Issaquah High Students Making a Difference During the Pandemic

Ashlesha Mishra, Staff Writer

2020 was a year that nobody had foreseen. Every individual faced countless struggles in terms of their mental health, work structure, educational curriculum, limited social interaction, and much more. However, health was the most crucial concern. COVID case numbers were only getting higher, putting everyone at a stage of panic. There was a mass shopping spree leaving a dearth of masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. In the time of this crisis, many people came to aid by creating fundraisers and donating to multiple organizations. The healthcare workers worked, and continue to work, countless hours dedicating their time and skill treating coronavirus patients for the disease. However, who helped these frontline doctors when they needed it? 

In a time like this, many students took the initiative to help the healthcare workers, the homeless, and the underprivileged. Issaquah High School established several non-profit organizations during the pandemic or redirected their original aim so that they could efficiently work under these circumstances. This article tells the journey of four Issaquah High School students who took on leadership roles around the time of the pandemic and gave back to their communities.

Lakshmi Gali is a sophomore at IHS who, along with a few other IHS students, is a cofounder of their recently developed organization called Rise Up. Rise Up was established in March 2020, right around the time that the COVID cases began to peak. This organization provides essential items to homeless shelters around Seattle. The team of Rise Up has also expanded their work in the meantime, and there is now a Chicago chapter of Rise Up as well. Gali says, “With unemployment rates increasing during the initial lockdown, homelessness rates were also increasing, and shelters were operating at maximum levels or overflowing capacity. Supplies were in desperate need, and we were able to raise $2,000 and make 400 care packages for those who come to the shelters. They contained hygiene items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, soap, lip balm, facial tissues, and more.” She goes on to explain that “homelessness has always been a problem in Seattle, and since we’ve been fortunate enough to have all of the resources and essential items we need at any time, we wanted to give back to our community. Everyone deserves to have access to basic hygiene, and we wanted to help provide some help to shelters.” 

The COVID pandemic has greatly affected the functioning of organizations including Rise Up. The team reached out through social platforms such as Instagram and was able to get volunteers from across the country who were interested in joining their cause and donating. Gali and the other co-founders of Rise Up look forward to growing even more after the pandemic settles. She hopes to continue their “donation drives and to continue providing essential resources to shelters, and maybe expand to help other states,” said Gali. 

The Rise Up website revealed the positive reactions in response to Rise Up’s contributions, and even included some responses from the shelters they donated to. Catholic Community Services wrote, “We received your donation yesterday and I wanted to pass on the guest’s thanks for the hygiene kits! They were very grateful for everything that was included!” 

Anusha Rao, another sophomore at Issaquah High, worked with her friends to support people on the autism spectrum and help them during this phase of achieving education online. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a ‘developmental disorder’ because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.” Their organization, Voices On the Spectrum, is “raising money to buy educational virtual reality for kids in Washington. The special education program has been negatively impacted because of COVID, so this resource can help. We are also raising awareness for issues/stereotypes in society regarding autism, and featuring autistic influencers or figures,” Rao says. 

The group was established very recently in January of 2021 with the idea that remote learning is tough for most students as is, and since it is hard to focus for many autistic children, the online learning environment is extensively different from the style we had before. Therefore, they wanted to support these students so they can perform their best in this learning system. Rao says, “We are currently focusing on raising money for the VR sets and featuring influential autistic figures. The autistic community has been historically underrepresented or misrepresented in the media, so we are working to help tackle that. Our organization is relatively new, but we are planning on having a fundraiser where we teach courses to younger kids, which will be engaging for our audience. I think that the technology we fundraise for is still very useful even after the pandemic, so we will definitely continue to work on it.” 

Rao believes that as most of us are at home right now, we have the ability to use social platforms and the resources available to us to their greatest extent. She “encourage[s] others who are passionate about helping others or a specific group of people to go for it,” and adds, “I could have never imagined being able to do this before the pandemic, so use your resources and get the support you need to create something great.” Their goal is to fund this technology for three schools in Washington State, and they hope to achieve it very soon.

  Sophomores, Vibha Shivarajan and two of her IHS classmates, Rachel Chalissery and Varsha Bharath, have continued to grow their organization, Hygiene for Her, and adjusted to the COVID conditions as it rolled in. Hygiene for Her was founded in 2019 by the three of them to make hygiene products available to all women, regardless of their social status and how much they can afford. The team says, “As a facet of life that unites all women, periods are essential to life and should be treated with the proper tools that allow women to live cleanly and with dignity.” The group had to adjust their system when they were not able to meet each other and host meetings. They expanded their team to include student representatives and created committees to better function and allow their representatives to actively engage with the team. 

A writer for their blog, sophomore Aria Shaffer, wrote in her article, “This [period poverty] is one of the driving causes of women’s oppression. According to the United Nations Population fund, ‘Period shame and misinformation undermine the well-being of women and girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage, exclusion, violence, poverty, and untreated health problems.’ The inability to attain or afford the proper and adequate menstrual products and the toxic stigma associated with menstruation is called period poverty, and the root cause behind this problem is lack of information and awareness about menstruation.” Through their donations and deliveries of hygiene products for women and the blog and social media engagement they are managing, Hygiene for Her is doing its part to educate people about period poverty and why the issue is so important to be addressed.

Finally, Isha Rudramurthy, who is a senior at IHS, and some of her friends decided to take action when it was most needed. WA Youth for Masks, now known as Youth against COVID-19, was initiated in March along with a corresponding  New York chapter with the intent of fundraising to buy and supply healthcare workers with masks. An article by NextShark written in April 2020 describes the dire conditions that healthcare workers were suddenly put into. It writes, ‘“The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), which represents nearly 20,000 workers, said it’s hearing from concerned members– nurses being told to reuse papers masks, being instructed to not wear masks unless there is a confirmed coronavirus case and being told to re-use face shields without guidance on proper cleaning.”’ Rudramurthy and the rest of the team, including several student representatives, started tutoring, giving virtual lessons, or beginning small businesses to help donate to their cause. The same article continues, “In just five days, the number of teens involved grew to about 200 student representatives from all over Washington, belonging to over 20 different schools and counties.” Many students rose to the opportunity of helping the healthcare workers and many of them were Issaquah High students.

The past year has been difficult for everyone and has changed each person’s schedule and agenda significantly. In these uncertain times, IHS students have shown immense leadership by developing organizations to provide support for those that need it despite having to do it in a different, COVID-safe way.