In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, many changes are happening in the world. One of these many changes involves First Step, an extra-curricular program during the Fall and Spring semesters for University of Delaware students to do research and help solve a “health-related problem”. Teams were expected to present their research projects in April, however, this event has been altered to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since First Step is all about creating solutions for major health problems, students were encouraged to use their imagination and creativity to design PPE (personal protection equipment). Many First Step individuals are coming together to help design these solutions, which can include any type of PPE. In addition, the Innovation Lab has also partnered with MakerGym at the University of Delaware to work on supplying the University of Delaware with face shields and masks, which will be distributed in the near future. 

Both First Step teams have been working very hard over these past few months, however, their year-long projects have come to a halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While this was a very unfortunate circumstance, the teams pushed through and are still carrying out their main goal: to help others. The first team includes UD students Nikki Livulpi, Jordan Heydt, Garrett Currie, and Nicole Moldenhauer, who stated that they first heard about First Step from the director of the Blue Hen Leadership Program, Susan Luchey. After hearing what an amazing opportunity it would be, Jordan Heydt attended the First Step information session and was very inspired by the program. Heydt stated, “I had the opportunity to participate in a brainstorming challenge with two other students to create a product that solved a health related issue and present our solution in an hour. Our problem was an elderly woman who was not able to stand on her own and put on her incontinence products, so we roughly designed a device that could attach to her walker and lift the incontinence product with just the push of a button”. This provided inspiration for their initial project, which was to create a program known as “Goodwill on the Go”. They identified that the problem was a lack of transportation, which was a major barrier to employment for the homeless population and for those living in poverty. As the First Step program was cut short, their team decided to continue working on their project because they wanted to make a difference now more than ever given the circumstances our world is currently facing. Therefore, they decided to work together towards a new goal of creating a reusable bag from excess fabrics at the Goodwill Recycling Center. The team stated, “In order to make this project special, we thought there would be no better time than now to turn to our communities for their creative help. We decided to host a contest via social media where we ask individuals to create or sketch a reusable bag using fabrics and materials they have at home which would then be judged”. Prizes will be awarded to the top three contestants and the first place winner’s design will be used to create an actual prototype of the reusable bag using fabrics from the Goodwill Recycling Center. They hope this reusable bag contest will inspire creativity during difficult times, provide a sustainable way of creating a reusable bag, and provide Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County with more jobs to fill for sewing/producing duties.

The second team includes UD students Sierra RyanWallick, Jonté Desiré, and Amanda Mandatta, who are also members of the Blue Hen Leadership Program. Their project this year was to create a nonprofit following their teammate Jonté Desiré’s vision, so their team decided to pair it with First Step and also hone their presentation and pitch skills at the same time. Jonté came up with the idea of Native Nourishment when she visited a tribe in Montana and discovered that she wanted to learn more about nutritionthat’s when she found out that various health disparities exist between native and non-native people. She realized that if she hadn’t known about this even after going to a reservation, others might know about this either. Jonté started doing food drives and asked how she could help in the native communities around her. The initial problem that they were trying to solve was Native American food insecurity, which led them to research many articles last semester about food safety, food security, and food sovereignty in native communities. They figured that they needed to tailor their solutions to each native community since each community is different, thus, they ended up creating Native Nourishment packs which provide a kit to start a personal garden and compost bin, as well as support already established native food pantries. They also came up with the idea to sell jewelry or items made by native artisans on their website as a source of revenue for their nonprofit, Native Nourishment, and the native communities that they are supporting. In relation to First Step being cut short, they stated: “We are so passionate about our project that we knew First Step being canceled by COVID-19 this year wasn’t going to stop us”. Native Nourishment is currently looking for a nonprofit board, and while they have two members on board, they still need at least one more to officially incorporate as a nonprofit. COVID-19 has delayed that process since people are more hesitant to commit as a board member right now during these uncertain times. However, the team is finishing their Blue Hen Leadership Tier 2 project successfully, and are still searching for more board members. The team stated, “COVID-19 might have slowed our progress, but we aren’t going to let it hold us back from accomplishing our goals. Once we get at least one more board member on board, we will file the official papers to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) in Delaware, and then we can start making an impact with our Nourishment Packs and other programs!”


By Juliana Clark