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'Be an American worth fighting for' — Local non-profit's unapologetic COVID-19 PSA goes viral

Posted at 6:35 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 18:35:06-05

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — Alex Sheen, the founder of Rocky River-based non-profit “Because I Said I Would” delivered an unapologetic and impassioned appeal to Ohioans and all Americans to take personal responsibility as COVID-19 cases surge and do whatever it takes to ease the burden on our country’s healthcare system.

And yes, that includes skipping Thanksgiving.

Because I said I would is described as a social movement and nonprofit organization “dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept.” Many are familiar with the “Promise Card” program started by the group, and their chapters support character education, volunteerism, awareness campaigns, and more.

“This organization is about the thought of individual accountability,” Sheen said. “Concepts like honesty, self-control, accountability. How does our character grow, develop as people? Our charity does character education, programming in schools, prisons, juvenile detention centers centering around the thought of keeping a promise. And I think that's a really important concept, individual responsibility right now during the pandemic.”

Since March, the group’s focus has been on responding to the impacts of COVID-19, which they consider the humanitarian crisis of a generation.

Sheen and his team have established unemployment transition programs, raised funds for bereavement support, supported efforts to make and distribute face masks, sent free lunches to frontline healthcare workers, and created individual action plans to help others make a difference.

“'Because I said I would' has run one of the largest volunteer facemasks sewing operations in the entire state of Ohio with over 270 volunteers sewing over 20,000 face masks,” Sheen said. “But we've turned our energy towards other parts of the pandemic that are really affecting this state. We actually have an unemployment transition program, a leadership development program open right now, an eight-week program that if you have lost your job in the pandemic, go to becauseisaidiwould.org/unemployment to sign up. We have scholarships available paid for by our donors. And the capstone project to this series of leadership workshops is to actually make a promise to help somebody else who has lost a loved one to COVID-19 itself. We are helping pay funeral costs and a number of other memorial services to help all sides of this equation. We understand this is a very complex issue with many ramifications, and so it's about prevention. It's about helping the hospital workers, but it's also about helping those who have lost their livelihoods too. Balancing that is a difficult situation, but we want to do our part as a nonprofit.”

The group has also produced several public service announcements as a signal boost and wake-up call to stop behaviors that are spreading the disease.

Sheen released one of these announcements this week, one that he says has already been seen by millions of people in the last 24 hours.

Sheen said he decided to release this video because: “I think right now is the time for us to all look at this moment as one of personal sacrifice. In school, I was taught that we all have a role to play in this nation, that my birthright of freedom had a cost, that coming together, sacrificing for a greater good was part of being an American citizen. And I know that it shouldn't be that all the time. But there's going to be peaks and valleys in our history that require this togetherness. And that's what I think we need right now.”

He said in the last week alone, one in every 378 Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19, a statistic he provided in the PSA.

“And if we head into to Thanksgiving without caution, warning, without changing our plans, it's going to overwhelm our hospital system,” Sheen said. “It's not just about those who have COVID-19. It's about people who have any kind of condition, any kind of screening, any kind of need, like a heart attack. It's about the protection of health care overall and not the single issue.”

Sheen said the reaction and feedback from those who have watched the video have come from a wide range of people, including health care workers themselves.

“There was a comment on there from an individual who literally sanitizes the inside of ambulances that may be COVID positive,” Sheen said. “And he literally keeps the count. He's had 359 ambulances — will be that will be the next one that he cleans. And he keeps a count of that because he's trying to keep himself motivated, knowing that that type of work is going to keep people safe.”

Sheen said he’s gotten comments from ICU nurses in several states, some of whom say they are on the edge of quitting.

“But there are people who are saying, ‘I have already quit. I quit a long time ago.’ And that is part of the challenge,” Sheen said. “We can stack the supplies to the ceiling with pharmaceuticals, hospital beds, and capacity. But human beings still have to take care of us.”

As for what Ohioans can do to help right now, Sheen echoed the message of his PSA: rethink Thanksgiving and perhaps see it as a chance to do something different.

“All the sacrifices that we have already made as Ohioans is incredibly difficult,” he said. “But we can look at it as an opportunity. You know, to be honest, sometimes I'll attend Thanksgiving or something — I eat, I just kind of go through the routine. But if we use a virtual technology, you know, just a video call like this, play a game, show pictures from back at home, get creative and actually engage with your family members, that new medium kind of introduces us to an opportunity to do more at Thanksgiving than just sit next to each other on a couch. So I do think it's hard. It's a challenging moment to change our Thanksgiving plans, but we can see that as an opportunity to do fun and exciting things, do it differently, engage a little bit more, because you kind of have to when you're on a video call, you can't just let it sit there. You got to do something. So what is that activity? I encourage Ohioans to get creative and do as much as you can to keep each other safe.”

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