Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, many have been struggling to find ways to help those being impacted by the illness or on the frontlines. Especially as city leaders continue to ask their citizens to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.
Public Health Advocates and community volunteers have been quick to adapt and establish ways for those stuck at home to offer a helping hand to those who need it most. They have come up with clever ways to take initiative while social distancing.
In the face of the growing crisis, a group of high school and college students were quick to act. This group included, Aakshi Agarwal, Hannah Verma, and Siddharth Jain–three Yale Undergrads–and Arjun Verma, a rising junior in high school. They partnered up to found Telehealth Access for Seniors, a non-profit that provides electronic devices to Senior Citizens and other vulnerable populations.
This way, they can connect with their physicians via Telehealth, rather than put their lives and others’ at risk by seeking out in-person care.
We caught up with the founding team of Telehealth Access for Seniors to learn more about their organization’s origins. Also learning how it is impacting the people who need it most and what it means for them to serve vulnerable populations while also juggling the responsibilities of a typical 17-21-year-old student.
Issa: Where did the idea for Telehealth Access for Seniors come from? Did you all struggle a bit before settling on its current state and structure?
Aakshi: The idea from TeleHealth Access for Seniors originated when Hannah and Arjun overheard their parents, who are physicians, worrying about how their patients with chronic conditions would make it through the pandemic using TeleMedicine when they only had a flip phone. Arjun had this great idea to connect them to some of his old devices and then Hannah realized we could do this at a larger scale.
Hannah asked me about expanding it in Connecticut, where I am, because we were close friends and both interested in healthcare. I am heavily involved in education and came up with bringing in educational resources like guides and tech-support. We combined all of our ideas to make TeleHealth Access for Seniors.
I also brought in the idea to focus on donating to Veterans Hospitals because of my experience working with veterans at my Congresswoman’s office as an intern. We definitely played around with a lot of structures for how to keep in touch with so many volunteers.
For example, when we were smaller, we had 2 volunteer coordinators and us 3 co-founders calling every state’s volunteers to check-in with them. As we grew, it became unsustainable. Now, we have state leads doing check-ins. Like this, we have had to make a lot of adjustments!
Issa: Can you walk me through the donation and distribution process? What type of instructions and/or support does TAFS offer to recipients of devices?
Arjun: If someone would like to donate a device, they can fill out the form on our website. Every donor should try to reset, sanitize, and upgrade the device to the best of their ability. Volunteers in their region are notified, and they will coordinate shipping or a pick-up with the donor. Once the volunteers have received the device, they then check to make sure that the device has been properly reset, sanitized, and upgraded.
Volunteers then package each device with a charger and instructional guides before distributing it to the practice. These guides provide step-by-step instructions on how to set up a phone, email, and video conferencing apps, along with tips on looking for symptoms of COVID-19 and how to have good financial practices.
Because of patient privacy laws, it is the medical practice that identifies and then distributes each device to patients in need. If the patient has any questions, we also provide them with a tech support number to call where we have volunteers ready to answer questions at any time!
Issa: You all are college students, and I noticed that the majority of those who are on the Telehealth Access for Senior team or volunteer for your organization are also students. What has been your experience with creating and running a non-profit while also juggling classwork, clubs, jobs, and family commitments, especially with the added pressure of handling everything during a pandemic?
Arjun: While we have been running this organization, our administrators along with our volunteers have all been balancing studying for a variety of standardized tests, working on schoolwork, and spending time with our families while also putting all of our efforts into this organization.
We all have our individual tasks of organizing meetings, coordinating volunteer drop-offs, keeping records of donations along with actually soliciting devices. Our volunteers are all dedicated and hard-working, so all of them have still been able to help immensely in our goal of helping every senior and veteran get access to healthcare. Despite the struggles, it’s still been an extremely rewarding experience.
Issa: You all put emphasis on being socially-conscious and have expanded to support low-income communities as part of your initiative. How and why did you all decide to shift the initiative to focus on supporting multiple disadvantaged communities, rather than just Seniors with limited electronic access?
Aakshi: All of us definitely have a passion for healthcare in different ways and have had varied experiences of our own with healthcare access whether it be personally or through family members. Those experiences really informed us to want to serve those in underserved communities from a young age, so we began this organization with a focus on helping those who were most at risk and most at need.
