MERCED, California (KGPE) – The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unexpected opportunity for a group of high school students in Merced. The girls found a way to help their community, raising awareness and raising money – and they learned something new about themselves in the process.

While most of us were in quarantine, a group of childhood friends in Merced formed a non-profit to help their community through the pandemic. They call it SEVA, which in Sanskrit means ‘service’.

“Last summer, when COVID was at its peak and it was fairly devastating, we had the idea to start the mask project,” said Golden Valley High School freshman Siya Lakireddy.

The mask project was a pledge to wear a mask and socially-distance. The girls posted to social media and put up flyers in downtown Merced.

“We had more than 300 signatures and more than one thousand views. So it showed that people were aware of what we were doing and that our voices were being heard.”

Their goal was to reduce COVID-19 cases and get kids back in the classroom, but they didn’t stop there. They decided to raise money for CASA in Merced – which helps foster children. They baked cookies (with COVID-19 precautions) and handed them out as a thank you. They raised more than $5,400 dollars for CASA.

“A lot of were students our fellow students from school and it showed that even high schoolers carry the same idea and like hopes and willingness to help others,” said El Capitan High School freshman Jessica Ma.

When we reached the pandemic’s one-year mark, the girls created a remembrance board online where people could share their memories. It’s had more than 200 posts and the girls have learned, although they are just freshmen in high school, they can make a difference.

“I think anyone any age can make a difference because as long as you have determination, the will, and the passion to make a difference in a community, you can accomplish a lot,” said Jessica.

The girls are already talking about what their next project might be.