“Teen makes specialty face masks for deaf, gets lesson in return” published in The Republic

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

“Teen’s mask project is a golden lesson” by Anusha…published!

Teen’s mask project is a golden lesson

In an era of a global pandemic, masks have become the social norm in what could be deemed as the first line of defense. It’s hard to imagine a world without them after almost an entire year of mask mandates and limited outings.

But this nationwide challenge of protection also creates a nationwide challenge of communication for a group that has been hit even more severely: the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Masks serve as a prominent hindrance to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to understand helpful cues needed for proper communication. In fact, the National Association of the Deaf has stated that “more and more medical professionals are treating COVID- 19 patients from behind a barrier, using masks that impede lip-reading, and not allowing in-person interpreters.”

However, there is a solution to this persistent problem.

Neil Pandey, a 15-year-old sophomore from American Leadership Academy, has led the initiative within the Valley to create masks that are designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to safely and effectively communicate. The masks consist of a clear window sewn into the cloth to allow both facial cues and lip movements to be read by surrounding people.

After taking American Sign Language classes in school, he realized that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community would face significant hindrances in holding conversations during the pandemic.

He then proceeded to develop a prototype by utilizing a template for the clear window masks and began the sewing process by getting some help from family members and friends. He also started a GoFundMe page for materials, which has raised over $2,200 in support for his project. It was imperative that these masks could be accessible and of high quality made with care, and Neil ensured just that, creating around 1,500 masks to be donated to local grocery stores and health care facilities.

His message is clear: “It’s important to empathize with members of the community in a time like this and see what we can do for them. I wanted to create something that would allow them to properly communicate on the same level as anyone else.”

When additionally asked about which pillar of the Golden Rule he thought his project best represented, he confidently responded by saying “kindness and empathy.” He added, “I believe that understanding (the deaf and hardof- hearing)’s challenges during the pandemic and creating the masks out of this sense of kindness is a valuable lesson.”

Through the immense consideration and inspiring passion to help others highlighted from his hard work with this mask project, Neil perfectly exemplifies the core essence of the Golden Rule and how we as regular citizens can utilize our privileges to do good for our community, no matter the age. He reflects a profound story about transcending the limitations of one’s challenges and going beyond to help those in need.

His journey does not stop here, though. For the future, he plans on expanding this project to other parts of Arizona and maybe even other states. The main focus will be to allow commercialized clear-window masks to be widely accessible and attainable.

Anusha Rahman works on the Live-GoldenAZ project and is a junior at Hamilton High School.

#LiveGoldenAZ / Golden Rule Moments

Anusha Rahman Guest columnist

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