When people in America started falling ill with the novel coronavirus and had to go into isolation, Santa Clara High School junior Gina Choi knew that something had to be done. After all, she had personal experience with what life in quarantine could be like.
“Two years ago, I was in quarantine for about a month due to a rare disease and the only thing that really kept me going was cards from family and friends,” said Choi. “I was inspired to create this project to support those on the front lines and to let them know that they’re not alone.”
Her website, www.notesforsupport.org, allows visitors to write letters to hospital patients and healthcare workers. Choi, with the help of her mother and sister print out the notes and then send them, in bulk, to hospitals across the United States.
“From healthcare workers, they’ve told me that these letters really mean a lot to them and they really help encourage those who are struggling right now,” said Choi. “A lot of people have told me that this project is really meaningful because it provides a way for anyone to contribute to the COVID-19 cause.”
Choi entered her project in the COVID-19 Global Hackathon, a worldwide competition that received nearly 19,000 entries from more than 175 countries. Amazingly, Notes for Support was one of just 89 projects selected as a winner. That caught the attention of the 49ers Foundation, which was already familiar with Choi thanks to her participation in the Foundation’s STEM Leadership Institute.
“The 49ers organization endorsed it through social media and I also submitted it to a global COVID-19 hackathon and my project was actually one of the winners. Through that, a lot of companies started taking notice of the website,” said Choi. “It’s just really exciting and I never thought that it would become this big.”
So far, Choi has sent more than 1,600 letters to 14 hospitals across the country. In addition to studying for her AP tests and finishing up her junior year via distance learning, Choi is working on expanding Notes for Support.
“I watch the news to find the hospitals that are being heavily impacted by COVID-19 and then I just cold call them and wait for their response… I add hospitals just based on when they respond and then, once I get enough notes, I send them on to them,” said Choi. “I’m working on an API to help automate going through the letters and sorting them out and formatting them. Hopefully this process will become quicker.”
Whether the process gets faster or not, Choi knows the work she’s doing is worth it.
“When you’re in isolation it really feels like you’re just alone; everyone has forgotten about you,” said Choi. “Just getting some type of reminder or note of encouragement really means the world because it still shows that people care and that you’re not alone.”