MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – Most high school seniors spent the last few months adjusting to a new normal consisting of online classes, quarantining apart from family and friends, and the anxiety of an uncertain future. For Carley Furlow, an incoming women's tennis player at Penn State Harrisburg, the last couple of months presented a similar scenario, albeit with a unique chance to make a difference in the fight against COVID-19.
A Central Dauphin East alum, Furlow took full advantage of the opportunity to do her part, displaying great selflessness and charity by sewing and donating more than 1,000 cotton masks and headbands to frontline healthcare workers, essential personnel and high-risk individuals during a time when most of her peers were struggling to come to terms with cancelled proms and virtual graduations.
"I had a lot of free time on my hands so I tried to help people as much as I could," said Furlow. "Honestly, my goal was to help one person and it grew into so much more."
Click on the photo below to enjoy the full, enhanced story of Furlow's mission to help others during the ongoing pandemic.
The endeavor began when Furlow's cousin, an employee with Serenity Hospice Care LLC in New Jersey, reached out and asked for her help during the early stages of the pandemic when the national mask shortage was most affecting essential staff and healthcare workers. After obliging her cousin's appeal, a photo of one of her masks was posted and shared on social media. From there, the requests quickly poured in.
"All of a sudden, the pictures started getting shared and people started contacting me like crazy to make masks," she said. "During the pandemic, I've sewn and donated over 1,000 masks. I also made over 100 headbands that have buttons sewn into the back of them to help save nurses' ears."
Furlow's output didn't stop there. When masks and eyeglasses are worn for long periods of time, a person's ears can take a beating and are oftentimes rubbed raw. So in addition to the headbands that decrease irritation, she made glasses kits that when utilized, help eliminate soreness. She organized and ran Zoom classes focused on crafting for adults and children. She even created a free local library outside her favorite coffee shop when the public library closed during the quarantine.
"There is a coffee shop in the town I grew up in," she said. "I built a little 'library' and put it up there. The Little Local Free Library allows people to leave a book and take a book. With libraries being closed, it still gives people access to books in some way."
While her efforts kept her busy during a difficult time (an understatement if there ever was one), Furlow initially and understandably struggled to accept the abrupt end of her final days of high school. She admits there was some frustration and even self-pity once the news of the move to online learning and the cancellation of her senior season broke. But thoughtfulness and maturity unique to someone her age quickly won out.
"When my senior year got cancelled, I felt really bad for myself," said Furlow. "I was upset. It felt unfair. Then I realized I needed to stop thinking about myself and start doing things to help others. I went through my entire fabric stash so I had to start asking people for donations of fabric and other supplies. All of a sudden, so many people in the community were donating to help me. Once I realized I started to make a difference in the community and I saw the support I had, it pushed me to continue to help people."
That support only continued to grow as her output increased. Furlow expressed her appreciation to those in the community who dropped off supplies and sent her cards and messages of encouragement. The impact she made and the gratitude of those benefiting from her mission served as all the fuel Furlow needed to carry on.
"The community is what keeps me going to this day," she said. "It's crazy to think that people who don't even know you are trying to help you help others."
Along with each one of her masks and headbands, she includes a card with the message "thinking of you" written on it. She adopted the moniker as her project's title as she continues her output in the midst of the ongoing worldwide pandemic. No one knows how long things will continue this way. But thanks to the efforts of young men and women like Furlow, the future seems a little less uncertain.
"I just really hope that at the end of the day, I helped one person," she said. "If I helped one person, then I achieved my goal."