Lending a helping hand

Track & Field team helps boost essential worker morale


John McKeeman

Nurses at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center pose for a photo to thank the numerous kids who have sent in a letter via the email forum.

Justine Ha and Tabitha Mendez

Despite there being no practices or games for spring sports due to COVID-19 and school closures, the Track & Field team has been using this time to work together and help others. Inspired by the many essential workers who have been working tirelessly during this time in one of the most highly impacted cities in the United States, Track & Field coach John McKeeman wanted to create a wave of encouragement to help lift up the spirits of nurses in New York City.

As a native New Yorker himself, McKeeman had initially noticed the immense physical and mental strain essential workers were enduring in New York as the number of COVID-19 patients increased over the past couple of months. After speaking to one of his close friends whose sister was working as a nurse, McKeeman started to brainstorm ways to help out.

He had spoken to a couple of other nurses, and he realized that they needed “seemingly simple” things, including food, transportation and words of encouragement. McKeeman decided to focus on creating a forum via an email digest and Instagram page @dearcovidheroes for people to post their words of encouragement for these nurses — by doing so, it would allow people to help out while also doing it safely.

Letters written by the team were also printed out and posted around New York hospitals for nurses. McKeeman highlights the positive impact the thoughtful letters have had on various individuals at the hospital.

“I think what’s been cool is that not only [are the letters] helping them, but some of the [impacted] patients as well who are able to walk around the hospital,” McKeeman said. “[They] just saw that these kids from, 3000 miles away, are thinking about us, they believe in the situation we’re in and are helping us.”

With the help of several matching donation programs via Facebook, McKeeman used the letters to incentivize kids to send more. Each letter correlated to a certain money amount in donations.

“[These letters] were received well by the nurses and doctors, so after that I basically, just to incentivize kids, said, ‘OK … Facebook, my former company, [is] doing a matching program with donations to the CDC,’” McKeeman said. “This is a good way to make one dollar turn into two and have it go to a good organization and hopefully make some people feel better at the same time.”

As the track team has been working collaboratively to send out letters of encouragement, other members are finding different ways to give back. Captain and senior Ananya Rajagopal sent her Spotify playlist in hopes to help lift the nurses’ spirits.

“[The essential workers, specifically in hospitals,] are heroes and they’re doing so much,” Rajagopal said. “This is a novel crisis — there’s no vaccine, there’s nothing and the nurses are doing so much. I ended up sending my Spotify playlist [to these nurses] because whenever I’m feeling sad, I usually just listen to [music] and it makes me feel happy. I sent that, and then when coach John told me that they were playing it in the hospital, in the break room, I was just like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that.’”

Similarly, captain and junior Vivian Cheng used her artistic abilities to show her support by drawing a portrait of a nurse McKeeman personally knows.

The portrait Cheng drew of the nurse McKeeman knows.

“I wanted to show my gratitude towards [the nurses] in a way that I could do most effectively,” Cheng said. “I like art, so I painted a picture of the nurse that Coach John knows —  I painted her in her uniform and with a mask [on] because there have been a lot of Instagram posts of nurses who have bruises on their faces after wearing their masks for several shifts in a row. On the mask [in the portrait I drew], I wrote a couple of words like hero and brave. [Overall,] the painting was   to show my gratefulness for all the effort and sacrifices they’re making.”

Alongside the individual efforts, the team has also collectively created ways to get even more people involved in the effort. As many clubs around MVHS have been creating Bingo boards for students to stay connected on social media, the track captains created one that helped raise money for people even outside of hospitals.

“[The captains] thought of a way where we could turn a bingo board into [a] kind of a donation thing, where each square was a dare,” Cheng said. “People would donate for us to do [certain] dares, and we would give that money to Second Harvest Food Bank — we [thought that we] could help out the community [this] way because we know a lot of people are in need of help right now.”

Despite the disappointments students are facing due to various cancellations such as competing in the spring sports season, prom and vacations, McKeeman applauds the Track & Field team for keeping a positive attitude and actively helping out with this effort.

“I’m proud of them obviously …  You’re a week removed from hearing that your seasons are done, your school year is done, your prom is canceled, your spring [break] is canceled,” McKeeman said. “[I understand] that’s one of the most fun times of the year … [and] to have all that suddenly disappear is not easy. The fact that the kids were able to respond to this and do something positive when it would have been really easy  to sit at home and feel bad for themselves, [really makes me happy].”

As well, I think part of the reason I wanted to do [start this] is to give kids a way to be productive and to be a part of something [positive].”

— Coach John McKeeman

McKeeman encourages the MVHS community to give back, even if it’s with a small gesture like sending positive messages to essential workers.

“I would encourage people to just spend a little bit of time each day thinking of what they can do outside of their own little worlds,” McKeeman said. “Just keep chipping away and understand that a small act of good is going to inspire someone else [to do the same], and hopefully that leads to millions of acts of good for the next couple of years and forever.”