In this new normal where we must self-isolate and separate ourselves from loved ones, something as simple as a smile or saying "hi" from across the street goes a long way. For those of us who aren't on the frontlines of this crisis or essential workers, it seems like there is not much we can do to help other than stay home. Gina, a junior at Santa Clara High School and a member of the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute (SLI), found a way to turn the simple act of note writing into a national campaign to bring joy to medical professionals risking their health and patients stuck in self-isolation.
Before COVID-19, many of us had not experienced self-isolation, but Gina had. "Two years ago, I was in quarantine for a rare eye disease and it was really lonely," said Gina. "The biggest thing that kept me going were cards from family and friends letting me know they were thinking about me." Gina's personal experience and passion for connecting with others is where she got the inspiration to create a platform to inspire hope and support. Once she had the idea, Gina had to come up with the "how." How could she make her idea come to life? How would she get the word out? And how would it be received?
As a member of 49ers SLI, Gina will have completed 300 extra hours of STEM learning, on top of her normal classwork, by the time she graduates next May. SLI students take math and science courses that blend project-based experiential learning with real-world concepts. It was through these courses that Gina was first introduced to coding. She immediately fell in love with it and began to take classes on her own time and watch YouTube videos to keep her skills sharp. She is even the head of her coding club at Santa Clara High School. A complementary aspect of the 49ers-funded STEM curriculum at the junior and senior level is focused on philanthropic giving. Because of her coding skills, Gina combined what she knew about coding and building websites to achieve the "how" of bringing her idea to life. That idea is now known as "Notes for Support".
For many high schoolers creating and writing code for a website is an achievement in and of itself, but Gina took her website one step further, submitting it to an international competition put on by the World Health Organization called COVID-19 Global Hackathon. The Hackathon was an opportunity for developers to build software solutions that drive social impact, with the aim of tackling some of the challenges related to the current coronavirus pandemic. A total of 18,932 individuals from over 175 countries submitted projects to the Hackathon and "Notes for Support" was one of 89 projects recognized by the World Health Organization. If that's not impressive enough, she was the only high school student chosen.
Following the Hackathon, companies like Facebook and Giphy reached out to Gina asking how their companies could get involved. Since Gina is a member of the 49ers SLI program, the 49ers organization got word of Gina's project and asked how they could help. "I just want to send as many notes to as many people as possible," Gina said. The 49ers shared Gina's website with its 2.1 million followers on Twitter and 3.8 million on Facebook. 49ers tackle Mike McGlinchey even recorded a video message thanking all those on the frontlines and included Gina's website in the caption, which the 49ers shared across all social platforms.
"It means a lot to me that the 49ers have gotten involved and are helping share my website," Gina said. Since launching "Notes for Support" the first week of April, Gina has sent over 2,600 notes to 33 hospitals in 12 states. With COVID-19 affecting millions of individuals around the world, Gina wanted to make sure the notes she was sending were making the biggest impact. "I do a lot of research and watch the news to find hospitals that are being heavily impacted by COVID-19 and then I just cold call them and wait until I collect enough letters to send out."
Some days Gina will receive upwards of 100 submissions, and with the help of her mom and younger sister, they print, cut and mail these letters out weekly. This is on top of her already rigorous curriculum as a 49ers SLI student and studying for AP tests.
"I try to balance my time and set a schedule for when I'm going to work on the website and do my schoolwork," said Gina.
As more and more people are writing notes from all over the world, Gina is continuing to improve her site and explore API (application programming interface) capabilities to build in a code that would separate the letters out between patient and healthcare workers in order to help with the growing demands of the letters.
Gina's notes have inspired her teachers, classmates and the 49ers organization, but most importantly, they have lifted the spirits and brought smiles to thousands, reminding them that they are not alone.
"When you're in isolation it really feels like you're just alone and everyone has forgotten about you," Gina recalled of her time spent in quarantine. "To get some type of reminder or a note of encouragement really helped me because it showed that people care about me and I wasn't alone - I hope that everyone who gets these notes feels that same thing."
To learn more about "Notes for Support" or to send a note of encouragement to a healthcare worker or patient visit notesforsupport.org.