By GWEN OREL
One day, Nyla Boynton-Jarrett decided she wanted to do something to help people dealing with COVID-19.
“It was so devastating to me to see how many people were being affected by this,” Boynton-Jarrett said. “Not just financially, but emotionally. I wanted to help.”
She quickly became overwhelmed.
There were so many places to look, so many things going on.
“The information was all scattered,” she said. She wondered if she could make a website to put everything in one place, where people could both find information and donate.
“And also, find all the videos of essential workers dancing,” Boynton-Jarrett said with a laugh.
The 17-year-old Montclair Kimberley Academy junior and Montclair resident had a little experience with web design at school.
She knew she wanted a website, because she thought that what she was trying to do would get lost if she launched it on a social media platform like Instagram or Facebook.
The website curates charities and nonprofits, with links to other organizations that anyone can use, she said.
She helped pay for the site with birthday money, and her mom helped out, too. The site is neither a business nor a nonprofit, just a curated site where people can find ways to help.
She launched the website, The Pretty Heart Project, on May 16.
Boynton-Jarrett chose the name so it would be easy to remember.
Among the organizations the site spotlights are Feeding America, the American Heart Organization, and the Salvation Army, among others.
The idea is that people would find the website knowing they want to help but not knowing just what they wanted to do, and that the website would direct them to other nonprofit websites to see what they have to do to help out.
“Especially during this time period, a lot of people who are already in poverty or in hard financial situations are in harder situations now, and they need more help than ever,” she said. “So nonprofit organizations need a lot of help and donations at this point in order to continue to support those families and provide them with either meals, homes, or clothing.”
Tracking how her site is used, looking at Google Analytics, Boynton-Jarrett said she can see that a majority of people go to the support page to learn how to support families and essential workers.
That can mean donating PPE, or volunteering at Hospital Hero, an organization that connects essential workers to people who can run errands for them, walk the dog, baby-sit, or do other things they lack the time to do.
The teenager spends between three and five hours a day on her site. “I am a perfectionist,” she said with a laugh. She likes to look at the site through different lenses and perspectives and imagine who might be viewing it and what they want to see. She wants to make sure that the site is accessible and easy to understand.
She adds new organizations all the time. Recently she put up Project Driveway, which delivers food to elderly people free of charge.
Right now, she searches the web for organizations, but she hopes that at some point organizations will begin to contact her to ask for her help in promoting them. “And then eventually, I will have a directory, like an A to Z of different organizations that need help,” she said.
Boynton-Jarrett would also like to have a page that lists events, so people can find out what’s happening near them. Already, people can put in their zip code and find out how they can help out where they are, say, for example, where they can donate plasma. With an events page she can add benefits and drives, too.
And she’s been adding more and more videos of essential workers dancing. There are more than 50 on the site now, and Boynton-Jarrett wants to get that to more than 100. The videos come from all over the world. She’d like to find dancing police officers, as well as doctors, though those are harder to find.
“But I will find them,” she said. “The situation with COVID-19 is such a devastating and sad moment for a lot of people. I just want people to see how they can help and then to have a little page of positivity in something to make them smile.”
Watching the people dancing makes her feel happy, and she thinks other people will feel happy seeing the dancing and being silly, too.
She wants to help people with her career as well: She’d like to be a neonatologist.
Helping people is how Boynton-Jarrett copes with feeling upset or hurt. “That is what we are supposed to do as humans for humanity,” she said. “We have to help others. And whenever I did that, I would always feel happy.
“You know, whether it would be, you know, sharing my food during lunch or giving my friend a birthday present, whenever I would do something that helped someone or benefited. But it would always make me feel happy. So I figured if that works for me, hopefully that will work for other people.”