I have a distaste for the smell of spring. 

I know there was a time when it was different, and I cling to these memories with all my might. Wearing wind pants and blue rubber boots and sloshing about in the puddles that overtook the path behind my childhood home. Marveling at the consistency of mud, how there was truly no color so pure as it. Even in my older years, driving with the windows down just enough to offset the endless winter I was accustomed to, but not so far that a passing car would accidentally splash my interior. 

The springs of my adulthood have been far less magical. In March 2019, shortly before I turned 20, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my life (which seemed to be a record I broke every year). I don’t remember why, and perhaps it’s because I’ve simply chosen to forget. But I’ll never forget how I felt. Every step felt like a marathon. The inside of my head was blurry, I didn’t eat, and I cried nearly every day. Tasks like getting off of my couch for a cup of tea felt insurmountable, so I finally stopped trying. There were, of course, the terrible thoughts and breakdowns that come with all bouts of mental health problems, but I had never felt so physically ill before. 

I got bloodwork done, desperate for an answer. A nurse called me a few days later. By this point, I was completely bedridden and had long since called in sick to work. I answered the phone from my daze, not bothering to sit up. 

“Did you know you have mono,” the nurse asked after the exchange of pleasantries. In spite of myself, I laughed, relieved to have a reason for my misery beyond my usual mental health problems. 

For the remainder of the school year, I practically lived on my couch. I would interval studying for finals and taking naps. I begged my boyfriend to get tested, but he refused. My antagonizing roommate would not even bring me a glass of water on the days I was too dizzy to walk down the stairs. I had never been so miserable in my life. The only things that had managed to bring me some sort of comfort were cracking a window to breathe in the fresh spring air, which once brought me so much solace, and drinking cups of tea to replace most meals. 

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One year later, everything is exactly the opposite. 

It was a winter of change; I broke up with my boyfriend and my mood improved immensely. I live with three roommates, all of whom I love, in a beautiful house that we rent. My writing is being published more than ever (frequently), and I am finally being paid. I secured a coveted summer internship. I am excelling in my classes. 

And then I don’t get sick, but the rest of the world does. 

In February, I will admit that I was part of the group of people who wondered if the mass panic around COVID-19 was being blown out of proportion. At this time, Canadian cases were sparse. I wasn’t vocal about my bewilderment, but I did silently resent that I couldn’t use my to-go cups at coffee shops and that my upcoming work event might be canceled. 

Within weeks, I didn’t have a job. I canceled my upcoming trip to Europe that I had spent months saving for. My parents weren’t allowed to leave Saskatchewan to come see me in Alberta. I wasn’t allowed to go five blocks over to see my baby cousin. 

I now know that the mass panic was not blown out of proportion. I wash my hands whenever I touch something new. I bleach every surface of our house relentlessly and only leave for the essentials. I am one of the millions of Canadians who have applied for Employment Insurance (EI). I am trying to make the best of it, but the world remains so uncertain. This is not how I imagined my twenties. 

I know I am fortunate in many ways, but in times of loneliness, I can’t help but mourn not what I lost, but what was just within reach. And as a snowy Alberta winter melts away, I am once more trapped inside my house, with only the smell of tea and a hesitant spring to tether me to reality.

Seemingly overnight, the American academic system shifted for the worse due to COVID. Classes moved to fully remote instruction and students were forced to use their resources in order to succeed. Not everybody has the necessary resources, though. My laptop doesn’t work anymore and my best friend doesn’t have a laptop. It seems like this is the best route to go but this situation seems to favor students who have resources. I’m definitely fortunate in that I’m able to afford another laptop because of my financial aid check, but not everybody is so lucky, and resources are dwindling.

Online classes are certainly not optimal for most students. The likelihood that you have a concern with the material and can’t get in contact with a professor is high. I was waitlisted for a class and never heard from the professor, only to learn that the school wasn’t in contact with her about the waitlist. For students with learning disabilities, like another friend of mine, it can be even harder to succeed in an online setting. I wish there was a way to make online more accessible, but there’s unfortunately not, and students are suffering from this pandemic.

Financial aid and rent are also something I think about. I’m trying to sublease my apartment until June, but with the pandemic, people unfortunately aren’t interested in moving. I feel bad for the people that absolutely cannot afford rent due to being laid off from jobs or other personal circumstances, but it’s hard to get out of rent without breaching some sort of legality issues. I’d rather not pay rent for a place I’m not staying in, so I might just go back to Isla Vista for a month and a half. I really love my apartment and my roommate (it’s my stepsister!) but I also like the lowkey life I have in my hometown. Financial aid is important because students are paying to essentially teach themselves class material and still have money put towards on-campus resources (at UCSB, this includes the Rec Center and the library) that aren’t being used because they’ve closed down until further notice. A student at my school started a petition calling on the administration to reconsider charging students these on-campus fees, but no progress has been made. However, the petition has a lot of traction so I’m confident that the administration will rethink their charging habits. 

