When more than half of public school students across the country discovered they would be remaining at home for the rest of the school year, some mourned, some celebrated, and some got right to work on leading local COVID-19 relief efforts. There’s a laundry list of things you can’t do before 18—like buying a lottery ticket, opening a bank account or voting in the presidential election—but these under 18 trailblazers below prove that age is nothing but a number when it comes to helping mitigate a global pandemic.
Oskar Koivisto: Building a grocery delivery robot
Oskar Koivisto, a junior at Northeast Range School, led his Minnesota high school robotics team in turning a robot that fires T-shirts at school spirit events into a robot that’s now delivering groceries to reduce coronavirus exposure risks. The team, part of the FIRST robotics international youth organization, pays $5,000 per year to compete in robotics competitions. Luckily that money covered most of the cost for the initial robot parts, which nearly all of the parts for the new robotic came from.
The repurposed grocery robot, which can withstand up to 200 pounds, has serviced customers across three local towns, Ely, Babbitt and Tower. Koivisto and his teammates also volunteer to buy and bag the grocery orders before placing the bags onto the robot to transport directly to the cars of customers. “I know that our local communities are majority elderly,” Koivisto tells Forbes. “So I know that I’m making an impact when I see the people that I’m helping.”
Eric Kim: Making masks for the hearing impaired
Eric Kim encountered countless ways to aid with local coronavirus relief efforts. But when he came across college senior Ashley Lawrence’s efforts to create clear masks for the hard of hearing, it resonated with him. The junior at Sunset High School in Portland, Oregon, who suffers from a hearing impairment himself, had just volunteered for a local school for the deaf and hard of hearing. After thinking about his students who relied on lipreading to understand and communicate, he reached out to Lawrence for a tutorial on making the clear masks. Soon after, he and a team of friends were making their own. He’s made some 50 masks so far and is in the process of fulfilling 300 more orders from families and professionals across the U.S.
“It was really hard in the beginning because I didn’t know how to use a sewing machine, so I made a lot of mistakes,” Kim tells Forbes, but the hard work has paid off. “I’m really surprised by the diversity of the stories from people needing these masks. One man’s whole family was deaf and their mom got diagnosed with cancer, so they needed the masks to communicate with a doctor.” He has raised more than $2,300 on GoFundMe to buy mask materials. Whatever is left, he says, will be donated back to the school where he used to volunteer.
Lionel Billingsley: Innovating ventilator design with robotics know-how
Lionel Billingsley is a sophomore from Wolcott College Prep in Chicago who competes with his school’s robotics team which, with the help of their coach, is designing a portable ventilator. While typical ventilators cost $5,000-$15,000, this ventilator, constructed using recycled robotics equipment, cost the team $850. Billingsley helped improve the prototype by suggesting a cam/crank design rather than having motors directly attach to the arms. This allows the ventilator to have better mobility, eventually evolving into a prototype similar to MIT’s emergency ventilator design.
“I was just kind of using accumulated knowledge that I’ve gained over time of being very interested in mechanical engineering,” Billingsley tells Forbes. The team is currently testing the ventilator with healthcare workers for feedback, and has plans to soon partner with a local hospital for clinical testing. The next step is getting FDA approval. “It’s very, very refreshing because I haven’t been able to do something like this in a while, and we have the opportunity to save a lot of people.”
Andrew Wang: 3D-printing face shields
Andrew Wang, a junior at Novi High School, is leading his Michigan high school robotics team’s efforts to 3D print medical face shields for local hospitals. Wang, his teammates and other local volunteers divide and conquer the headband and visor components of the shields, and have produced nearly 1,100 so far. The shields have been donated to more than 30 hospitals, assisted living and hospice facilities, the Detroit charity organization Forgotten Harvest, doctors’ offices and more.
Wang’s robotics team allocated $2,000 of its travel budget and also received $500 from the Michigan Chinese American Coalition and $500 from a corporate sponsor, Hino Trucks. “It’s been pretty hectic, but I’m all for it,” Wang tells Forbes. “I’ve been more energetic about this project than I’ve been for a while.”
