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I was humbled by the experience of working with the homeless on COVID safety

BY ARIA SHARMA*

The mystery, uncertainty, and prospect of possibility associated with COVID-19 (in the initial stages of the pandemic), guided my curiosity into researching more about the etiology of a pandemic. 

A more personal motivation was my own illness. I suspect to have been COVID-19 positive. At the beginning of February of 2020, before the first official coronavirus case was declared in Georgia, I began experiencing unrelenting and high fevers, loss of taste/smell, shortness of breath, and other unfamiliar symptoms. I knew this was not the flu, not the average cold, but something foreign.

As the spread became exponential, it got me thinking about how imperative mask wearing in the community is. The pandemic does not spare anyone regardless of stature or state, if they fail to adhere to proper safety measures. As a collective, we must protect ourselves by protecting each other; saving a life could mean saving yours! My duty as a citizen of my community involved using my voice to educate those around me on proper safety protocols, with emphasis on mask wearing.

My older sister has worked as a medical scribe at Piedmont Hospital in the newest and more terrifying stages of the pandemic. With a family member that was a frontline worker, the danger became more apparent. Cases were spiraling, hospitals crowding, people were dying.

The homeless population bears the worst brunt of all. With a lack of access to resources, malnourished and immunocompromised individuals fail to coexist in environments surrounded by a deadly virus such as COVID-19.

Masks were one of the few ways to contain the spread, and I knew I definitely wanted to be a part of the initiative to raise COVID-19 safety awareness in the community.

Hence, this year, I decided to dedicate my Girl Scout Gold Award project, COVID Warriors, to Covid-19 Safety and its impact on our community, relationships, and day-to-day activities! For my project, I specifically chose to educate the homeless population of Atlanta, with a spotlight on children. With the current Covid-19 landscape, it is young children who are more at risk, making it imperative that we do our part to keep them safe. As a part of this initiative, I chose The Drake House and conducted a series of fun and educational workshops covering COVID-19 safety including the importance of testing, vaccinations, sanitation techniques, and mask etiquette. My focus group included kids aged 5-13. In the process, these children were able to test out homemade reusable masks, as well as make their own!

In addition, I had the opportunity to educate over 150 homeless individuals at a Rebirth Metro Atlanta Inc. event. Here, I did a presentation/speech on COVID-19 safety and distributed over 100 safety kits to this audience. These kits included 8 oz. bottles of hand sanitizer, hand soap, alcohol swabs, and disposable masks, with a small flyer detailing important pandemic safety practices. I am thankful to Target, Kroger, and Trader Joes for their generous donations towards these kits!

Finally, to wrap up my efforts at The Drake House, I created a ‘COVID Warrior’ scarecrow with the kids (in lieu of the name of my project as a whole), to be displayed in the Alpharetta Scarecrow Festival in efforts to educate the Alpharetta/Milton community. It is a representation of what the kids have learned from my workshops at the Drake House- highlighting the importance of PPE- Personal Protection Equipment with a focus on mask-wearing, vaccinations, sanitation, etc.

Throughout my project, I have developed a COVID Education kit to educate people of all ages regarding Covid-19 and safety protocols. This includes links to my website, Facebook page, Instagram page and my YouTube channel. These resources feature presentations/activities that are designed for children and teenagers, but can be modified and adapted to fit any and all age groups. I have personally used these in workshops for the homeless children at the Drake House. 

The major learning curve that came with this project was being able to execute stated objectives within a timeline for a project of this scale. It was very demanding to balance school and all my other commitments while working on the project simultaneously. A major setback was delays in relay of information and the availability of resources. Procuring donations from large organizations took a great deal of time, patience, and persistence. This experience expanded my ability to network and step out of my comfort zone; I have built a large list of contacts as a result of this project. I also learned to adapt my presentation and my project to different audiences, thereby improving my public speaking skills. Finally, another skill I acquired was sewing reusable masks with my very own hands! 

I was humbled by the experience of working with the homeless population of Atlanta, and upon completion of this project, I look at community service in a different light. I view it as an opportunity to gain more than you give. The Girl Scouts Gold Award has been a truly rewarding and joyful experience. I was fortunate to have diverse members on my project advisory team, including doctors, nurses, teachers, and local organizational leaders in the community. They have all been excellent resources in facilitating the project!

Aria Sharma is a senior at Cambridge High School. Check out her website https://ariasharma5.wixsite.com/my-site for educational presentation materials/Covid-19 news, and links to her Facebook page, Youtube channel, and Instagram page. These are all part of the ‘Covid education kit.

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