Teen creates award-winning COVID-19 protective kit for teachers

BALTIMORE -- Arthur Wang, 17, realized the severity of COVID-19 months before most of his classmates when he got updates about the then novel virus from his uncle, who is a doctor in China.

It inspired the Columbia, Maryland, resident to come up with an effort to better support teachers and other workers in Howard County, where he is a junior at River Hill High School, and beyond.

“We wanted to help the community,” he explained. “I realized how hard it was for the teachers to switch from virtual to in-person classes. Some teachers said it was like flying a plane with no direction.”

Wang inspired 42 other students in the county to form the nonprofit Clarksville Youth Care Group. The organization has donated more than 1,400 protective kits to teachers at 62 schools. And he’s not done yet.

The kits include a handmade colorful cloth mask in assorted designs that features a pocket where a filter can be inserted for additional protection; an “ear saver,” which reduces the strain that masks place on the ears; a thank you card and a mask lanyard. Each kit takes about three hours to make.

“I realized that we should account for how tough it would be for the teachers. We expect them to be such a strong figure. We needed to appreciate all the hard work they do,” said Wang, who previously raised $13,000 in an effort to make 3,600 face shields that were donated to 101 hospitals, clinics, dental offices, urgent care centers and first responders in seven states.

For this project, Wang raised $5,000.

Wang’s efforts were recently recognized when he was one of two Marylanders of 25 high school students from around the country named as Prudential Emerging Visionaries.

Faaris Zuberi, 17, of Rockville, also was recognized for “Financial Literacy Introduction Program,” which offers financial literacy training to student members of the Youth Economic Initiative.

The award recognized the students for their “outstanding, innovative solutions to pressing financial and societal challenges in their communities,” according to Prudential Financial.

“Emerging Visionaries is another way Prudential is demonstrating its commitment to our purpose: to make lives better by solving the financial challenges of our changing world,” said Charles Lowrey, the firm’s chairman and CEO, in a statement. “The students we’re honoring have a sense of possibility that drives them to look beyond themselves. Their vision and dedication are key to creating fully inclusive communities, and we are humbled and inspired by their work.”

Each of the 25 winners will receive $5,000 in funding as well as an invitation to participate in an awards summit at Prudential’s Newark, N.J., headquarters starting Saturday. At the summit, Wang will have the opportunity to vie for the grand prize of an additional $10,000 in funding. Prudential employees also will vote to name an Employees’ Choice Award winner, who will receive an additional $5,000.

Mikaela Lidgard, the principal at River Hill High School, first learned about Wang’s project last year while working at another school.

“The project has reached other schools in Howard County and Maryland,” she said. “Seeing young people take the lead and move forward and being compassionate about others was really inspiring. They are our best asset. And they are going to lead us in ways that are exciting, uplifting and reinforce our faith in humanity.”

Amanda Wang, a 14-year-old freshman at River Hill, said she is very proud of her brother’s ability to lead and inspire others in the effort. She also helps to run the group with him.

“It’s remarkable. It’s not something you see every day. It stands out from the ordinary,” she explained. “He helped organize the entire group. His hard work inspired me and others to work harder and make sure this project was going at a smooth pace.”

She added: “[My parents] have been pretty supportive. They have been really proud of us. We needed their help for a few things — such as material costs and design — but it’s mostly us doing this.”

The group has 300 kits remaining that it wants to donate to teachers.

Arthur Wang said he plans to expand the efforts to bus drivers and other community members who are in direct contact with the public. He also wants to inspire more students to join in the effort.

“I think we can really take our stuff to the next level and expand to more and more people,” he said.