In June 2019, Shad2017 Catherine Qi and two friends—Shad2018 Vivid Ma and Matthew Ferguson—knew that they wanted to send support to people on the frontlines of the pandemic.

After learning that random acts of kindness have evidenced-based health benefits, third-year health sciences student Catherine Qi thought sending messages of gratitude and kindness would be the perfect way to make an impact.

“We wanted to recognize the essential workers who are in oftentimes low-paying jobs, stigmatized jobs, who are also very, very much a foundation and a pillar especially right now in society,” says Catherine.

They created Beyond the Wards Toronto—now known as Beyond the Wards Canada: a hub where people can send uplifting messages of encouragement to under-recognized workers during the pandemic.

This includes workers in transportation, custodial and sanitation, postal service and delivery, food and agriculture, community service and social work, retail and manufacturing, teaching and childcare, and public health.

Catherine Qi with co-founders Vivid Ma and Matthew Ferguson.

Over the course of the pandemic, they’ve received hundreds of letters, videos, pieces of art and sent them to thousands of essentials workers across the country.

Catherine remembers hearing from a community service worker who received the messages on behalf of her entire team. She said the messages came at just the right time, bringing tears to her eyes.

“The fact that she was so touched as to start tearing up really makes me think how deeply the messages impacted her. I feel like it’s even more touching that these messages are compiled from individuals from across the country and so many people recognize her for what she does.”

The #RisingYouth grant supports their website and allows them to continue operating as a remote organization.

Beyond the Wards Canada now has 68 volunteers who are also passionate about spreading messages of kindness.

“Little did we know that we would have a whole team of volunteers from across Canada,” says Catherine. “We never planned this, it just happened organically.”

They are currently publishing a series called Stories Unmasked where they interview essential workers about their experience on the frontlines. The series—which is inspired by Humans of New York—has already featured the stories of an elementary teacher, registered nurse, taxi driver, and more.

Continue reading the stories of Shad alumni who’ve received #RisingYouth grants. 

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