They’re popping up all over town like yellow daffodils that provide a splash of color to this gray spring. Bright, colorful messages of thanks and appreciation to frontline workers across the Island who perform essential jobs during this outbreak of COVID-19.
The signs are being created by students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. As of Monday, signs have been planted at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and at schools in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, where workers continue to feed Island children breakfast and lunch. They’ve also been placed at fire stations and Island supermarkets.
According to MVRHS, the high school’s Student Council and Restorative Justice Office (RJO) came up with the idea. RJO coordinator Nell Coogan and Assistant Principal Jeremy Light have helped coordinate the effort with community members and parent volunteers to purchase the materials and to design the signs in the hopes that they’ll be able to withstand the wind and rain.
Coogan told The Times about seven students have been making the signs, and others have helped out in other ways by brainstorming those on the frontlines who need to be thanked.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said. While the students would like to put out the signs themselves, school officials are discouraging that to minimize the amount of travel. So, on Sunday it was Coogan and Light and their children who went out and planted the signs.
“It was so fun, especially for the kids, they kept getting honks — lots of people honking,” Coogan said.
Light said there was a poignant moment when he was putting in a sign with his son at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. “I think she was a nurse, she was wearing scrubs. She came by, read the signs, and she welled up and said, ‘This is so sweet,’” he said. Later, members of the Edgartown Fire Department came out to thank his son.
“This is all the kids,” Light said. “It’s a great group. A lot are seniors. They’re a little down and out, but they’ve painted and created beautiful messages. They ran with it.”
With the help of Kate Hennigan, an MVRHS teacher and advisor for the High School View, The Times got some reaction from the students involved.
Senior Violet Cabot said after being at home for five weeks, students were looking for a way to brighten the spirits of others. “I worked on the signs with my family, my mom and my dad and my sister wanted to get involved too, so we spent an afternoon together just making signs, so it was a fun project for us to do together,” she said. “I hope it gives people some hope during this scary time, and I hope that all the essential workers see how much their work means to everyone and how grateful we are for them risking their health and their safety for everyone else.”
Another senior signmaker Megan Zeilinger said spending time on the signs put things into perspective. “At first I was kind of hoping school would get canceled for two weeks, thinking this will all blow over, and I’m realizing now that this is serious and these people are still risking their health to go to work for us,” she said. “So it’s made me think a lot about how lucky we are to have people still working in these roles for us.”
And senior class president Alex Rego said it’s a way to show gratitude. “I feel like especially during this time people are reprioritizing and it’s becoming clear what true values are,” she said. “We’ve had so much time to reflect and be introspective, and I think that one of the conclusions I’ve come to is the power of community, especially on the Island, it just goes without saying how strong our sense of community is, and I think especially this group [of students wanting to act]— I felt this is one of the most meaningful ways we could contribute, by showing our appreciation.”