By Sophia Spiegel
School closures and the suspension of activities combined with eerie, empty towns and daily media reports about death and infection rates soaring from the virus, have caused teens to feel increasingly isolated.
With loads of time in quarantine and not much to stay busy, some have taken the initiative to change the course of COVID-19 from the safety of their own homes.
Headlines scream at society about the dwindling supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) in healthcare facilities, and local teens have not only heard these cries for help, but have taken action as well.
“The N95 masks and other PPE are crucial for doctors, nurses or any hospital staff in close contact with COVID patients because they provide a high level of protection against transmitting the virus,” according to Dr. Matthew Shafiroff, chief medical information officer and emergency medicine physician at White Plains Hospital.
With this knowledge, Jason Lavender, a Horace Greeley High School sophomore, has taken matters into his own hands and devoted his time at home to making face shields to protect local healthcare workers. He sources supplies online and assembles the shields in his basement at home. He has made 1,000 shields and hopes to make 5,000 more.
Lavender works with hospitals in Westchester and New York City and has joined forces with Dr. Shafiroff, who coordinates delivery to the medical professionals who need the shields most.
“Jason didn’t have to do this but he and his family saw a need and took action to help. They have our thanks and gratitude,” Shafiroff said.
Lavender knows that unless medical professionals stay healthy, this pandemic could last longer.
“I feel like I am helping healthcare workers protect themselves, their families and their patients,” Lavender said. He advises teens to “try to find a problem that you see as important, and see if you can think of a way to solve it.”
Lavender has encouraged his peers to help as well, such as Horace Greeley sophomore Sam Auerbacher, who says, “The work has been meaningful, especially during a time like this where the issues seem way out of my control, and it’s nice to feel like I’m making a difference, even if it’s a small one.”
These inspirational teens are not confined to the New York area. Anna Nelson, a junior at Lexington High School in Lexington, Mass., has been making and donating face masks out of spare fabric she has around her house, and mails them to hospitals and healthcare workers. She is a proud member of the Facebook group, “DIY Masks of Western Mass,” which coordinates donations and assists those interested in learning how to make masks.
Nelson’s motivation stemmed from her isolation and figured that a cloth mask would be better than no mask at all.
“Doctors put their lives on the line for us every day to help people sick with COVID-19, and it’s the least I can do to try to keep them a bit safer,” said Nelson. If you are interested in joining the fight and have a sewing machine and some fabric, Nelson recommends looking up simple YouTube videos on how to make masks, and to contact local hospitals or doctor’s offices to see if they are in need.
Nelson acknowledges that while these times have been hard, “seeing the community come together to help with whatever they can has been uplifting and really inspiring to me.”
There are endless possibilities when it comes to helping others, especially in a time like this, and some teens have proven that the younger generation is stronger than any virus that might come our way.
“This work helps to generate a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives, providing a healthy response to feelings of disorientation and confusion,” observed Horace Greeley High School Principal Andrew Corsilia.
When Emma Saltiel, a sophomore at Horace Greeley High School, heard about the countless number of high-risk senior citizens quarantined in nursing homes, she created Make Seniors Smile, a program aimed to cheer them up. Many nursing homes have terminated visits from family and friends to lower the infection risk, leaving seniors feeling isolated and lonely.
Saltiel partnered with the Atria Senior Living Center in Briarcliff Manor and enlisted the help of friends and neighbors to make cards and drawings for seniors. They even schedule virtual visits so that teenagers can have conversations to lift their spirits.
“I hope people learn from my project that even if you are stuck at home in a horrible situation like the coronavirus outbreak, you can still help your community,” Saltiel said.
Ava Menn, another Horace Greeley High School student, has been working alongside her mother, a local doctor, to collect toys, activities and books for a new day care center in White Plains, specifically for the children of healthcare workers. Menn explained that it was easy to ask for donations via text and social media.
“I wanted to help those whose parents are not able to be home with them, and to make sure that they are still able to maintain a sense of normalcy throughout this difficult time,” she said.
Engaging in charity work and simple acts of kindness, especially during a pandemic, can benefit teens’ mental health and those they are helping.
“Don’t forget that the simple act of calling friends and family to let them know you are still connected is uplifting,” Corsilia added.
The remarkable acts of these teens, who have taken their free time behind closed doors to make a difference, is inspiring and proves how big a role teens can play in the outcome of this pandemic.
Sophia Spiegel is a sophomore at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua. She is an aspiring journalist who has a passion for the news, entertainment and social justice