Best Of Indy 2020: Heroes Of The Pandemic

Dr. Gabriel Bosslet


Since the launch of his Hoosier COVID-19 Update page on Facebook this past spring, nearly 30,000 followers have come to rely on the IU Health pulmonologist’s real-talk explanations about what’s happening with the pandemic here in Indiana.

I used to be a Facebook person, but I neglected it for a couple years. I reopened my account when I started to realize just how much misinformation is out there surrounding COVID. I’ve always been good at translating complex data into words that are easy for people to understand. I’m not creating new knowledge here; I’m just simplifying what’s already there to make it easier for people to digest.

Initially, I was compiling data from state health department press releases and posting the number of new cases, which was taking me up to 45 minutes each day. Now, I just download info directly from the state’s COVID dashboard. I started out posting on my own personal Facebook page, and all these people began to friend me to access the information. That’s when I created the separate update page.

Truthfully, I did it for myself early on. I found it therapeutic to organize the data. Then there was a point where it stopped being therapeutic, but the feedback I was getting from readers kept me going. I do enjoy it, and I’ve met a lot of cool people along the way. I have no vested interest in continuing to write Hoosier COVID-19 Update for another year, but I’ll keep doing it until people stop finding it helpful.

My followers are a community of people who just want to help each other through this scary time. Generally, the comments have been positive. I’m happy for people to civilly represent different points of view, and most do. As much as possible, I try to leave politics out of it.

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think we’ll see a widespread vaccine distributed before mid-2021. There’s a lot of excitement about it happening sooner, but I think we’re still a long way away. Getting it approved is only the first step. Manufacturing and deploying hundreds of millions of vaccines will take months.

Governor Holcomb and Dr. Box have done a great job of following the science and keeping their response as apolitical as they can. Indiana has done well with data transparency and keeping that information up to date. But I would like to see the mask mandate continue. I thought we reopened too quickly.

Taylor Hall

One of the women who organized the Black Lives Matter protests in Indianapolis this past spring, Hall is just 20 years old. She graduates from college in 2021 and has big plans for the year.

I started protesting in Indianapolis after the death of Dreasjon Reed. He was killed here on May 6, and I began making noise on May 7. My grandfather was an activist in his college years and marched with Martin Luther King in Selma and Boston for voting rights and fair housing. Hearing those stories and seeing pictures of them together really inspired me. My grandfather would speak at my school when I was growing up, and he would talk about meeting MLK and marching with him. He taught me to speak up when I see something is wrong. My mom is even named after Coretta Scott King.

Black Women In Charge, the group of us who organized the big protests this spring, was a collaboration that began after George Floyd was killed. There were about seven of us who started working together, and we made an online platform to bring awareness to things that needed to change. The central message of the group is advocating for social and political justice here. Most of our demands over the summer were just use-of-force policy revisions and accountability within the police department. The mayor updated choke-hold regulations and made a larger budget for police body cams, so there has been some change, but I would like to see more.

One of the things I’ve been working on is an ‘Artivism’ youth program that teaches students how to use art as an emotional outlet and how that relates to activism. I have students make drawings, poems, songs, and clothing inspired by the BLM movement. My own Artivism project is writing songs about social change. I was 12 years old when I started playing guitar with my dad, and we’ve written a song together called ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ The next step for me is to one day open a youth center to do this work and to help students learn how to cope with being a Black child or any oppressed group in America.

Consuelo Poland

Three years ago, Poland founded the Latinas Welding Guild, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring minority women interested in the predominantly male career. Even in 2020, she has found a way to keep her students working toward their certifications.

When I started the group in 2017, I had to keep legitimizing what I was doing. I had to convince people in the industry, ‘Hey, we’re not this cute, fun, artsy thing. We’re actually trying to make an impact.’ The welding world has its own culture—mostly older white men—and women who have an ethnic background often don’t feel welcome coming into that environment or feel comfortable asking questions.

I wanted to create a structure to support women based on my own experience of not having a support group or mentor who could help me find the resources I needed. Many women join us because they have male members of their family or friends who are welders, but they were never encouraged to pursue that path because they were told it was a ‘dirty man job.’ So this is their opportunity to learn in a safe space among other women like them. Others might have thought about welding as a career, but they couldn’t afford Ivy Tech or another vocational school, or they didn’t have a GED or high school diploma.

There are no prerequisites. We have 20-year-olds learning alongside women in their 60s. And you don’t have to be a Latina—we focus on low- to moderate-income minority women and offer scholarships on a case-by-case basis.

We’ve helped at least 20 women earn their welding certifications so far, and the beginning of this year was when we really started seeing significant success. The last nine months have been tough, though. We normally take lots of field trips so the women can see what welding and metal shops look like, but we’ve had to temporarily stop doing those. And we haven’t qualified for any COVID funding other than a research grant to get protective equipment for the group.

But we took on a lot more community fabrication projects over the summer, to the point where we were overbooked. We built and installed three arbors and a bike rack for the Holy Cross neighborhood, and created a custom iron brand for Hotel Tango. We even modified a small horse trailer to become a traveling barn for Poured to Perfection, a mobile bartending service. We hope to start doing socially distant public workshops soon—in Indianapolis and then, eventually, beyond Indiana.

Tom Hanley

The founder of Nine13sports, an organization that provides cycling programs to disadvantaged kids, decided to shift gears when the coronavirus hit. For the last several months, his group has been delivering food and supplies to the needy.

On March 20, we shut down our office for spring break. As I watched my staff leave, I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to be coming back. We had to figure out a way to weather the storm. I spent about 48 hours feeling sorry for myself. Then we stepped back and looked at our resources—a passionate group of people; vans, trucks, and trailers; and a facility we’d just moved into on the near-northwest side.

We’re truly a logistics organization that serves 60,000 kids a year at hundreds of schools, so we already had infrastructure in place and decided to capitalize on that. I sent emails to our community partners, and they connected me with Gleaners and the mayor’s office. Just 48 hours later, we were picking up pallets of food.

Originally, we started using our trucks and trailers to help transport food for Gleaners to community agencies that didn’t have vehicles of their own. That opened a window to discuss a home food delivery program, the first of its kind here in Marion County. We jumped in and started delivering food directly to homes on April 1. With that early success, word got to Second Helpings and they approached us.

In the space of a few weeks, we went from not knowing anything about food delivery to moving about 200,000 pounds a week. Now, we’re delivering to about 1,000 unique homes weekly and 32 community agencies through bulk food support. And we partnered with the Red Cross early on to transport blood donations, masks, and any other supplies they needed around the state.

This certainly isn’t what our staff signed up for, but I’m so proud to see them come in every day and step up to assist. The most rewarding part is seeing the faces of the people we’re serving. The genuine appreciation we get makes it all worth it. My hope is that at the end of all this, we’ll be better neighbors with more empathy for those in need.