Twelve-year-old Brooke Jones of Sandy says she sometimes wishes she had a phone. Then again, she does notice a lot of kids her age getting lost in their screens. “They can’t look around because they’re always looking down,” she says, conceding her parents’ rule might not be completely unreasonable.
Looking around and noticing others is what Brooke is best at, says her mother Bethany Jones. “She’s the kid who has her eyes open in the lunchroom for that person sitting alone.”
Mom works for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian organization that aids citizens devastated by war or disaster, which, she says, has given herself, her husband and their four kids an awareness of their own privilege. “Global issues are a regular subject around the dinner table,” she says. So when the pandemic hit and many other kids hunkered down with their devices to keep them company, Brooke kept her eyes up.
“I’m small. I’m 12. What can I do?” Brooke remembers asking herself when COVID-19 ramped up and schools closed. She’d recently taken up sewing, joining an after-school class with her friends that ignited a new passion—driving her to create potholders, denim quilts, baby blankets and even bowties for her two pet goats. (“They hate them,” she says with a laugh, “but they look so cute.”) Sewing also connected her with her elderly neighbor, Mardi Lessee, a highly-skilled seamstress who was happy to take Brooke under her wing.
“Mardi showed me how to make my first mask,” she says of a time before interactions with neighbors became limited to front porch visits. Brooke made masks first for her family, choosing Cubs-themed fabric for her dad and three brothers in honor of their favorite baseball team, cat-themed fabric for her grandma, and a flowered pattern for her mom and herself. It was then that Brooke realized she had the answer to her own question. “I realized I could sew masks for people who don’t have them; that’s what I could do.”
Her mom helped Brooke post a notice on the NextDoor website, announcing her “Buy a mask, donate a mask” program in March 2020. She used the $5-per-mask income to fund supplies like fabric, thread and elastic, making hundreds of masks to add to IRC’s refugee kits. Sometimes, her friend Zoe also helped sew masks, and Lessee pitched in supplies as well.
“By the end of April, I had what I needed and didn’t need to fundraise anymore,” she says, “so I only made masks to donate.” That turned out to be a good thing, as groups ranging from neighborhood sewing circles to LDS Relief Society cohorts began mobilizing large-scale mask-making efforts and supplies quickly dwindled.
Brooke says when the pandemic hit, she remembers feeling frightened and uncertain, but, she says, “my teacher told us, we can’t live in fear.” She took the advice to heart. The act of tracing, cutting and sewing has become Brooke’s happy place. “I do get stressed and I struggle with anxiety a little,” she says. “Now when I feel that, I sew. I know sewing will always be there for me even in this chaotic world.”
When Brooke’s mom tuned into the presidential inauguration a few months ago, she says she thought of her daughter during Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s climactic final lines of The Hill We Climb:
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
“I think this younger generation will have to be braver than we’ve had to be,” she says. “I see that Brooke is a light and she’s not afraid to be it.”
This story is part of our series on coronavirus heroes. Read all of them here.