With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing across the world, the virus continues to ravage communities everywhere and interfere with the development of children, teens, and young adults.
These are formative years for Gen Z, but COVID-19 exacerbates already-present inequities that hinder their ability to receive an education and maintain stable social-emotional health. For the oldest members of Gen Z, career prospects are greatly limited by restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.
People of low-income backgrounds, family members of essential workers, and relatives of COVID-19 patients are hit especially hard by the lack of resources, whether physical or emotional, necessary to learn and thrive during this time.
Research conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth reports that 71% of Gen Z respondents aged 18-23 experienced difficulty in transitioning from in-person to online-only classes, with 84% of respondents’ part-time jobs or internships being negatively impacted by COVID-19. Overall, respondents’ mental health took a dive during the pandemic.
However, Gen Z’s drive for innovation and activism remains stronger than ever, urging them to create new solutions that face these unprecedented challenges head-on. Youth-led movements have risen up to fight against hardships presented by the pandemic. Here are just a few of the initiatives Gen Z leaders have started to fight the pandemic:
When schools shut down in early March, millions of high school students were left without guidance and preparation for standardized testing and college applications. In the midst of the devastating pandemic, two high school students, Dania Ahmed and Ashley Chiu, recognized the opportunity to fight both these problems at once.
Together, they launched Review for Relief, an organization that sells test preparation materials and essay editing services. They donate all proceeds to Direct Relief, a nonprofit helping with COVID-19 efforts across the globe.
Beyond fighting COVID-19, their services’ accessibility has helped even the playing field for less affluent students. In a testimonial, one of their clients wrote, “as a low-income student, it is often difficult to find services that accommodate people like me. I am so wonderfully pleased with Review for Relief because they worked to find deals that worked for me.”
In an interview with Redefy, Ashley Chiu said that “the most important lesson we learned throughout the process was making sure that we had self-motivation and keeping track of time. We've learned the importance of doing things for self-enjoyment while not overworking ourselves; we've returned to a place where Review for Relief is fun and a break from the chaos of college applications and school — it's a fun environment where we can express ourselves and do so in a way that can be beneficial for others! Overall, building a team, mission, and vision from the ground up has been one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.”
When COVID-19 began rapidly spreading in March, three high school students in Southern California — Matt Marandola, Mellie Wang, and Emily Bush — recognized that the pandemic created significant hardships for homebound citizens. Bush told Redefy that “my family was worried because my grandparents live on their own and speak little English. However, towards the beginning of lockdown, they were visited by some neighbors who gave them some PPE items and offered to make grocery and errand runs for them. They were incredibly touched by this and it was motivating for me in the beginning because I wanted to bring that same reassurance to other people in need, especially those who have been affected in more extreme ways.”
Inspired by this act of kindness, they created CARE Initiative, an organization that provides aid to those who are at-risk and improves conditions for members of the OC and LA community, especially those who are unable to leave their homes. They make grocery and donation deliveries each week and are also continually looking to create new partnerships and expand their volunteer base so they can reach a wider range of communities.
In an interview with Redefy, the founders expressed some of the struggles they faced in running the initiative. “When we started this organization, I often felt doubts about how things would work out, whether people even wanted help from teenagers, and how much of an impact we could make. After doing further outreach, I had the opportunity to interact with many partner organizations and nonprofit workers who are dedicating their careers to helping the community. It has shown me that although I may be younger and less experienced, the one commonality is that we are all passionate about improving peoples’ lives. I have learned that even as a student it is possible to make an impact and assist those who need it most, with a combination of self-motivation and collaboration.”
Spread across 17 states and 44 chapters, Break the Outbreak is a youth-led nonprofit dedicated to limiting the spread of COVID-19 by equipping grocery stores, restaurants, senior citizen homes, and food banks with PPE. They also deliver care packages to isolated seniors and low-income people, as they are heavily impacted by the pandemic.
In the future, Break the Outbreak hopes to spread vaccine awareness and education among the youth. They also hope to eventually pivot to homeless support, low-income support, and possibly even flu support as well.
When asked about the greatest challenges the youth are facing right now, founder Sky Yang said that “I think youth are currently feeling an emptiness within ourselves because we want to do something other than just hanging around our homes and watching some TV show while doing homework everyday. And I think Break the Outbreak is a goal for all of us to work towards, something that can encourage us to take action and make a difference during this troubling time. Throughout the development of the organization, I learned that when we chase our visions and leave no regret; it doesn't matter if we succeed or fail, because we have tried.”
Most importantly, these organizations demonstrate Gen Z’s tendency to come together and develop innovative solutions in times of crisis. As Sky Yang believes, “one person may be unable to make too much of a difference; 1 stick is easy to break. But, if we have 100 youth, 1,000 youth, 10,000 youth, all of us working toward something together — just like 10,000 sticks layered together — we are impossible to break. Because we are the next generation, and the world will soon be ours, it’s up to us to start making a difference."