In June, Acorns and CNBC put out a call for nominations of ordinary people who have been going above and beyond to help support and uplift their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Out of over 150 terrific entries that came in, we chose these four inspiring Homegrown Heroes: Devin De Wulf of New Orleans; Saleemah McNeil of Philadelphia; Jade Nair, of Andover, Massachusetts; and Yuri Williams, Long Beach, California.
Video by David Fang
Devin De Wulf, a stay-at-home dad and parade organizer, was inspired by his wife, Annelies De Wulf, an ER doctor. "My wife came home on March 16 and told me how a nurse had brought in cookies and shared them with everybody. Her telling me how that was one of the highlights of her day was the 'aha' moment," he says.
He emailed the krewe (an organization that marches in parades and creates floats during Carnival season) an idea: Let's order food from a local restaurant and send it to a hospital.
The idea eventually became Feed the Frontline NOLA, a charity that ordered food from local restaurants and delivered it to health-care workers. It started with one $60 order and ballooned as donations started rolling in.
"We were able to raise over $1 million dollars and send out 90,000 meals to basically every hospital in our city," De Wulf says.
Video by Courtney Stith
In just six weeks during the coronavirus pandemic, Saleemah McNeil, a psychotherapist and the founder of Oshun Family Center in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, raised over $98,000 to provide free counseling to Black Americans.
McNeil felt compelled to act after weeks of witnessing what she describes as a "highlight reel" of "Black bodies being brutalized and murdered by police brutality," which ultimately led to nationwide protests against racial injustice. "I woke up that morning, after it seemed as if my city was on fire for three days, and I realized, 'I can do something. Let me start a fundraiser,'" she says.
In early June, McNeil collaborated with Dr. Valerie Braunstein, a psychologist and the founder of Philly Psychology, a private practice near Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. Braunstein, whose practice separately provides free therapy to members of the Black community, spread the word about McNeil's cause through networking and social media and helped McNeil's campaign go viral.
McNeil has used the funds to provide a series of eight 60-minute free sessions to clients who have experienced racial trauma.
"I figured if I take away the financial barrier, I know that people in the Black community want to get therapy. Let me do this so they can at least try to see what this experience is like to hopefully begin their healing journey," McNeil says.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
In March 2020, due to stay-at-home orders in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, 15-year-old Jade Nair was sitting in her home in Andover, Massachusetts, bored. It occurred to her that if she was bored, kids younger than her would probably be having an even tougher time with the limited activity and social interaction.
That sparked an idea.
Last fall, Nair had become the first female student to volunteer in a program called Energize Andover, which has a mission to eliminate energy waste at the local level through the use of programming and data science.
"I'd always wanted to recruit other girls into the program," she says, "and I knew that this was a good time to do it because everyone would be looking for something to do."
Nair decided she'd use her free time during quarantine to teach other girls to code so they could join Energize Andover, too.
Although her plan started with teaching five eighth and ninth grade girls the basics of programming, now, four months later, dozens of Andover students have learned to code using virtual courses she developed.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
The sight of Yuri Williams, 43, strolling the streets of Los Angeles' Skid Row in a Spider-Man costume is strange, but for locals, a familiar one by now. He's typically greeted with smiles, handshakes, and hugs. Sometimes he takes photos with residents; other times he passes out food, clothing, or sleeping bags.
"I'm here to ... spread love and compassion daily," he says. "That's my mission."
Williams is a Los Angeles native who runs a nonprofit organization called "A Future Superhero And Friends," which helps the homeless, sick children, veterans groups, single moms, and low-income families — "anybody in need of uplifting and help," he says — by donating food, clothing, toys, toiletries, and, perhaps most importantly, time.
While the physical goods he gives away to those in need are helpful, Williams says that what he does best is make people smile. Costume or not, Williams says he's doing what he can to make a difference in his community.
And though he knows he's not going to be able to save the world from all of its ills in true superhero fashion, he knows that small acts of kindness can have an outsize effect — especially during a pandemic.