This began with the name focus on Senior Citizens because the pandemic definitely highlighted a need to help seniors given how much they are affected by the coronavirus. As the pandemic worsened, our definition of who was most at risk and had the most need grew.
For example, we recognized an early focus for helping veterans as they tend to be lower-income and statistically have used TeleMedicine less.
Issa: What’s in store for Telehealth Access for Seniors? The future of the pandemic is unknown, so I imagine its course may impact any developments you all are working on, but do you think that there will still be a demand for electronic access in the time after COVID-19? In what way do you see TAFS adapting to address similar, but unrelated, electronic-access issues?
Hannah: As we’ve heard from many providers, Telehealth appointments are the future of medicine. For routine check-ups, they save a lot of time and resources on both ends. The healthcare industry has long been trying to shift to a virtual model, but there was a lot of hesitancy to make that change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that telehealth is not just a short-term substitute, but rather a long term solution.
We know that there will be high demand and use of these devices for appointments in the future, but cost barriers and age barriers will continue to be an issue for tech literacy for the patient populations we are focused on helping, like veterans and seniors.
We hope to continue addressing this for years to come, perhaps through large scale device recycling programs to repurpose them for patients in need. We are mainly focused on health as our mission, but we are also addressing wellness and connectivity through our guides, and we hope to branch out more to advocacy as well.
Issa: Is there anything you haven’t had the opportunity to share that you would like to?
Hannah: We are constantly looking for more donations! Even a $5 contribution to our GoFundMe allows us to buy chargers. If you work at a larger organization, we’d appreciate your spreading the word amongst your team to potentially have a company contribution.
Meet Scott Hughes: The Entrepreneur Who Built One of the Largest Online Book Communities
Are you a book junkie? Find out how Scott Hughes built OnlineBookClub, a free online community for book lovers with over 2 million members.
Are you a book lover?
If you are, then you need to check out OnlineBookClub.org, a free online site for book lovers around the world.
The online site features book reviews, book & reading forums, and useful tools that enable you to store, track and list books you have read or want to read.
Scott was only 19 when he launched OnlineBookClub.
The idea of creating OnlineBookClub originated after Scott, a book fanatic, realized that there were too many restrictions for in-person book clubs such as tight deadlines on book reading, a limited selection of books, and little freedom to pick books to read.
Scott wanted to leverage the power of online discussions and create a flexible space where people all over the world could easily find people to chat about any book at any time. That is how OnlineBookClub came to life.
Building the online platform was a rewarding experience for Scott, but it was far from easy.
For 7 years, Scott ran the business and paid himself nothing from it. During those years, he worked odd jobs to pay his living expenses and put food on the table for his two kids.
“I remember one month I had to go to the coinstar machine at the bank with my spare change on the 10th of month just so I could cover the rent, but I did it.”
The hardest part of creating the platform for Scott was finding time to run the business while juggling his day job and raising two kids. It was difficult for him to find a work-life balance but he made it work despite the hardships.
At the end of 2014, Scott finally took a leap of faith, gave up his side jobs, and went full-time at OnlineBookClub. He knew that to make it work, he had to devote himself completely to the online site.
And his efforts paid off.
The platform is thriving with over 2.7 million registered users as of November of 2021.
The revenue of the platform primarily comes from paid online advertising and professional services to authors and publishers, such as editorial reviews and manuscript editing.
Scott is proud of the work he has accomplished so far, especially of the community he has built.
“OnlineBookClub has always been filled with kind people who have a strong sense of togetherness and community. It’s like a second family for us.”
Scott’s journey has been full of ups and downs, but through it all, he is grateful for all the experiences-good ones and bad ones.
When asked to advise young entrepreneurs just starting, he has the following to say:
“The journey never really ends. If you make a million dollars, then you might chase a billion. Even if you reach all your financial goals and lose interest in that side of things, your mind will create new different goals. So it’s never about reaching some destination. When you look back on it, in many ways the most challenging times are also seen most fondly.”
He also believes that entrepreneurs need to be driven by something other than money.
