Feel Good News: COVID-19 Edition

Gold Medalist shrinks the PPE deficit by hand-making over 600 masks

Eunice Lee, a high school junior from Reseda, California, is addressing the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) one stitch at a time.

She assembled and mailed an initial 235 kits, each containing 2 masks, disposable gloves, sanitizing wipes, and a heartfelt letter. Eunice soon found herself out of money and materials to continue so she set up a GoFundMe for her cause. Within a matter of weeks the project was revitalized by generous donors.

“I studied in the morning and spent my afternoons and many nights making masks. The process was undoubtedly tedious but it was worth every minute.” Eunice’s masks have been sent to pandemic epicenters all around the world like California, Germany, Italy, Korea, and New York.

 


16-year-old pilot flies medical supplies to rural hospitals

TJ Kim has turned his flying lessons into missions of mercy, bringing desperately needed supplies to rural communities in need. Dubbed “Operation SOS — Supplies Over Skies, TJ carries gloves, masks, gowns, and other equipment to small hospitals. “Every hospital is hurting for supplies, but it’s the rural hospitals that really feel forgotten.” TJ has been featured on AP News, NBC Nightly News: Kids Edition, and WSLS.


Siblings create non-profit to raise funds and support for local organizations

Annie and Jaime Wang moved from Texas to Hawaii in 2018. They were shocked to see how prevalent the homeless population was in Honolulu. To address the issue, the siblings established Support Hawaii Keiki, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on bringing help, hope, and happiness to homeless families.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wangs launched a fundraising campaign to purchase over 400 medical masks and make a donation to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children to show their support to health professionals working on the front line.


Teen delivers surprise gift bags to local doctors & nurses

13-year-old Charles Hoppe delivered gift bags to Advent Health doctors and nurses in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Each bag included a drink, snacks, and a special letter of encouragement. “I’d been reading about COVID-19 and I know that everybody here is at a great risk and I wanted to do this to show my appreciation.” Read more.


Silver Medalist creates non-contact food and essentials delivery service

“Teens Helping Seniors” is an organization that aims to provide no-contact grocery deliveries to senior citizens and other vulnerable populations. Dhruv Pai of Potomac, Maryland says he started the organization when he saw a need that hit close to home. His grandparents were scared to leave their home to go grocery shopping, so he offered to help. That’s when he realized other people might be in a similar situation. Learn more about Dhruv’s work.


‘Performing a civic duty’

Simoni Mishra works with children from other schools in Montgomery County, Maryland to create Personal Protective Equipment to deliver to the county office. She makes and delivers 25 masks in each batch. “The email from county officials shows the desperate need for PPE. And emergency workers do so much for us…this is a tiny contribution from my part to do my civic duty.” In addition, Simoni also sends inspirational video messages to nearby seniors and the elderly care center where she volunteers.


Zachery deploys traveling library service for COVID-19 relief

Through his own service project, Gustine Traveling Library, Zachery Ramos is distributing free vegetables to those in need, free water to a local elderly home, and making masks to give out to fieldworkers and first responders to keep them safe. Zachery’s team has provided 100 gallons of water, 30+ plus bags of vegetables, and 50 masks already!


Song = Therapy

The world around us is changing every second. Anjali Sanghavi of Fairfax, Virginia felt that as a high school student there was only so much she could do to help others while staying safe at the same time. So she decided to do the thing she loves the most…sing! Anjali assembled a group of singer friends and called all of her family and friends to put together a message for those on the frontline fighting the coronavirus. She has shared her message of hope with hospitals, medical professionals, senior homes, and those who are alone during this crisis in hopes that it “makes them feel not so alone!”


Teen shares science lessons online

Before the quarantine, Dhruv Balaji created an organization called Spectrum Robotics to teach robotics to children with autism through in-person sessions. He brought together a group of high school students interested in robotics to teach the classes.

Now that everyone is stuck at home, Dhruv is trying to make an impact digitally by making videos about simple computer science to educate children who are interested. “I really enjoy educating people and knowing that I made a difference in their life, whether I am physically there with them or not.”


‘A beautiful gesture from today’s youth’

15-year-old Ayush Desai felt compelled to help first responders in his Woodbridge and Edison, New Jersey. He contacted local businesses asking for either monetary donations or supplies to benefit the Avenel Fire Department and Woodbridge Police Department. Ayush was humbled by the generosity of community members who helped him raise nearly $1,000 ($400 of his own money) and materialize 400 masks, 50 boxes of gloves, and several boxes of sanitizer. “Hopefully this will be the start of something that can change many more lives.”