Rafael Velasquez: Coaching basketball – virtually
Rafael Velasquez, a graduating high school senior and Varsity basketball player from Rye, New York has started a virtual basketball clinic called Handles From Home. Its aim is to provide coaching for young players looking to improve their skills. Velasquez has had up to 20 primary school students at one time tune in via Zoom to try and emulate his moves and drills. Parents pay him $40 for four sessions through Venmo, which Velasquez is donating to support hospital frontline workers.
Since starting to coach on April 21, he’s raised more than $2,000 that has been allocated to World Central Kitchen, Pizza Vs Pandemic and We Will Provide. The initiative has kept Velasquez’s spirits high after missing out on senior year milestones like Spring break, prom and graduation. “This program is keeping me motivated” Velasquez tells Forbes, “and it makes me feel like I’m doing something beneficial.”
Erin and Aidan Finn: Tutoring students pro bono
“Parents have been really struggling with managing their work time and taking care of kids—and some of these kids aren’t getting the same learning they’re used to,” Aidan Finn, a junior at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, tells Forbes. That’s the motivation behind Tutor Teens, the virtual tutoring service he launched with his sister Erin, 15, at the start of shelter-in-place mandates. The around 40 Ohio high schoolers who volunteer for the organization have provided more than 120 virtual tutoring sessions and playdates for younger Ohio students.
Private tutoring can cost $25 and $80 an hour while the average hourly babysitting rate is $16.43 for one child, but Erin and Aidan are offering their services for free. They are also in talks with community service organization Willows Solidarity Center to coordinate virtual tutoring sessions with students in Guatemala. “It’s really nice to be able to see a parent thank you profusely or make a kid smile when they’re telling you a story,” says Erin Finn. “To know that we’re helping them and making their day that little bit easier is a really good feeling to have.”
Quinn Callander: Making masks more comfortable
Quinn Callander, a boy scout and seventh-grade student at Hammond Elementary in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, is creating 3D-printed ear guards to ease discomfort from wearing face masks for prolonged periods of time—good news for workers required to wear them on the job. Each ear guard costs about nine cents to make each plus the cost of shipping. Local orders are picked up from his porch contact-free, while others are mailed out across the U.S. and Canada. Prior to this project, Quinn was using the printer his parents gifted for his 12th birthday to make what he calls “Quinn’s Curiosities”—products like cookie cutters and t-shirts to distribute to his local community. But these days, “the printer is in use 24 hours a day, so there’s no time to make anything but Quinn’s guards,” his mom, Heather Roney, tells Forbes.
Callander’s printed more than 1,500 ear guards, and another 1,000 were donated to him by a Wisconsin plastics manufacturer, Seljan, that was impressed by his initiative. The ear guard design was created by Ken Lord and uploaded to the website Thingiverse, which is home to thousands of plans for 3D-printed objects. After learning Callander was using his design, Lord reached out to the 12-year-old with praise, and to let him know the plans had been downloaded more than 85,000 times since Callander first used it. After making contact with Callander, Lord was tickled to learn the two live in the same town. For his part, Callander is just focused on his work. “The medical workers are risking their lives daily in order to try and help us, so I feel like we should try our best to relieve any stress they may have,” says Callander.
Teekay Kowalewski: Building phone mounts for hands-free telehealth
Teekay Kowalewski, a junior at Arrowhead High School, is leading his Wisconsin high school robotics team’s efforts to create phone stands for doctors seeking ways to make the telehealth process easier. “They needed to be able to pull up their charts so they could still write down information on the patient, but they also needed to be able to have full use of their screen,” Kowalewski tells Forbes. With the help of the mounts, the doctors began using their phones as overhead cameras for easier telehealth sessions. Soon teachers from local school districts were expressing interest in integrating the product for remote learning.
So far, the mounts have been donated to 12 medical professionals at Aurora Healthcare Hospital in Summit, WI and to 80 school districts in Hartland, WI. Thanks to a donation of polycarbonate materials from one of the team’s sponsors, Minnesota-based industrial automation company Power/mation, the mounts cost less than $1.50 to make. “I think everybody right now is sitting and wondering ‘how can I actually help?’” says Kowalewski. “Once we finally got the chance, it’s really a fulfilling thing because we’re now part of the solution.”