You might be wondering, how does this affect my academics? Well, it’s mostly about the uncertainty of the situation. I don’t know when I’m going back to Isla Vista and that makes me nervous. My new laptop is on the way, and I need to be able to use that in order to access my classes since propping my iPad up on my laptop in order to see the screen just isn’t cutting it LOL. The issue is, I don’t know when it’s coming.  It makes me nervous that I might have to go back and not have the new laptop I’ve been looking forward to buying since I was 20. In addition, it can sometimes be hard to focus because my dad often calls me when I’m in class and gets angry when I don’t respond. My brother plays loud music, and my mom is definitely a lot more polite about it but sometimes she doesn’t understand the concept of my education as well. It’s hard to make people realize that this is not a vacation for college students, and some people maybe never will.

Finally, because I didn’t want to take classes after I walked, I realized this quarter that I had to take 20 units in order to be ready for graduation.  I was afraid I’d lose that motivation. However, with graduation being postponed, it came to me that I didn’t have to take 20 units this quarter.  Rather, I’m now essentially stuck with these classes. I guess it’s my fault for failing a class last quarter, but I learned my lesson. With online courses, stress seems to increase and teachers don’t account for the change in instruction. They’re doing their best but some just don’t really care and it makes me sad.

Overall, I’m really not trying to blame anyone. This is a national pandemic that nobody could have prevented. It’s just unfortunate that so many students are suffering. I just wish there was a better way. 

By Mia Foster

     Teenagers are often characterized as apathetic and self-interested, and this generalization has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. TikTok videos of teens licking toilets or making racist jokes about the virus took the internet by storm, as well as infuriating reports of irresponsible teens treating school closures as an opportunity to spend time with friends despite social distancing and stay-at-home orders. These events spark anger, as they should, but the overwhelming response to the selfish actions of a minority of teenagers overshadows the selfless dedication of many teens to be a part of the solution to the pandemic. 

  A prime example of selfless acts by teenage activists is Washington Youth for Masks, a fundraiser founded by four young women attending Issaquah High School. This nonprofit, grassroots initiative began in Issaquah, a suburb outside of Seattle that has been hit particularly hard by the virus. The founders, Angelina Chin, Claire Kang, Faith Lee, and Isha Rudramurthy, saw the initial impacts of COVID-19 through their extended family in China, Korea, and India and felt personally compelled to take immediate action. The mission of the initiative they created is to raise $25,000 to order 50,000 masks for 4 hospitals in Washington State, all while promoting youth advocacy and involvement in the fight against COVID-19. In a time of heightened anxiety and distrust, Washington Youth for Masks is an agent of unification for passionate teens as well as a reminder of the undying determination of the next generation to take action to make the changes they desire to see.

What is Washington Youth for Masks?

Washington Youth for Masks is a nonprofit started by and run by teens who are working diligently to provide masks for healthcare workers faced with an alarming shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). A MultiCare hospital nurse in Tacoma “said an ICU nurse will often go through 36 masks in a 12-hour shift and is now being asked to use a single one through the same span of time” (Crowe). Without the essential PPE to follow typical sanitation procedures, healthcare workers on the front lines are at a direct risk of contracting COVID-19. This creates both technical and ethical problems. If healthcare workers get sick, there would be no one to care for them or the other patients. Most importantly, healthcare providers are sacrificing their time and safety. The least we can do to thank them is provide them with protection. 

Masks being distributed

     On April 1st, Governor Inslee announced that “we rather urgently need to increase the stocks of personal protective equipment” (KING 5 Staff). This is the exact goal of Washington Youth for Masks. Donations are used to purchase FDA-approved masks through the Well Klein factory in China. As explained by the founders of WA Youth for masks, “international business export of masks is very difficult and unsteady, but China does allow shipping via FedEx or DHL in small packages to any US residential address for personal or small donation usage,” which is why independent organizations are necessary to procure PPE. Additionally, this initiative allows for the timely delivery of PPE, avoiding the often excruciating wait for a government response when there is no time to waste. The first shipment of 10,000 masks was sent out on April 1st, and will be delivered to Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center, EvergreenHealth Medical Center, and Swedish Hospital in Issaquah. This organization was founded on March 28th, 2020, and by midday April 1st, it raised around $8,600 and had over 170 members from across Washington, with no sign of it slowing down. 