New Jersey teen launches 24-hour mask-a-thon

On Sunday, April 5th, Isaac Buckman of Manapalan, New Jersey constructed face masks and face shields for 24 hours straight, without any extended breaks. He streamed the entire process live on Twitch. In the end, Isaac was able to make over 200 face masks and 5 face shields that he donated to his local hospital.

“My goal was to motivate others to help out in the effort against COVID-19, whether this be by making masks or by getting groceries for those who are more at risk.” Learn more about Isaac’s project at App.com, New Jersey News Network, and The Two River Times.


Silver Medalist prepares neighbors for the fight

“This pandemic has affected everyone’s life in different ways and I wanted to provide people with a little relief and ease the stress for attaining the necessary equipment to fight the virus.” Before the demand for masks went high, Runfei (Ray) Zhou of Temecula, California was already advocating the need to wear protective masks on his social media platforms. After finding suppliers, he collected and received donations from friends and family to purchase an initial box of masks. Ray then went to grocery stores and big box stores to hand out masks to employees and residents. He later posted on the neighborhood app Nextdoor to garner more attention from his community. Before his state’s stay-at-home order, Ray even delivered masks to seniors and residents with pre-existing health conditions as well as his local park.


Helping the community through ‘dignified service’

With help from Hearts for the Homeless International, Valory Anne Vailoces of Lakeland, Florida created portable hand-washing stations for the homeless at food shares in Orlando and Tallahassee, Florida. She also helped educate food share volunteers about social distancing and personal hygiene measures in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “Without the foods shares, hundreds of homeless people would go hungry. We want to show volunteers and the homeless that they are not forgotten and that someone cares enough to keep them healthy.”


Sibling Gold Medalists turn frustration into action

Caroline and Ian Bonner were both notified that they had each earned The Congressional Award Gold Medal earlier this year. Fast forward a few months: The coronavirus hits and their plans to travel to Washington, D.C. this summer for the Gold Medal Ceremony came to a sudden halt. Instead of planning their trip to the nation’s capital, they decided to put the spirit of The Congressional Award into action in their community by packing and distributing food through a local non-profit. “We’re grateful for this opportunity to serve.”


Leadership grows in times of crisis

As news of the coronavirus first broke several months ago, Eric Chang of Johns Creek, Georgia sought to find a way to help those in China who had been affected. Of course, the disease soon made its way to the United States. From this point, Eric understood that it was but a matter of time before it would impact his own community, so he began to assemble a team and develop an idea to combat the issue locally. Within the first few weeks, he was able to create a base for his newly founded nonprofit, Covid Care, establishing that their mission would be to use our actions to encourage more students to act out. Erica was able to partner with OurHouse Atlanta, Caringworks, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and several more, spending weeks just collecting supplies and materials from drives and donations.

Since Eric’s team knew that many materials, such as face masks and hand sanitizer, were limited and highly expensive, they decided to construct their own. Following their first distribution, Covid Care released a documentary outlining their work, launched a website, and secured a sponsor – multiplying their impact to hundreds of individuals across the state.

“We are now looking to expand upon the student network that we had originally conceived, and we want to build a channel across the country with branches led by student nonprofits and organizations.”


Non-profit founder rises to the occasion

In 2018, Srilaasya Yenduri of Portland, Oregon established the student-led non-profit organization CyberBORN to help impoverished children gain better access to education, food, and shelter in places like India, Guatemala, and Ethiopia. Since the coronavirus outbreak, CyberBORN has delivered over 200 masks to senior homes and a local children’s hospital. “We are also in the process of establishing digital classrooms in orphanages so that remote learning can finally be a reality in rural parts of India. Additionally, we will be sponsoring meals for doctors and nurses in the coming weeks.”


Teen connects organizations with youth volunteers

Volunteers are needed now more than ever to combat the spread of the coronavirus and provide relief to community members. Students are out of school with many looking for purposeful ways to fill their days. But Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania teen Nicholas Zonarich noticed one piece was missing – connecting organizations in need with volunteers in a simple and efficient way. “This is where I realized that I could help.”