“I’ve found in my anecdotal experience and just from watching the world around me that those who desperately chase money are the least likely to find it. In contrast, when you work hard on yourself and your real dreams, money chases you. Money–and even health and physical fitness–are only really ever a means, not an end in themselves. Without some kind of vision or passion to be the real end, the real goal, the real dream, it’s like driving a car with no gas.”
Scott’s story is a great reminder that anything can be achieved with perseverance, passion, and hard work.
So, if you are just starting, make sure to stay tuned for his upcoming book, “In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All,” which will be released soon.
‘Halloween Kills’ Cast & Crew Explain the Slasher
Article by Riley Farrell
The cast and crew of Halloween Kills told Blendtw why the latest slasher’s gore is anything but gratuitous in a year like 2021.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Malek Akkad, David Gordon Green and Jason Blum tell horror fans to expect carnage. After all, Halloween Kills must live up to its title.
Chainsaws buzzing and bats swinging, Halloween Kills is a current-day cathartic catastrophe – and no character is safe – according to producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions.
Halloween Kills is the 12th movie in Michael Myers’ macrocosm, with the 13th, and allegedly final, movie coming out in 2022. When seriously injured Laurie Strode thought she killed Michael Myers after 42 years of trailing him, his annual bloodbath recommences. Sick of living at the mercy of “pure evil,” the town’s vigilantes revolt against the boogieman.
“Subtlety is not this film,” said director David Gordon Green, on fitting in as much bloodshed as possible in 105 minutes.
The cast filmed Halloween Kills two years ago and shelved it due to the pandemic, until now.
Picking up where Halloween (2018) left off, the film explores the aftermath of collective trauma, said Green. Given everything that’s ensued in the last two years, viewers do not have to live in Haddonfield to understand suffering, and inversely, resilience.
“We’ve taken a slasher movie and it’s landed in a time of cultural relevance because of our public consciousness,” said Green. “Though [the movie is] grotesque, there are moments when we feel the humanity underneath the surface of this movie monster.”
Halloween Kills brought back two characters from the 1978 Halloween in Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), the two children who Laurie babysat during Michael’s initial attack. Hall and Richards did not require much persuasion to hop on the franchise, said Green.
The callbacks of all-grown-up characters, of course, evokes nostalgia. But the twist on the trope is that, instead of running from Michael, the kids now face him head-on, said Richards. Hall, who described Halloween Kills as a “thrill ride” and “freight train,” said the slasher hinges on human resilience.
“We summoned something deep in themselves and decided to fight back, we’re not just survivors but fighters,” said Hall.
Resilience as a motif snugly fits within the cultural zeitgeist, even earning a title as Forbes’ 2021 word of the year. Though coincidental, the visceral and violent images in Halloween Kills harken to audiences’ nihilistic experiences of the past 18-months. Producer Malek Akkad said the slasher film can paradoxically be pertinent yet escapist for viewers who’ve experienced the horror genre by simply reading the news.
“It’s tough for everybody right now and this movie’s just a fun release,” said Akkad. “There’s nothing more cathartic for people watching than to see a final girl like Laurie.”
For reference, the final girl trope, pioneered by the character of Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, represents the heroine left standing at the end of a horror movie who is charged with defeating the antagonist. Film theorist Carol J. Clover coined the term in her 1992 book, ‘Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.’ The final girl has been observed in many films, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream.
Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis said she was unaware of the meaning and dialogue surrounding the final girl until recently. She argued, even though the trope has immense cultural significance, the original idea of the final girl is uncomplicated.
“The term is just about the tenacity of women to survive because, the truth is, women have survived through a lot,” said Curtis.
No characters know survival better than the Strode women. Andi Matichak, who plays Laurie’s granddaughter, and Curtis agreed that their favorite behind-the-scenes moment centered on feminine resilience in spite of harsh conditions.
It was a frigid 4 a.m. shoot, and the three generations of Strode ladies were alone in a truck, coated in fake blood, with only each other and a camera rig for warmth, Matichak described. This moment was the last time Laurie, Karen and Allyson were on screen together.
“It was a powerful moment to lean on each other and feel the weight of the project,” Matichak said.
Cutting through the sweet moments is the slasher at the heart of the story, said Curtis on the “high octave, frenzied” plot of Halloween Kills. For audiences who’ve lived through the chaos of the past two years, Halloween Kills should match their fast pace of existence.
