University of Central Arkansas students Christopher James and Ellie Roditis saw a need and wanted to help.
They never expected to be recognized by U.S. Rep. French Hill.
James and Roditis, as well as the exercise science program at UCA, were named Hometown Heroes in Hill’s weekly COVID-19 address May 1. They received the recognition for their work in making masks for cancer patients and their families at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
James and Roditis are both seniors and exercise science majors. They met in class and were both members of the UCA Exercise Science Club.
James describes himself as being from a “crafty family” in Desert Hot Springs, California. He knew how to sew. Once he learned that his cousins back home in California were making and donating masks, he decided he could do his part in Arkansas.
He began working alone. James would cut the fabric by hand and then sew the masks together. After making about 20 masks, James realized he could move faster if he had assistance. He pitched the idea of others joining him through a social media post. Roditis was the only respondent to his request.
“I cut the fabric for him, and then he just did the sewing,” Roditis said. “It was a lot easier for him to get them made and send to people when he already had the fabric cut.”
James and Roditis worked on the masks in their spare time once UCA classes moved online in March. Roditis said she would turn on her television, trace out the pattern and cut fabric for hours at a time. After she cut out several dozen masks or all her fabric, she would leave them on her porch. James would pick them up and leave more fabric.
At his home, James said he created his own “little conveyor belt” to form a system of sewing the multipart masks together. The masks were three layers of 100% cotton with a pocket to insert a filter.
The two-person team worked from spring break to the week before final exams, making 114 masks in approximately one month.
James and Roditis received no payment for the masks or donations for fabric or other materials. Their goal was simply to help.
“I was raised in a small town, so helping out other people was always something I’ve done,” said Roditis, a McKenzie, Tennessee, native. “So many nurses and doctors are doing a lot more than me just staying home, so it just made me feel like I was helping in some way.”
The pair was surprised to learn of Hill designating them Hometown Heroes.
“I thought it was just going to be some kind of local Arkansas newsletter, not something that’s actually g
oing to be spoken to Congress and, you know, in the Library of Congress for the rest of my life,” James said.
Hill’s remarks said, in part, “This initiative reflects the ongoing support for our health care workers, and the ability our community has to come together during these times of crisis.”
The full text and email update can be viewed here.
They had hoped to complete more after finals, but James, a U.S. Air Force reservist, will be stationed in Germany in the fall. He learned of the order shortly after taking final exams and has since been prepping for his new location. He hopes others will continue making masks or finding other ways to assist.
“I don’t want this just to be about me and Ellie. It should be about communities being able to come together during all this to help everybody else out,” James said.