A group of Tennessee High school students, led by Ben Beard, set out to make a difference during the COVID-19 crisis by collecting over 10 thousand masks for anyone who can’t afford to buy them.
Beard and Ty Anderson, like so many of their classmates who were making college plans, had their lives turned upside down when COVID struck their city of Nashville.
“We were all working hard on our academics, looking for ways to volunteer in our communities and have well-rounded college resumes. Then everything came to a halt,” Ben told GNN.
But adversity actually spurred Ben to a new level. “I was actively searching for ways that I could give back to our community. Not just play the game of looking good for college. Sometimes it’s hard at our age to really make a difference. When the coronavirus hit, I knew this was a way I could mobilize fellow students to make a big impact.”
“When I heard about the mandatory mask mandates, although probably a necessary measure to keep everyone healthy and protect those at high risk in densely-populated areas, I knew that purchasing the masks was going to put a lot of stress on people who were already struggling.”
The friends then discovered the organization Mask Now TN that was distributing masks to underprivileged populations and essential workers. Their need for donations was huge.
Selected as Williamson County Entrepreneurship and Innovation students, the pair led the charge, motivating and equipping fellow high schoolers at Independence High School to gather donations through online fliers posted to social media pages. Then they set up collection boxes.
“Everyone we reached out to in Williamson County were just so generous,” Ty said. “We cannot thank them enough.”
The effort took about a month and a half to organize with Mask Now TN, but once they began accepting donations it was only three weeks before they hit their goal of 10,000.
“Getting our eyes off of our own problems and finding a way to help others who have just had it so much harder than we have through this whole crisis has been so empowering for us as students,” said Ben’s younger brother, Andrew, who joined the team.
Anderson says the biggest obstacle was building trust with people, once they pivoted to monetary donations to buy masks wholesale. They created an official email and promised to send updates on the purchase and delivery of all the masks.
Although the fundraiser was a great adventure, at times the kids felt overwhelmed—but they learned a lot and have advice for other youth who want to make a difference.
“Though it may seem daunting at first, it is not really that hard to start a project like this as a teenager,” Beard says. “Once you get over the hump of starting out, if you have a good idea that will genuinely help your community, people will get behind you and everything else will fall into place.”
When asked if she had any advice for fellow teens, Siler Blackburn, who also joined the core fundraising team, summed it all up, “The world might be different right now. But we can still work to make it a better place.”