At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt clueless and trapped, knowing that I would be spending weeks, and now months, stuck at home with my family. I’d been independent for three years while attending the University of Tennessee, and suddenly, I had to revert to how things were before I moved away for college. I am from a small rural town called Brownsville that’s four hours outside of Memphis. I was a full-time student. I was active and I worked on campus. I lived with my friends. Once COVID-19 hit and we were told we had to evacuate and not return, I was devastated. Classes transitioned to online, and I wasn’t able to work for a couple months. I transferred to my nearest community college, Jackson State Community College, to continue working toward my college degree.

During the first couple of weeks, there were citywide lockdowns. The only people that were allowed to leave home were “essential workers.” If you were pulled over by police after curfew and not deemed an essential worker, you were either fined or thrown in jail. Also, tissue, paper towels, cleaning supplies were out of stock; certain food items, like meat, were limited to one item per household. Times were hard. Everybody was scared. I had to find things to do so that I wouldn’t be so focused on negative thoughts or fall into a deep depression.

Years ago, I made a list of things that I’ve always wanted to do, and I would add to that list often. One of those things was sewing. I had nothing else to do, so I bought a sewing machine. It was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I’ve always wanted to sew clothes. My family and friends often tell me that I have way too many clothes, but I don’t believe them. Now, armed with my sewing machine during a citywide lockdown, I was given plenty of time to learn how to make new pieces. My initial goal was to sew clothes. It wasn’t a day or two after I purchased it that people were panicking about the shortage of face masks. So that became my first sewing project. Since quarantine, I’ve created over 200 masks for family, friends, and my community. It may not seem like a lot, but for someone to start out knowing little about sewing, in a situation like this I was forced to learn quickly.

My parents, sister, and brother in-law are considered essential workers. So, during this tense time, I helped my family out by watching my baby sister, along with my nieces and nephew. Besides that, I’ve started a job as a caregiver to help people in need during such a horrific time. I run errands for them, help them get groceries, cook and clean for them, the list goes on and on. I really do believe that I’ve used my time wisely.

Because not all students are returning to campus this fall, there should be a system to check up on all of them, especially those who had to go back home. There are lots of students like me who still live with parents who have to take care of families, go to school, work, and make ends meet. From my university, I would like to see them checking in frequently on students by providing mental health and holistic supports, such as counseling or other resources.

I would also love to see my university providing social-emotional support for students, especially during a time such as this. Students are often dealing with a lot of things, and that support could go a long way to help academic success, reduce emotional stress, and encourage a more positive mental state. I believe the university could provide ways to make sure students are OK. As for me, I am still enrolled at Jackson State Community College to be closer to home. I hope to be returning to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the spring. But regardless of what happens, I realize that I’m going to be OK.