“The past is irrelevant, you’re so in the present moment,” said Curtis.
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Waving Through A Big Screen: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Cast Talks Film Adaptation
With Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as the show’s titular character, a whole new Hollywood cast takes on Broadway.
Content warning: mentions of anxiety, depression and suicide.
Article by Riley Farrell
All that it takes is a bit of reinvention for Dear Evan Hansen to move from the theatre to theaters, hitting eardrums on Sept. 24 this year.
With Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as the show’s titular character, a whole new Hollywood cast takes on Broadway. Platt, Julianne Moore, Amandla Stenberg, Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Kaitlyn Dever, Stephen Chbosky and Steven Levenson explained the movie’s newfound reach and relevance in an interview with BLENDtw, among other publications.
The Plot Thickens
Begrudgingly in therapy for anxiety, high schooler Evan Hansen is tasked with writing daily letters to himself, hence the movie title. After Evan’s peer Connor Murphy kills himself with Evan’s letter in his backpack, Evan’s page is mistakenly thought to be a suicide note from Connor.
Evan tells a well-meaning white lie that soon darkens with self-interest to get closer to the Murphy family, which includes Connor’s sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), and Connor’s mom and dad (Amy Adams and Danny Pino, respectively). Via fake emails and a fundraiser, what once began as a misunderstanding spirals into an operatic betrayal about teens and their screens.
Oh, How Times Have Changed (Or Not)
To address the obvious, it has been a long time since DEH initially premiered in 2015 – but the cast said the musical remains relevant. Things have changed: a pandemic rocked our worldviews and Ben Platt, shockingly, aged.
Platt, 27, played Evan in the original musical version. After the movie trailer dropped in 2021, Platt faced online backlash over playing a character a decade younger, even though he lost 15 pounds and changed his styling routine to appear youthful.
“As a parent, I saw a teenager in Ben’s demeanor,” Julianne Moore, who plays Evan’s mom, said in Platt’s defense.
Speaking of something that’s aged us all, COVID-19, the ideas explored about mental health in DEH six years ago seem timely today, said Dever.
“This film is about feeling isolated, after the pandemic, we’re looking to feel heard,” said the Booksmart actress.
A 2021 study from the National Institute of Health found that anxiety symptoms increased during the COVID shutdowns, making ordering delivery and asking peers to sign your cast daunting. This film was a refreshing counter-narrative on what anxiety looks like, demographically and behaviorally, said Stenberg, who shared an on-set story about the stakes of DEH.
Chbosky, the author of Perks of Being Wallflower, showed a letter to Stenberg that a teenager had written to him after reading the novel. The reader expressed how his suicidal ideation disappeared after reading Chbosky’s book. That book saved him, said Stenberg. After that experience, Stenberg said she felt the movie served as an opportunity for mental health representation, not tokenism.
“I was excited to be playing a Black girl who is on medication,” Stenberg said of her high-achieving teen character, Alana Beck.
There’s no one face or behavior associated with anxiety, Stenberg said. Stenberg said she’s been prescribed medication as a teenager but has only recently come to terms with the shame she felt about mental health.
The year isn’t the only context that’s changed. The medium by which this sensitive story is delivered has transformed from the live stage to the screen. Freedoms of editing and re-filming takes helped storytelling, said Chbosky, who felt ‘obsessed’ with the spotlighting of each character.
Via camerawork, Chbosky and Levenson said they more innovatively explored symbolism and imagery. The film’s juxtaposition between social media and nature – contrasting screens with sunlight as motifs – is about duplicity in the dark and authenticity in the light, said Chbosky.
“You can’t have truth without the lie,” said Chbosky.
The filmmaking medium aided in communicating the perils of presenting a fake self online, said Levenson.
“We wanted to play with the idea of how fast lies can spread online,” said Levenson. “How untrue things make you feel great and the complicated nature of that.”
Expanded audiences can enjoy the story now that it has transcended the Broadway medium. Though fans of the original musical will encounter changes to the original stage material, Platt said he thinks Evan’s move from the stage to the screen is a step towards accessibility. The message of DEH is magnified when more audience members are added to the conversation, said the Pitch Perfect actor.
“No matter what, it’s important for me to communicate that there’s nothing that makes you unlovable,” said Platt.
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