Finding the time to say thank you
Eastside High School sophomore Akash Verma may be one of the busiest 16-year-olds in Alachua County.
Akash is a member of his school’s Key Club, Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) chapter, science bowl, science fair, student government and Future Educators of America (FEA) chapter, just to name a few of his extracurriculars.
In 2020, Akash was selected to be a VolunTEEN, a volunteering program at UF Health Shands Hospital for students 14-17 years old. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was put on hold and Verma was unable to volunteer as originally planned. Now, instead of balancing his club meetings with volunteering and school, Akash was at home learning remotely.
“The process of adapting to the pandemic has been hard,” Akash said. “Staying home for so long has been pretty tough to say the least.”
Discouraged and stuck at home, Akash decided to do what he does best: get busy.
Akash wanted to create a project that would involve his fellow Eastside High School students, many of whom he had not seen in person in months. He also wanted UF Health Shands to be on the receiving end of the gesture.
“Frontline workers have done so much for all of us this year,” Akash said. “I just wanted to do something that could have potential to positively impact them in some way.”
The idea for a thank you video came first. Then came the idea to create handwritten thank you cards for frontline workers.
Akash began emailing every contact he had at UF Health Shands to ask for permission to execute the project. Once he had approval, Akash recruited members of his school’s Key Club and HOSA chapter to send in videos and write cards.
The entire video was created remotely, with 21 students recording horizontal videos of themselves at home, then sending the clips back to Akash. From there, the video was edited together and posted to YouTube.
Cards were dropped off at various locations in Gainesville and picked up by Akash. On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Akash and his mother brought the 70 handmade cards to the UF Health Garden of Hope to distribute among frontline staff.
Irene Alexaitis, D.N.P., R.N., NEA-BC, chief nursing officer and Nursing and Patient Services vice president, was at the card distribution event and witnessed how deeply it touched the frontline staff.
“The cards inspired us,” Alexaitis said. “It was so kind for the students to recognize the nurses and staff. One of the nurses had tears in her eyes because it meant so much to her.”
Akash said that he will never forget how it felt to hand-deliver the cards to UF Health Shands employees.
“All of them were saying thank you and nice things about the project which was really gratifying,” Akash said. “They made me feel like I did something of big importance which was really nice. I will always remember that experience.”