In summer 2019, Nicholas created a website, jrvolunteer.org, to promote youth volunteer opportunities in his community. He has since connected 100 organizations with 20,000 local students. Jrvolunteer.org is now providing the link between local youth and organizations in need of volunteers to support many needs in the community due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many benefits come from volunteering for youth: improvement and/or development of new skills, decreased stress, and a sense of purpose. In some way, if many can find a way to contribute to the common good, our communities will remain strong. I challenge all youth to find a way to add value to their community by getting involved now or in the future.”


Middle school student 3D prints ‘Ear Savers’ for medical professionals

Krishna Venugopal of The Woodlands, Texas wanted to help his area medical community. He came across an idea for ‘Ear Savers,’ a product designed to alleviate the pressure and irritation caused by the bands of face masks when worn for extended periods of time.

Having never even seen a 3D printer before, Krishna felt compelled to borrow one from a friend to create his own ear savers. He spent a week researching the technology and resources for beginners then built his first prototype in about 5 hours. Krishna has now made a total of 30 ear savers and distributed to three doctors/practitioners for use in their practices. “The experience has been very uplifting and satisfying for me in that I have been able to contribute my little bit to our community and have learned that every small bit counts.”


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Voluntary Public Service Requirement Leniency

The Foundation lifts restrictions of direct vs. indirect service requirements for the foreseeable future


We understand that this is a trying time for participants and their families, especially when it comes to completing Voluntary Public Service activities while quarantined. The Foundation wants to ensure that we are supporting youth and providing avenues for success in our program during this unprecedented time.

Our current guidelines require that at least 75% of Voluntary Public Service activities be direct service hours in which participants are interacting with and providing a direct service to the community they are serving. No more than 25% of Voluntary Public Service should be indirect service like planning, training, fundraising, etc.

However, given the current circumstances of COVID-19 and in order to ensure the safety of participants, The Congressional Award will lift the restrictions of direct vs. indirect service requirements for the foreseeable future, enabling participants to complete their activities from their homes.

We encourage participants to change or adjust their goals to conform to social distancing/stay at home practices and advise that participants discuss these challenges and how they overcame them on their Record Book submissions.

Additionally, our team has been working to identify new and creative ways that participants might be able to complete Voluntary Public Service hours in the age of coronavirus.

The following are projects worth considering:

  • Meeting immediate needs: Making and/or securing PPE (personal protective equipment) like masks, face shields, isolation gowns, disposable gloves to be donated to health workers.
  • Volunteering remotely for non-profit organizations
  • Assisting public schools with the implementation of remote learning and/or helping educators with grading/administrative work
  • Virtual tutoring/mentoring
  • Packaging and delivering essential supplies to the elderly or home-bound or to students who rely on meals from their schools
  • Organizing digital fundraisers for non-profits or crisis response groups
  • Writing letters to those serving in the armed forces abroad, children in medical isolation, or persons under quarantine
  • Making articles of clothing for hospital patients
  • Donating blood the safe way
  • Making signs and writing thank you notes for first responders, hospital staff, and medical workers.

Safety is paramount. Participants should remember to always protect themselves and follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state/local officials when setting their goals.

Find additional tools and tips for completing The Congressional Award from home here.

Our team remains a resource as we all navigate this ever-evolving situation. Participants that want feedback on their service ideas should contact their program manager.

$25.00 Registration Fee Takes Effect January 1, 2020

The participant registration fee will increase from $15.00 USD to $25.00 USD for all new enrollees. This new policy will take effect on January 1, 2020.


Participants that have already registered are in no way affected by the fee increase. Those that register online prior to 12:00 a.m. ET on January 1, 2020 will continue to pay the one-time $15.00 USD registration fee.

The registration fee will be used to offset increased program and administrative costs associated with the day-to-day business of the organization – including new program materials and postage. As The Congressional Award is completely privately funded, the fee increase will help maintain the quality of the program from initial registration through the Gold Medal level for every youth.

As always, The Congressional Award Foundation strives to maintain a low cost for all young people participating in the program. The last change in the fee structure was in January 2011 when the registration fee increased from $10.00 USD to $15.00 USD per participant.

It is important to note that the registration fee is not designed to prohibit or deter new participants from enrolling in the program. Youth that need financial assistance should contact the National Office at (202) 226-0130 or information@congressionalaward.org.