leave outside his door.

Says Matthew: “We’ve seen a lot of strong bonds form between volunteers and seniors.”

Courtesy of Nya Marshall

She’s Boosting Children’s Literacy Skills

Nya Marshall, 18 • New York City

A charter school near Nya Marshall’s home was struggling, so the teen came up with a plan to help. She knew that 85 percent of the student body lived below the poverty line and many of the parents were essential workers. With classes going virtual, it seemed likely that children would miss out on important opportunities to build literacy skills.

So Marshall organized the Buddy Reading Program, a group of high schoolers who read books to kindergarten through second-grade students over Zoom. Each teen is paired with a young child, with whom they get to bond during regular reading sessions.

Marshall’s home was struggling, so the teen came up with a plan to help. She knew that 85 percent of the student body lived below the poverty line. She also knew that many of the parents were essential workers. With classes going virtual, it seemed likely that children would miss out on important opportunities to build literacy skills.

So Marshall organized the Buddy Reading Program, a group of high schoolers who read books to younger students over Zoom. Each teen is paired with a young child, and they get to bond during regular reading sessions. The program serves kindergarten through second-grade students.

‘Your story matters in this world.’

“The younger kids love having somebody that’s genuinely there and cares about them,” Marshall says.

It’s important to Marshall that the book selections are diverse. When she was younger, she was the only Black student in her class and had grown frustrated when she didn’t see anyone who looked like her in the reading materials. Everything changed, though, once she discovered books by authors of color.

“I got to see myself in those worlds,” she says. “I saw my stories.”

The young kids in the program may not yet fully grasp the ideas of diversity and inclusion, but Marshall enjoys at least introducing the concepts to them.

“Not only does it spark their interest and curiosity,” she says, “but it’s just great to know that your voice and your story matters in this world.”

“The younger kids love having somebody that’s genuinely there and cares about them,” Marshall says.

It’s important to Marshall that the book selections are diverse. When she was younger, she was the only Black student in her class. She grew frustrated when she didn’t see anyone who looked like her in the reading materials. Everything changed, though, once she discovered books by authors of color.

“I got to see myself in those worlds,” she says. “I saw my stories.”

The young kids in the program may not yet fully understand the ideas of diversity and inclusion. Still, Marshall enjoys at least introducing the concepts to them.

“Not only does it spark their interest and curiosity,” she says, “but it’s just great to know that your voice and your story matters in this world.”

NashCO Photo/Getty Images for Choices Magazine

He Printed 3-D Face Shields

Gabriel Guo, 18 • Camas, Washington

Gabriel Guo and his friends had planned to work on a project for robotics competitions this past spring. But when the coronavirus started spreading, the competitions were canceled.

So the robotics team—of which Guo was president—decided to use their engineering skills for a different purpose. They started making clear plastic face and eye shields, which help protect against airborne droplets of the virus. They used 3-D printers, which build up layers of material, such as plastic or metal, to create solid objects.

The team first created two types of face shields for essential workers.

“One we called the Mandalorian, and another one we called the Stormtrooper, since they both look like something out of Star Wars,” Guo says. Later they created a third version, called the Vizsla.

The teens raised money for materials through crowdfunding, grants, and corporate donations.

Guo and his friends ended up delivering 8,650 face shields and 14,000 eye shields to 97 different facilities, including hospitals, medical care centers, and grocery stores.

For Guo, the competitions’ cancellation had a silver lining.

“I think the project gave me a sense of purpose,” he says. “It feels really good that everyone on our team can use the skills that we learned from robotics . . . and make a difference in this time of need.” —Emma Coburn

Gabriel Guo and his friends had planned to work on a project for robotics competitions this past spring. But when the coronavirus started spreading, the competitions were canceled.

Guo was president of the Robotics team. He and his teammates decided to use their engineering skills for a different purpose. They started making clear plastic face and eye shields. This gear helps protect against airborne droplets of the virus. They used 3-D printers, which build up layers of material, such as plastic or metal, to create solid objects.

The team first created two types of face shields for essential workers.

“One we called the Mandalorian, and another one we called the Stormtrooper, since they both look like something out of Star Wars,” Guo says. Later they created a third version, called the Vizsla.

The teens raised money for materials through crowdfunding, grants, and corporate donations.

Guo and his friends ended up delivering 8,650 face shields and 14,000 eye shields to 97 different facilities. They hit everywhere, including hospitals, medical care centers, and grocery stores.

For Guo, the competitions’ cancellation had a silver lining.

“I think the project gave me a sense of purpose,” he says. “It feels really good that everyone on our team can use the skills that we learned from robotics . . . and make a difference in this time of need.”

Courtesy of Eve Hill

She’s Saving Lives

Eve Hill, 18 • Bethesda, Maryland

Eve Hill knew she wanted to work in medicine. So in 2018, when she learned that high school students could volunteer with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, she immediately applied to be a medic.

She had to pass all the same E.M.T. (emergency medical technician) classes as the adults. Once her training was complete, she began taking on overnight shifts. Eventually, she became a full-fledged officer at the station.

Then Covid-19 struck.

“It was scary in the beginning,” Hill says. “I remember at first going into work and praying that I wouldn’t have a patient who would have coronavirus.”

The station implemented safety protocols, and some of the squad members who were more at-risk stepped back to let younger people, including Hill, pitch in more. At the same time, she was also wrapping up her senior year of high school remotely.

The Bethesda community rallied around the rescue squad, and despite all the risks, Hill quickly became more comfortable after seeing how well the precautions worked with dozens of potentially sick patients.

Now, Hill says, working as a medic has become far more important to her than a typical extracurricular activity.

“You learn a level of responsibility that you can’t learn anywhere else,” she says. “You look back after two years and you realize that these experiences completely changed the path of where you want to go with your life.”

Eve Hill knew she wanted to work in medicine. In 2018, she learned that high school students could volunteer with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. She immediately applied to be a medic.

She had to pass all the same E.M.T. (emergency medical technician) classes as the adults. Once her training was complete, she began taking on overnight shifts. Eventually, she became a full-fledged officer at the station.

Then Covid-19 struck.

“It was scary in the beginning,” Hill says. “I remember at first going into work and praying that I wouldn’t have a patient who would have coronavirus.”

The station implemented safety protocols. Some of the squad members who were more at-risk also stepped back. This gave younger people, including Hill, the chance to pitch in more. At the same time, she was also wrapping up her senior year of high school remotely.

The Bethesda community rallied around the rescue squad. Despite all the risks, Hill quickly became more comfortable after seeing how well the precautions worked with dozens of potentially sick patients.

Now, Hill says, working as a medic has become far more important to her than a typical extracurricular activity.

“You learn a level of responsibility that you can’t learn anywhere else,” she says. “You look back after two years and you realize that these experiences completely changed the path of where you want to go with your life.”

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