Public Service in the Time of COVID-19

America’s Promise

America’s Promise Alliance has launched a new set of mini-grants as part of the Power of Youth Challenge. This challenge, which is made possible through support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, encourages and inspires youth-led remote service projects related to COVID-19 that young people can lead safely from home. Through the Power of Youth Challenge, young people (ages 13-18) across the U.S. can identify a need in their communities related to COVID-19 and apply for a grant to help them put a remote service project into action.

druvHere are highlights from our conversation with Dhruv P., age 16, from Montgomery County, Maryland. Dhruv, with a friend, founded Teens Helping Seniors – a volunteer service for providing groceries and essential supplies to elderly and vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dhruv is an avid singer and is actively involved in virtual choir projects as a high school fellow of the National Philharmonic choir group and as a member of the Strathmore Children’s Chorus in Maryland.

What’s been the most challenging part of the COVID-19 pandemic for you?

The pandemic has definitely affected my family in more ways than I thought it would. My mom is a physician at a military hospital and is on the frontlines. I know that she is worried every day that she may bring the virus home to our family. Due to this fear, we moved my elderly grandparents into an apartment nearby in order to minimize contact with them.

On the transition to virtual learning:

The most challenging part of this experience has been loss of structure and daily routine. Most of my activities have gone online. While I like studying from home, I miss seeing my friends in person. My ‘normal’ life before COVID was following the routine of getting up at a certain time, going to school and attending classes at specific times and coming home at a certain time. When schools closed, we were given the option to complete some assignments and were also told that it was up to us to decide if we wanted to complete them. At first, this greater amount of freedom and choice felt good – it was like, “Finally, I get to decide what I want to do!” In a short time, though, it became easy to fall behind, to be distracted by other, more desirable options (watching movies, video games, playing with cats) or to become bored.

On social interactions:

I seriously miss social interactions with friends and teachers. I miss sitting with my group of friends and eating lunch together every day. In the hallways and classrooms of my school, we are exposed to a variety of different cultures, perspectives, and ways of living that are different from my own, and now I do not get that experience. Extracurricular activities like public speaking, debate, and singing in the choir are important components of my identity. Though all my activities are online, it just does not feel the same, and I miss the social interaction.

On the importance of community involvement:

During the COVID crisis, being involved in serving the community is the best thing that has happened to me. Through the volunteer efforts I’ve been part of, I have witnessed the power of people--young people--coming together, fueled by a shared passion, and making an impact on our community by joining forces to give back. During this crisis, I have been very involved in Teens Helping Seniors, a volunteer service I founded with a friend, for providing groceries and essential supplies to elderly and vulnerable people during this crisis, following CDC guidelines. It started with me helping my grandparents and elderly neighbors in getting groceries, and we now have expanded to several chapters in the US and one in Canada. I have been busier than before in leading these activities to help our seniors who cannot get out of their homes during the crisis and spreading the word in our community. Through my work as a brand ambassador for Arts-n-STEM4Hearts, I have also been distributing PPE and ‘bags of love’ kits to health care workers during the pandemic. This week, we donated 1,000 stress relief kits to front line workers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

How are you keeping healthy—mentally and physically?

I am connecting with my friends very frequently using Hangout, Zoom calls, and FaceTime. I have been playing video games with them, too. Serving my two cats, KitKat and Snickers, has always been a fun job and stress reliever for me! My cats keep me busy and make sure I am not stressed; any time I spend too much time on my computer, KitKat will come and sit on the keyboard. I am also getting a lot of time to exercise at home on my rowing machine, and to go on long walks or runs while maintaining social distancing.

Can you describe how a caring adult in your life has helped you during this time?

I would like to thank Ms. Farzaneh Nabavian, parent community coordinator of my

School, as well as my principal, Ms. Renay Johnson, who encouraged me in my efforts in starting Teens Helping Seniors to help those in need during the crisis. I could see a need in my community with many seniors who could not get out of their house during the crisis and had no family around to help them. I realized that I had to get together many volunteers as quickly as possible, as the COVID cases were rising in my area. With their encouragement, I was able to recruit more volunteers from my school as well as from other schools, and even spread the word around to seniors in the community and throughout the country. They also helped us by donating PPE and sanitization supplies for our volunteers to keep them safe while delivering groceries. If it were not for their encouragement, we would not have succeeded in helping so many in our community during these unprecedented times.

Is there anything else you want to share with us about life during COVID-19?

I would like to use this platform to share with everyone that there are ways we can continue to safely help our communities during these trying times. Please check out Teens Helping Seniors, which has over 300 volunteers serving seniors and vulnerable populations in our county, and even more volunteers nationally during this crisis. I would like to encourage more volunteers to join us in these efforts by signing up on our website at https://teenshelpingseniors.org, or by emailing us at [email protected]. Also, Arts-n-STEM4Hearts is a 501(c)(3) non-pro􀉤t organization that is donating food to local food banks, completing art projects for local nursing homes, and collecting items for health care workers on the front lines. We can be reached either at https://arts-n-stem4hearts.org or by email at [email protected]. We can all continue to make a difference – all while staying healthy and helping to slow the spread of COVID-19.