When Caroline County Public Schools were 100 percent virtual, Shermeka Baker–Latney said some students’ mental health was affected.
They had been away from school buildings since last March and only saw their friends on a computer screen.
Baker–Latney, the director of nonprofit agency Caroline’s Promise, discovered a productive way for at least 30 students in the county to spend their time indoors with the help of funds from the Caroline County branch of the NAACP.
Caroline’s NAACP dispersed funds from a grant from oral health care company DentaQuest to provide materials for youth in the county to produce masks for fellow students in the school system. About 2,000 masks have been produced by students in the county from all grade levels.
When Caroline schools returned to in-person learning for the first time since the start of the pandemic March 1, students received a mask produced by one of their peers.
Baker–Latney said county youth had been in a “down moment,” but the project uplifted those that participated.
“I’m just excited that it made an impact on those kids that were shut in the house dealing with mental health, depression and not being able to do anything,” Baker–Latney said. “Some kids that I noticed wouldn’t normally be involved with anything wanted to be a part of this.”
Baker–Latney said boys and girls from every area of the county made the masks.
Students in grades K–6 who didn’t have sewing experience were provided a blank mask so they could iron on their favorite cartoon character or another symbol. Some students, however, knew exactly what they were doing.
Caroline Middle School eighth grader Brandon Burgess produced 300 masks with inspirational messages such as “Future Pastor,” “Future Supervisor” or “Future Musician.” Burgess won Caroline Promise’s Young Entrepreneur competition last fall for his clothing company, Phat Boi Apparel.
Two other CMS students, Ava Smith and Jadyn Richardson, made 200 masks apiece.
Baker–Latney said Smith, a sixth grader, has now been asked to facilitate a sewing class for youth in the county.
“We have an abundance of materials, so this is going to be an ongoing mask project for Caroline’s Promise,” Baker–Latney said. “We can see the pandemic is not going to be over this school year. So we want to have these masks available in the fall when we reopen for 2021–22.”
The overflow of materials stems from the NAACP’s partnership with DentaQuest.
Linda Thomas, former president of the Virginia NAACP and current senior adviser to Caroline branch President Lydell Fortune, oversaw the project. She said DentaQuest was distributing grant funds and seeking “shovel-ready” initiatives that could benefit under-served communities during the pandemic.
Thomas said the project is an outgrowth of the NAACP’s primary mission of promoting equality.
“This was not racially exclusive or socially exclusive,” Thomas said. “This was just an outreach to anybody who needed it. For the school system, it was an intentional way to equalize things to make sure everybody had the basic protection of a mask.”
Baker–Latney said a drive-thru luncheon will be held to recognize the students who participated in the project. The ceremony is tentatively scheduled for March 27.
In addition to a certificate and a lunch provided by Jersey Mike’s Subs, students will receive community service hours that could go toward college admission or acceptance into the National Honor Society.
“This project has a built-in service component,” Thomas said. “Not only are you volunteering, not only are you working cooperatively, you’re actually providing a meaningful service to the youth in the community.”
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526