It’s been almost a year since the coronavirus reached American shores and in that time more than 400,000 died and millions more became infected. Even with multiple vaccines at the ready, COVID-19 cases continue to surge. This pandemic forced many businesses to either close or operate at a diminished capacity, thereby causing unemployment numbers to skyrocket and left many Americans out in the cold (in some cases, literally).
Thankfully, this pandemic also brought out the best in people, as donations poured in over the past year to help those in need. Not only that, but many jumped in to volunteer their time and talents, whether on a national, state or local level.
One such volunteer is Wilmington resident and Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School student Melanie Mytych. Since the pandemic began, the 15-year old started volunteering with the Health Department in Wilmington. Her mother, Kim, is the senior clerk in the department.
Melanie said she started volunteering through her mother.
“I’ve been going with her since I was young,” she noted, “and I started to find other programs that we had worked with and I asked to volunteer with them.”
The high school student is set to volunteer at some upcoming coronavirus and flu clinics. Although not able to give shots or handle the paperwork, Melanie said she plans to assist with the beginning of the process of the paperwork, plus help check people in and help people who might have questions. She also said she’ll go over the paperwork to make sure everything is filled out correctly.
“I do plan to be at most of the clinics if I can,” the 15-year old added, noting that she’ll “make sure everything runs smoothly.”
Besides working the clinics, Melanie also worked hard this past holiday season facilitating the donation of nearly 150 presents for Wilmington families in need, most of whom had coronavirus diagnoses and lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Dan O’Brien, Communications Director for Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Lexington, said Melanie learned about these families through the town’s COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.
“During contact tracing, the families expressed need and the Health Department galvanized Melanie and others to collect, organize and distribute the gifts,” he noted. “This began during the holidays but is ongoing.”
According to Melanie, “I was thrown into it to be completely honest, and I’m so happy I was. My mom came home one day and said that she had presents in the back of her truck and she needed help and I said I would gladly take on the project.”
The high school student said she and her mom “soon found ourselves in my neighbor’s garage unloading a couple of hundred presents in there. Soon we had friends help wrap them and my mother posted something on her Facebook account asking for some money for presents, heat and oil for families.”
The two also realized they needed clothing donations, so they went to Old Navy “and got a little girl some church clothes. They were such cute, little outfits.”
Melanie said the day they delivered the presents was amazing; they were able to give one family heat and oil.
“We still have so many presents left and are now trying to find homes for these toys,” the 15-year old admitted.
If that’s not enough, Melanie also helped deliver masks. She said the process went great and “we were able to get them out smoothly. We had just enough until the next batch of masks,” which she said they planned to deliver last Saturday. Melanie said they received money from the state to buy in bulk.
The 15-year old doesn’t do it alone, as she gave credit to her mother, stating, “she is normally the one who runs everything.”
When she’s not volunteering her time by working at clinics, donating gifts or distributing masks, Melanie also works in the day-care center at her school.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” she said about working with the younger children, especially as it relates to the pandemic and all the health and safety protocols she has to follow. She added how it makes things difficult because they don’t necessarily have everything they need.
Melanie did note that when it comes to mask wearing, all the children understand they need to wear one. She said they rarely if ever take it off “and if it does fall off, they will put it back on in an instant.” She also pointed out how the tables must be six feet apart and the lack of stuffed animals or soft toys.
The high school student also works with another day-care center, Magic Gardens, which also employs tough restrictions, such as when a child is transferred to a new room, no other child can be in that room with that child so they don’t interact with anyone else.
“It can make it hard for the child,” Melanie said, noting they can only have 15 children in one room.
In her free time - or “free” time to be more specific - Melanie enjoys playing basketball. She also plays for the Minuteman Tech basketball team; unfortunately, due to COVID-19, her season has yet to start. She said it “stinks” but understands it’s necessary.
“I want to keep everyone around me safe,” she stressed, adding that going to a nearby park and practicing is just as beneficial as playing an actual game. “I do plan on starting a new team up soon and I can’t wait for it.”
As Melanie knows some people who tested positive - both symptomatic and asymptomatic - she understands what many people are going through. Her advice is for people to remember “we are all stressed out and that a little kindness does go a long way.” She suggests that saying “please” and “thank you” could help make someone’s day.
“Please stay inside if you have COVID,” Melanie noted, “or if you have COVID symptoms. No one should be mad at you. You can push through it, you are strong and if you need anything, people are here to help you and get you better.”
She said the Health Department is available to help anyone who needs it. She pointed out how the department doesn’t get enough credit for all the work they do, especially the behind-the-scenes work that many people don’t see. She specifically shouted out Shelly Newhouse, Tracy Mello and her nurses, her mother Kim, Kelly Malatesta and her daughters Devin and Jordan, saying they’ve been helping out during these trying times.
She praised the efforts of every nurse and everyone who stepped up during the pandemic “and will continue to help out with anything that will be thrown at us.”