Accountability

Donating any sum of money to a nonprofit means putting your trust in the good will and organization of its members. When I first found the GoFundMe for WA Youth for Masks, like all others interested in donating, I wanted to ensure that the money I gave would go to use. The founders, also known as board members, anticipated this desire for information and have included proof of FDA certification, receipts from orders, and pictures of the delivered masks on the GoFundMe, Facebook, Instagram, and website as a way for those who donate to ensure their money is put to use. The connection with factories in China was secured by Board Member Angelina Chin, who had connections with them previously through the Issaquah Highlands Chinese Heritage Club. After becoming a team member, I have become even more sure of the dedication and genuine intentions of the teens in the project. They are working around the clock to cover all bases, from the technicalities of ordering masks to the recruitment of new members to email updates to members with essential information. I received one of my first informational emails at 1:30 am, which is a small testament to the tireless board members who are putting all of their time and energy into this initiative. 

FDA Certification for MG Surgical Masks

Q&A With Founder/Board Member Angelina Chin

Mia: How was the concept for this initiative conceived? 

Angelina: Ever since school closed, I’ve been working alongside my mom and the Issaquah Highlands Chinese Heritage Club (which I have been part of since I was like 9 because my mom founded it) to secure and deliver masks from China. The club coordinated the donation of 1000 surgical masks, 1080 N95 masks, 50 coveralls & 200 goggles to Swedish Hospital’s Issaquah campus on March 19. The majority of this was coordinated by adults in the community, but it inspired me to get a group of young people together to show that the youth can make a difference too. I’ve also been privileged enough to sit around in my room binge-watching Netflix shows and scrolling through TikTok the entire day while our front line healthcare workers were struggling and were in desperate need of PPE. So instead of lounging around and doing nothing, I wanted to use my loads of free time to give back to those people in any way I could (very cheesy but true), and I knew many other people wanted to as well. 

Mia: What sets WA Youth for Masks apart from other nonprofits?

Angelina: While I’ve seen many nonprofit organizations and fundraisers raise money to supply masks, I’ve never seen a completely youth-led effort in Washington. With the power of social media among other things, it’s surprising to see the impact our generation can have if we all work together and commit to a cause. And so far it’s working! In just 4 days, we’ve expanded to over 140 representatives from all over Washington and we expect to see a lot more people joining the effort. Each member is sharing the campaign with their family and friends, making the number of donations grow day by day. 

Mia: Why is it necessary for individual citizens to fund and procure masks instead of relying on local and federal governments?

Angelina: Due to supply chain limitations and the global scale of the virus, Washington hospitals are currently experiencing extreme shortages and very slow processing times for equipment sourcing. Also, according to many news sources,  many hospital workers have gotten in trouble for speaking out about the shortage of PPE. It is up to public initiative now – our campaign can get masks to hospital workers faster than local and federal governments can.

Mia: And lastly, why is this project important to you?

Angelina: I’m extremely passionate about giving back to the community and have great respect and admiration for health professionals who are sacrificing their well-being to help others. With my extended family living in China, I have a deep understanding of the concerns and fears that our community is going through right now – and the frustration surrounding the lack of PPE for health care workers. I am fortunate enough to have connections with large medical supply manufacturing companies and instead of doing nothing about it, I want to use the resources I have to help with whatever is needed. We are all in this together (again cheesy but true).

Conclusion

Washington Youth for Masks is a one-of-a-kind initiative that is spreading awareness to other teens, uniting them under a common purpose, and empowering the next generation to take action in the face of uncertainty. It is a direct means of supplying hospitals with the masks it desperately needs. Most importantly, it is a community created by the commonality of those who care deeply about this situation and want to be able to do something about it.

Get Involved

There are many ways to get involved:

  1. Make a donation to this GoFundMe directly. $5=10 masks!
  1. Become a team member/representative! This is only open to youth, as this is a youth-run operation. Responsibilities include fundraising, recruiting 1 new team member, and applying your passion and creativity to forming your own type of fundraiser or marketing format as you see fit. To become a team member, fill out this form.
  2. Whether or not you are able to be a representative/team member, we would still love your help spreading the word. Share the project with family, friends, and colleagues. Each donation has a major impact!
  3. Utilize your talents to fundraise. Some team members have been making and selling friendship bracelets. My project was this article!
  4. Educate for a cause. We have partnered with TeamUnited, an organization that offers tutoring services. They have requested donations to Washington Youth for Masks in exchange for tutoring sessions. Offer your time as a tutor or utilize their services for tutoring to support Washington Youth for Masks while promoting educational continuity during school closures. Facebook and email address below!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/T.E.A.M.Uniteds/ 

Email: teamunitedihs@gmail.com 

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/washington-youth-for-masks-covid19-support-fund 

Website: https://wayouthformasks.wixsite.com/website 

Facebook page

Instagram: @wayouthformasks