by Jacqueline, Amelie & Hoyt
Hello Future Changemaker!
If you are reading this letter, you want to make a difference in your community. A few years ago, we were in your shoes. We wanted to be leaders and have a positive impact, but we didn’t know how. To make matters worse, we felt trapped in our rooms in isolation during the pandemic, making our goal seem impossible.
Everything changed when we were called to act! We want to share our changemaking story so you realize it isn’t as difficult as you think, and you can also positively affect the lives of others.
Our story starts with our large, close-knit family. As cousins, we are almost like sisters and have many family rituals. One of those is “family night.” The menu and conversation are not what makes it special; it is the regularity of coming together. When “family night” was canceled in March 2020, our disappointment was deep, but we were primarily worried about the vulnerable people in our lives.
We really missed these family times and felt helpless. When the COVID-19 vaccines became available, we were so relieved. Unfortunately, when our grandparents tried to register for their shots, they were overwhelmed by the online process.
We stepped in and found the procedure complicated, even for tech-savvy teens. We helped them register and then started helping their friends. Soon, we realized it was a universal problem. This is why our first tip for changemaking is to develop empathy and awareness for those around you.
In January 2021, we founded VaxConnectKY and MedTechConnect. Our mission is to provide technical and personal support to ensure every senior citizen has easy access to COVID-19 vaccinations by creating telehealth accounts. We hoped our clients would receive the COVID vaccination and reliable access to telehealth. To date we’ve helped more than 2,200 people become vaccinated and created more than 500 telehealth accounts.
We started with a simple flyer on social media. Our flyer went viral. Two days later, we were on Headline News with Robin Meade and fielding interview requests from popular news stations such as CNN and tech magazines as far away as Bangladesh. We made every interview because we knew the media was our best tool to drive change. Our next changemaking tip is recognizing and utilizing opportunities to help grow your mission.
Our news coverage led to calls for help from people nationwide. We were able to assist people in other states get vaccinated, but we quickly realized we needed to act. In mid-February 2021, we solicited Kentucky’s Governor, President Joe Biden, and the AARP to implement four improvements to the vaccine rollout infrastructure, including installing a human-operated phone line and streamlining the online process.
Within three weeks of our interaction, the Governor implemented most of our recommendations. President Biden also initiated a nationally staffed phone line. AARP took our recommendations to three Senate chiefs-of-staff. Our calls for improvements were some of the earliest changes in the system from our experiences helping our neighbors. This is why we advise you to use your voice and don’t be worried you won’t be heard.
We responded to many requests for help, setting up similar groups in other states by creating a startup kit to share with groups in six other states and Washington, DC, as well as the NAACP. It is crucial for a changemaker to share simple solutions with others in straightforward accessible ways.
MedTechConnect is our health accessibility initiative. COVID accelerated the adoption of Telehealth, which then unmasked deep inequities in our healthcare system, as many people do not have access to or familiarity with the internet. Healthcare will never be the same, and now that the benefits of Telehealth have been realized, it will only expand, highlighting the urgent need for MedTechConnect.
The T-Mobile Team and Ashoka have provided us with access to leading experts as our mentors. We have shared our challenges with them and had several meetings to find solutions to our problems. We’ve also told our story to teen leaders in our community and at our high schools, trying creative ways to get other teens to sign people up for Telehealth.
We are using our seed money from the 2022 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge to fund prizes for a telehealth sign-up contest! This highlights another important tip: don’t hesitate to ask experts for help and approach problems creatively and from different angles.
And our final piece of advice — stick with your gut! All ideas are good ideas, no matter how developed they are. Be bold, and don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves. In the beginning, all we had was a Gmail and VOIP line. We now have several social media accounts we manage, new Ambassadors, have participated in national live seminars and some local seminars in our community, and are constantly learning and growing.
Sometimes it might not be considered “cool” to grow a project or advocate for others. No matter what you need to be brave and put yourself out there, we promise you won’t regret it! We were so nervous about doing our first big interviews, and now we are very comfortable telling our story. Our project has helped others, but it has been transformative for us.
We would love to welcome you to our changemaker family! You are joining a connected group, and if you ever need help with an idea or project, we are here for you.
Be the change!
Jacqueline, Amelie & Hoyt
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This letter is the third in our “Yours Truly, Changemakers” series when youth innovators write a letter to their peers about why it’s important to lead change at a young age, reflect on the challenges they have overcome, and offer their words of wisdom on making a difference. You can read more articles in the series as they come out here.