MILLBURN, NJ — in the midst of the COVID-19, everyone has been quarantined to their homes to maintain social distancing guidelines. This lack of interaction can be frustrating, but several Millburn students have refused to remain powerless. Instead, they have seized this opportunity to generate positive change in the community through both donations, art and education.

Healthcare workers are currently risking their lives on the front lines of the virus to make sure as many people receive treatment as possible. Mia Rothberg and Jamie Cohen, two volunteers at Saint Barnabas hospital, want to make sure that we recognize the sacrifice these professionals are making.

Rothberg, a junior, collected donations of $10 to assemble care bags for the nurses, with the goal of having 1 care bag for each of the 1,200 nurses at the hospital. In less than one week she raised over $5,000 and received a donation of 1,500 pieces of Undercover Quinoa.

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“I felt that I needed to do something to help put a smile on the nurses’ faces and make a difference,” Rothberg said, “... I believe everyone can help make a difference, especially if it is small.”

Cohen, also a junior, called for Millburn residents to make cards, thanking healthcare professionals for all their hard work. The response was, in Cohen’s words, “overwhelmingly positive.”

“It is great that our community is so giving and united during such a tough time, and it really makes me believe that we will be able to get through this crisis and come out stronger and more united,” he said.

However, students are not just collecting donations. Rachel Soloman, a junior, chose to help the community through poetry and film. She wrote a poem about social distancing, entitled “Lockdown,” providing a sense of optimism during these uncertain times. For example:

“the disease can be deadly, but more dangerous is the side effect of fear

we can cure it all with science, hope, and cheer”

 

In Soloman’s “Lockdown Challenge,” she asked people in the community to take 1-2 lines of her poem and shoot 5-15 seconds of footage that they believe visually embodies that line. She plans to edit all the excerpts together into one video to collectively raise Millburn’s spirits.

“I'm hoping the film will do two things,” she explained, “I hope it will make people feel optimistic for the world that will be once we are allowed to roam it again. I strongly believe that good things lie ahead, despite the circumstances, and I hope the film will inspire others to think the same way.”

She continued, “sometimes we get wrapped up in our own frustrations and it gets difficult to see the bigger picture. I want this film to bring attention back to the bigger picture, but not in a way that invalidates people's personal frustrations.”

Two other students, junior Ritika Mishra and sophomore Eliana Warner founded PiGirl, a website created to encourage young girls to get involved in STEM.

Mishra said, “we decided to focus on young girls because of our experiences with the lack of girls in our STEM classes. During my freshman and Sophomore year in CompSci there were 3 girls in each class compared to the 20 other guys. Girls don’t realize the potential they have to make changes to the world through STEM.”

Through informative videos and fun activities, Mishra and Warner hope they can spark curiosity to learn and pursue careers in this male-dominated field.

These students aren’t done. All of them expressed interest in continuing their community service throughout the quarantine and beyond. What encapsulates these student actions is a sense of optimism born of challenge.

As Soloman said, “Everyone has a skill set they can use to help out in some capacity…  Even the smallest actions, like making people smile, make a difference.”