Rivers Strong: Our Community Reaches Out

How have members of the Rivers community responded to the coronavirus outbreak? Not surprisingly, with compassion, courage, and determination. They are making masks, sending out cards and letters, preparing meals and sandwiches, tutoring children, and working on the front lines with those who’ve contracted the virus.
The volunteer efforts—many of them coordinated through the school’s Rivers Responds initiative—are nearly too numerous to mention. They come from every sector of our community: students, alumni, families, faculty. They are diverse in scale and impact, but they all reflect our collective values as a school.

As Jessica Bargamian ’21 put it, “We’re at the point where a lot of people in our world need help in different ways….I owe it to the community to help out.”

Bargamian has helped spearhead a drive to collect donated iPads that can be used by hospitalized coronavirus patients to communicate with their families, helping to mitigate their isolation. Bargamian’s mother works at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and when she told her about the hospital’s need for the devices, Bargamian sprang into action. “I made posters, I asked friends and cousins. I collected the first four through Rivers.”

She surprised herself by receiving 13 donated iPads in the first phase, and as of last week, more were on the way. “IPads cost a lot of money, but people were willing to give them up because they know it’s a great cause,” says Bargamian. The most daunting part of the effort proved to be the logistics, not just of collecting the devices safely but of getting them re-set so they could be used by patients. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with Apple,” says Bargamian.

And then there was the actual drop-off at the hospital. “It was kind of scary; I had to wear a mask and gloves. But the nurses that collected them were beyond grateful,” Bargamian reports.

Making Masks
Of course, nearly every activity that brings people out of the house, be it volunteering, shopping, or simply taking a walk, requires a mask. That means the demand for masks is seemingly endless, but many community members with the ability to sew have stepped in to help meet that need.

Middle School Latin teacher Cathy Favreau, an accomplished seamstress who makes colorful quilts and has provided costumes for many school plays and musicals, has been turning out masks at a speedy clip. Between teaching, parenting, and other demands on her time, “I can only make 50 a week,” she notes modestly. That sounds like a lot of masks, but there’s no shortage of places to distribute them, and through various connections, some of hers have ended up at the Lynn Community Health Center, some at a Native American women’s co-op, and some with friends and neighbors. Favreau echoes the sentiments of many when she says, “Whenever you do something for your community, it makes you feel good. Now, when we’re socially isolated, thinking of people beyond our own family is important to do.”

Mask-making has also been taken up by Adrienne Correia ’22. For her, the masks are a way of contributing to a particular organization—one where she’s served as a volunteer for several years. Heading Home provides support to families living in shelters and transitioning to permanent housing. Correia has been helping out there since middle school, orchestrating birthday parties for homeless children and assisting in “up and out” moves.

Now, of course, those activities have been curtailed, but Correia contributes by making masks and donating nonperishable food. She was particularly gratified to learn that at least four of the 20 or so masks she’d made as of last week went to a family that was moving into permanent housing. “That made me feel great, knowing that the masks I made would help them in that transition,” she says.

Tackling Food Insecurity
Correia's family has also gone through their pantry to find food items to donate to Heading Home. Food insecurity is, of course, one of the secondary repercussions of the pandemic, and many members of the Rivers community are addressing the crisis on that front. Dylan Keusch ’19 had been spending his post-graduation gap year doing research and interning in the OR at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Although the virus shut down most surgery and sidelined non-essential personnel, Keusch was determined to find another way to help out.

He had previously trained to volunteer with Team Rubicon, an organization founded by ex-Marines that typically provides assistance following natural disasters. In the current crisis, the group is providing an array of services nationally; here in New England, the focus is food assistance.
“We are packaging meals for veterans all up and down the East Coast,” Keusch explains. Five days a week, he’s been spending eight hours at a warehouse in Foxboro helping to pack up 50-pound boxes of nonperishable foods. It’s a lot of hours, but there’s a lot of need: “Just at the operation in Foxboro, we’ve packaged 1.6 million meals, something like 20,000 meals.”

The work is backbreaking and not without some risk, he says, but he wouldn’t dream of giving it up. “One of the guys on the crew put it perfectly,” says Keusch. “You’re going to bed exhausted, but that means someone is not going to bed hungry. That means the world to me.”

Elsewhere in the fight against food shortages and hunger, numerous Rivers families and community members have participated in an effort, organized by Rivers Responds, to make sandwiches for two local organizations that serve people in need.

Nicole Lippa, mother of Jackson Lippa ’21, described her family’s experience in an email: “When we saw that Rivers Responds helps people by providing sandwiches to the Bristol Lodge Shelter in Waltham, we wanted to do our part to help the members of our community that face the greatest hardships. We believe that no one should be without food. So we rolled up our sleeves and created an assembly line on our kitchen island….We loaded up the car and Jackson drove us (faster than I would have liked) to Waltham, where we knocked on the back door of a church and delivered our sandwiches. While supporting our community during this pandemic was our primary goal, we also benefited from some amazing, quality family time. There was laughing, joking, and great teamwork. We had a lot of fun working together, and knowing that our efforts would help someone else ameliorated our experience.”

Rivers Responds also organized an April 25 food drive on campus, collecting nonperishables for a local food pantry. It was a resounding success, with 2,925 pounds of food and 4,844 diapers collected. And many who participated were delighted to have the opportunity to visit campus and briefly see other community members—safely, of course, and at an appropriate distance.

Many Ways to Help
Even at a time when many are wary about volunteering outside their homes, there are opportunities to help. Hannah Lapides ’22 and Jackie Benjes ’20 have been tutoring students from Immigrant Family Services Institute online. In more typical times, says Lapides, she enjoys working with young students in person, at the organization’s Roslindale offices. Now, she is working one-on-one with a first-grader, helping her with reading and writing.

“I’ve actually seen improvement in her reading,” reports Lapides. “I think it’s been a really good experience for both of us.” Lapides notes that, for her, some of the value has been in enabling her to stay connected to her more typical activities. “It’s important to try to keep life going on as it was before, and I would have been volunteering anyway,” she says.

For members of community service club Rivers Serves, helping out is also second nature. One effort organized by the club was a group session online, making cards for frontline medical workers. “We had about 20 people on the call,” says Sofia Buckle ’20, one of the event organizers. “It was really fun, and everyone made at least five cards, so we probably had 100 cards.”

The messages spoke of gratitude and encouragement; Buckle says her cards expressed such sentiments as “We’re all in this together” and “This too shall pass.” The cards were passed along to a parent who works at an area hospital and then on to doctors and nurses. Buckle says the group also plans on participating in the sandwich-making effort, adding, “There’s no excuse not to help, now that we’re home so many hours of the day. And it’s so important to give back.”

Indeed, for many at Rivers and beyond, giving back is a lifeline, a reminder about the importance of gratitude, perspective, and simple kindness. As Lippa concluded in her email, “For so many wonderful reasons, the day we made sandwiches is one I will never forget. Further, I am incredibly grateful to be a part of the caring and generous Rivers community that organized this opportunity and set a good example for all of us.”

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