The very first email to Quaranteen Help came from a 9-year-old girl. She had questions about the coronavirus. Where does it come from? Can it get in my house? She was worried about getting the virus.
Luckily, on the other side of the screen, she had two kind, caring kids ready to answer her questions: Jack and Sammy Pollack of Bloomfield Hills.
The siblings launched Quaranteen Help on March 25 — the day after Michigan’s Stay Safe, Stay Home orders first took affect.
“Some of the kids are lonely,” explains Jack, 15. “They don’t have any siblings and it’s just them and their parents. They’re bored.”
His younger sister, Sammy, 13, adds, “And they want to have someone to talk to and have a conversation with. It’s just a nice way to know someone has someone else to talk to.”
Whether it’s concerns about COVID-19, managing friendships from afar, adjusting to canceled classes and parents working at home or anything else on kids’ minds, Quaranteen Help is here to offer just that to kids — help.
Quaranteen is born
Like most kids in southeast Michigan, Jack and Sammy had more idle time on their hands after schools closed on March 16.
“Since school got out, it’s been pretty boring,” Jack says. “All I’ve really been doing is going outside, a little bit of online school and playing video games. I wanted to do a little bit more with the time that I had.”
During a long walk with his mom, Nicole Pollack, the pair had a heart-to heart about things. “I was looking for his guidance on how to best manage my desire to destroy his Xbox,” admits mom, who’s a social worker with the Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center in Southfield. “I told him it would be amazing to look back at this time in his life, and rather than it all be a blur, make it matter.”
Jack quickly agreed to ditch gaming on weekdays, and started talking about kids who might feel lonely. He wanted to be there for them. By the time they got home from the walk and sat down with Sammy, a “help line” idea was forming.
“I thought about the kids that didn’t really have siblings, or the kids whose parents were working a lot, who didn’t have someone to go to,” Sammy says. “I thought it was really great way to help kids during such a tough time.”
That same night, the family designed the website and launched Quaranteen Help.com.
Connecting with kids
Kids in elementary, middle and high school are welcome to reach out. The process is simple — and free. Visit the website and scroll down to the email submission form. Kids type in their name, message and click “submit.”
Those incoming messages ping both siblings, who have been splitting up the questions so far. “We try to get back same day as soon as possible,” Jack says. “Sometimes the conversations continue; they end up asking more questions. (Other times they) ask one question.”
The siblings have solid backup from mom, as well as experience. Nicole has facilitated Open Doors Social Skills Groups for local kids for more than 20 years. Jack and Sammy are directly involved, creating fun activities and working with kids.
“I got to see other kids that are close to my age in person, talking to me about their problems,” Sammy says. Jack agrees, adding, “It helped me be really able to talk to any kid, any age group. It’s really easy to talk to kids.”
Nicole has seen the impact, too. “Jack and Sammy are both compassionate and nurturing. They have learned patience and how to be good listeners.”
Phone calls are also an option, though they’ve stuck to email so far. “I find it refreshing for kids to email letters to one another rather than texts or snap,” mom says.
Giving good advice
In turn, Nicole has a role with Quaranteen Help. She reads every message that’s received and sent back, and she guides the kids in sharing positive coping skills.
“We always want to send a positive message,” Sammy says. Keeping things age-appropriate is important, too. “We don’t want to scare them or give them too much information about the virus. We don’t want to give them false information.”
In fact, even their younger brothers — Dylan, 10, and Levi, 7, — have pitched in. “They listen to the emails, and sometimes they help us,” Jack says, especially with elementary kids. “They help with the wording.” For example: When the 9-year-old girl reached out. “We would use words that aren’t too big for her age,” Jack says. “Or wouldn’t frighten her,” notes Sammy.
The family also developed a list of healthy ways to cope, and Jack and Sammy both use it when they prepare their responses. Some of their tips include:
- Writing and mailing a letter to a family member or friend
- Having a picnic outside
- Taking walks and bike rides
- Cleaning out your room or closet
- Picking out a recipe and learning how to make it
- Doing a puzzle
- Taking a virtual museum field trip
- Making a personal video log of what is happening
- Taking deep breaths when really stressed out
- Talking to someone when you have calmed down
- Eating healthy
- Watch funny movies
- Anything music
Jack and Sammy, who’ve kept busy with outside games, Scrabble and Monopoly with their brothers, mom and dad, Jimmy, also share their own top advice.
“I would say stay positive, breathe, stay calm,” Sammy says. “Think positive with an open mind. Just think about if you are healthy and happy, just thinking about other people, just be grateful for where you are in this time.”
And Jack says, “My message would be about go outside. Don’t stay cooped up in the house. You feel a lot better after being outside, and it’s healthier, too.”
Spreading the word
So far, the family has shared details on Facebook, from their own Quaranteen Help page and mom’s Open Doors Social Skills Groups page to local groups like Jewish Moms of Metro Detroit and pages focused on at-home support for parents of tweens, teens and kids with ADHD, autism, anxiety and depression. They’ve even taken it international with The Kindness Pandemic group.
“Too often, kids and teens keep their feelings pent up,” Nicole says. “In my experience, once kids talk about their feelings, that alone creates a sense of calm — especially when they share their feelings with someone close to their age.”
As for Jack and Sammy, they plan to keep Quaranteen Help going for as long as they can, and maybe even someday grow it to a platform for teen volunteer helpers. They’ll soon be launching a blog, too.
“We’ll just write about certain activities kids can do every day to keep them from being bored,” he says. “We’ll talk about how our day’s going, and maybe have some questions to ask them, too.”