Teen makes specialty face masks for deaf, gets lesson in return
Smiles have returned to the faces of a local deaf community through specialty face masks created by 15-year-old Neil Pandey of Queen Creek.
I had the opportunity to interview this upbeat and intelligent young man about the impact he had on the deaf community this summer. As a junior at American Leadership Academy, he enrolled in an American Sign Language (ASL) course and became interested in the unique culture of deaf communities. Now as a sophomore and in light of the pandemic, he clearly had a Golden Moment. He stated, “I learned more about the struggles they (the deaf community) faced in communication, being very visual and involving facial cues. … I decided to see if there is an alternative mask for people who interact with deaf people.”
Neil took it upon himself to research and come up with a mask design that included a clear window, allowing audibly impaired individuals to read lips while communicating. He also reached out to his ASL teacher, Bailee Kanaga, who helped him evaluate the current need for his masks.
He was surprised to find that “these masks were needed everywhere.” Communities responded with a resounding yes, which moved him to jump into action. As he began creating the masks, he ran into all sorts of questions and challenges. Some of these challenges included creating the masks to be reusable and washable. He also needed to find plastic that didn’t fog easily.
With the help of his family and also “dusting” off his grandmother’s sewing machine, he knew he would still need more support to truly help the deaf community. In an effort to make this happen, he started a GoFund me to help cover the cost of materials.
With an original goal of $1,500, Neil was able to raise more than $2,240, with many people wanting to get involved.
His local Boy Scout Troop 283 and Girl Scout Troop 229 were a great help, along with many family members and friends. Over 1,500 of Neil’s Deaf-Friendly Masks were made and shipped as far as New York and Georgia.
During our interview he expressed a sincere desire to do good and show kindness.
“I felt excited because I wanted to help others,” he said.
The Golden Moment was reciprocated as Neil made a personal visit to a local deaf community, Apache ASL Trails Valley Center for the Deaf, and wit-
Golden Rule Moments
Kendra Ruth Guest columnist
Neil Pandey sews masks on his grandma’s machine at his home in Queen Creek. COURTESY OF ANJALI ROY
nessed the impact of his efforts.
Thanks to the help of the community manager, Neil was able to present masks to the residents in person. They expressed their immense gratitude, signing with them through their new masks, giving him gifts of appreciation and offering “many life lessons.”
One of the community members, an artist, gave him a thank you card about how an act of kindness can truly impact people in meaningful ways. He was deeply touched by their response because it helped reassure him that he can make a difference.
In an essay he wrote that overviewed his experience, Neil said, “I see the smiles behind the windows in pictures of people wearing my masks, and that keeps me going.”
The moment was truly Golden for every person involved, both in giving and receiving.
What started as a sign language course to get credit has now become a more personal connection for Neil with the deaf community and his own ability to do good deeds.
“I think this message has been said before, but I think I know the meaning of it now more than ever,” Neil says. “Any act of kindness will make a difference, no matter how small it is.”
Kendra Ruth is the AGREE Development and school liaison.
Neil (center) with members of the ASL community. COURTESY OF ANJALI ROY