Fourteen-year-old Shelbee Rolfe of El Centro has been busy these last few weeks cutting fabric to form into face coverings and even went as far as to prepare a video to teach others how to prepare the masks following Center for Disease Control guidelines.
She’s not alone. Rolfe, a member of the Verde 4H Club, has teamed with 4H youth from throughout the Imperial Valley to prepare face coverings and face covering kits in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic to help first responders and others providing essential services.
Recently, the 4H youth delivered some 1,500 completed masks to first responders around the Valley. The youth delivered another 2,000 face covering kits to Imperial County health officials who would then distribute the face coverings to those who need them. Some of the masks also have gone to Imperial Valley Transit.
“I think it’s really important to help,” Rolfe said. “This is something our community needs right now.”
The face coverings became a way for the 4H youth to give back to their communities following the onset of COVID-19 while also teaching them what it means to be leaders, said Linda Sanchez, a 4H volunteer from Imperial, who has guided the youth through this project.
Prior to the onset of the virus, Sanchez was set to lead the youth through a 4H program called the Young Ambassador Project, which is meant to foster leadership skills. This year, the project was going to focus on proper flag disposal in which the youth members would help lead the community in following the proper guidelines and ceremonial steps to dispose of tattered and torn flags.
“I really like to teach Americanism,” Sanchez said of the flag disposal project.
To aid with that flag project, the 4H Clubs received a grant through the Imperial Valley Community Foundation. Everything was ready to go. Then the pandemic struck. There was no way for the flag project to move forward, Sanchez said, because it would have required interaction with the community that was no longer possible.
“Immediately, we decided to do the face coverings,” she said. “It was the kids’ idea.”
Sanchez first reached out to the Foundation to seek approval to use the grant funds for the masks. The answer came back quickly—of course. From that point, Sanchez, other club leaders, the youth and their parents got to work.
In all some 18 Imperial Valley 4H youth ranging in age from 11 to 14 have participated. Their work has involved seeking the donations of materials and community support, then cutting the fabric and preparing the kits.
In Rolfe’s case, she took on the role of leading a group of the youth in learning to cut the fabric, and she decided it would be a good idea to prepare a video.
“I watched a lot of demonstration videos and I thought I could so something like that,” she said. “My mom helped me to film it.”
Thacker Popejoy and his brother, Oliver both of El Centro and members of the Mt. Signal 4H Club, also were among the youth leaders who worked on the face coverings. They said the youth were divided into the “callers”, the “makers” and those in charge of distribution. The Popejoy brothers focused on the “calling” to seek community support, and their team put together a video on Facebook to help further their outreach efforts.
Thacker, 14, said it was important to help the community and was a way for the 4H members from different clubs to come together (while social distancing) to work as a team to provide a critical Valley-wide service.
“Everything about COVID-19 has been a bit scary and lonely,” Thacker said. “It’s created a lot of real-life problems for people. The news can be very depressing. But our Imperial County Young Ambassador Project group figured out a way to band together, stay in contact even with physical distancing and used our combined skillset and youthful energy to solve at least one problem for as many people as we could.”
Oliver, 12, added, “I agree with my brother, Thacker. It feels good to help our community in the best way possible to protect their health with the gift of respiratory protection.”
Imperial County officials said the face coverings are critically important during these challenging times, and they will make sure the kits get to those who need them the most.
Imperial County Supervisor Mike Kelley credited the youth for their support, stating that to have the youth decide to help their communities in this way is an indication of how much they care and how much they have learned from being a part of 4H.
“This just boils down to what 4H is all about,” Kelley said. “Teaching these kids to accept responsibility and teaching them to become effective leaders and responsible citizens and adults.”
Sanchez said the youth in the program worked hard to prepare the face coverings and kits, and she added their parents also deserve credit for the support shown to their children, as does the community that came together to help provide fabric, elastic materials and to help with the sewing.
In the end, it was the leadership of the youth that brought all the elements together.
“I got a lot of leadership experience,” Rolfe said. “It was hard to organize a lot of things, but I got a lot of out of it, and I’m grateful for the experience.”