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Kidsburgh Heroes shine during the pandemic, from a RipStik marathon to art commissions

Kristy Locklin
July13/ 2020

You don’t have to be a grownup to be a hero. Some of the best leaders to emerge during the global pandemic have been kids. Even with schools shut down and playdates canceled, kids throughout Pittsburgh channeled their youthful energy into doing good deeds.

Working solo or in a group, they continue to make a difference in their communities. Here are five kid-led initiatives that deserve adult recognition:

RipStik-a-Thon

On May 29, some Highland Park kids let ‘er rip for 412 Food Rescue. Rather than twiddle their thumbs during quarantine, the third- through sixth-grade students rode twisting skateboards called RipStiks around the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Washington Boulevard.

Led by organizer Xander Kope, the group looped around The Oval for two hours in a rainstorm. Sponsors, who had pledged money for each minute the RipStiks were in motions, donated more than $2,500 to 412 Food Rescue.

Since March, the nonprofit organization has welcomed 1,548 new volunteers on its Food Rescue Hero app. The 412- Food Rescue team distributed over 12,000 meals to school bus stops, started a Home Delivery program and distributed food boxes to 650 households. The organization’s newly launched Community Takeout supports restaurants and unemployed service workers while feeding people in need.

Xander’s mother, Michele de la Reza of Attack Theatre, says the Ripstik-a-Thon might become an annual event, as her son wants to continue bringing awareness to important organizations and causes in Pittsburgh.

Lydia Berger

Nursing Home Mask Initiative

When they learned about the high infection rates among nursing home residents and staff members, two local teens sprang into action.

Lydia Berger, a senior at Norwin High School, and Amish Sethi, a senior at Pine-Richland High School, mobilized a small army of sewers to form the COVID-19 Mask Initiative. Together, they connected crafters and distributed dozens of masks to nursing homes and personal care facilities throughout Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.

Amish Sethi

The tech-savvy students met through the Pittsburgh COVID-19 DataWorks Project, an online and collaborative data science project hosted by the University of Pittsburgh.

They combined their skills in coding and database design to create a website, which launched in May, with a searchable list of 25 facilities in need and resources for people who wanted to help.

Site visitors can also find information on COVID-19 and access mask-making templates and tutorials. Not handy with a needle and thread? You can always donate money. The site boasts links to local and national organizations dedicated to saving lives during the crisis.

“This is definitely an ongoing initiative,” Lydia says. “As long as there are nursing homes in need of masks, I will continue to provide this resource to the crafters who can help them. I’m busier now with summer classes than I was in March after schools shut down, but I’m still doing my best to keep the Nursing Home Mask Initiative up and running! My collaborator Amish is also working on the website to keep it updated and add new features.”

Art for Joy

Three Upper St. Clair High School seniors are using their artistic talents to help families affected by COVID-19. Eileen Guo, Kathy Li and Manjiri Palayekar created Art for Joy to raise money for the Greater Washington County Food Bank and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

For a donation of $10 and up, the students will create a custom digital art commission. All three girls have earned Gold and Silver Keys from the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition. Check out the project and samples of artwork here.

“During this quarantine, I felt the urge to do my share, no matter the size, to benefit my community,” Eileen says. “I am so grateful that I do not need to worry about where my next meal will come from. Therefore, I wanted to put my free time at home to great use.”

Money goes a long way at the food banks: Just one donated dollar can be used to purchase $5 worth of food.

Photo by Tom Steiner.

5-K Run/1-Mile Walk

Matthew Purcell, a 15-year-old from Ohio Township, created and organized a virtual run/walk to raise $3,043 for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Dismayed by seemingly endless news footage of cars lined up waiting to pick up supplies from the food bank, the Avonworth High School sophomore felt compelled to help.

An avid runner, he decided to lace up his sneakers and mobilized 123 others to do the same. Once they were signed up, individual participants completed a 5K run or 1-mile walk and shot a photo of themselves or something interesting they saw along their route. They emailed the pictures to Matthew, who created a slideshow recap.

It’s not Matthew’s first foray into event organizing. Last year he planned a 5K event for the Hannah Milbert Memorial Fund, a charity set up to honor the Avonworth student killed in a housefire in 2017.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) got a $242,357 boost from local high schoolers during the nonprofit organization’s annual Students of the Year campaign. The national leadership campaign challenges high school kids to learn skills in marketing, entrepreneurship and project management while fundraising for LLS. Regional and national awards go to the top fundraising teams.

Team Claire Bear, led by senior Claire Katz of Fox Chapel High School, was crowned the Western PA and West Virginia campaign winner by raising $82,004.

It was a tricky time for raising money. Once the pandemic hit, Claire and her team had to pivot their fundraising creativity to virtual events. They included moneymaking efforts like online talent shows, magic tricks and cabaret performances.

Claire’s efforts paid off in more than team recognition. She received a $2,500 scholarship along with a job-shadowing opportunity for her work.

To nominate a student for the 2021 program, visit www.studentsoftheyear.org.

Do you know any kids worthy of Kidsburgh Hero acknowledgment? Drop us line at [email protected] We love these stories!

Kristy Locklin

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