ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Academy junior Melinda Modisette was watching the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring,” based on the first volume of the epic fantasy trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, when she was struck by an exchange between heroic hobbit Frodo Baggins and the wizard Gandalf.
As written by Tolkien in the second chapter of “Fellowship,” it goes as follows.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
It was like a trumpet call to arms for the 17-year-old Modisette, who had been despondent since an injury a few months back cost her a place on Academy’s girls wrestling team and who’d been lost since the COVID-19 pandemic derailed her school routine.
“After school let out, I realized my whole life was devoted to getting assignments done,” Modisette said in a phone interview. “That fell away and I had torn my ACL (knee ligament) and was recuperating from surgery. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
“But then I remembered all the people around me who picked me up when I was low, and I realized this was my time to help people who are alone and isolated (because of coronavirus), to remind people we are in this together.”
So she started a nonprofit website, ABQ Fight COVID-19.
Very cool thing
The website, accessible by going to abqfightcovid19.com, launched on March 26. It welcomes every one to “Join the Fight” on its home page, which also includes the pivotal dialogue between Frodo and Gandalf.
In fact, quotes from Tolkien’s books or the movies based on them are sprinkled throughout the site, which offers sections titled “The ABQ Exchange,” “MakeAMask,” “Good News” and “Schedules.”
“I came up with the main elements of the website,” Modisette said. “My family helped a little.”
Modisette said “The ABQ Exchange,” which allows people to request and/or contribute much-needed products – toilet paper, hand sanitizer – in the Albuquerque community was her initial idea for the website. That’s the notion she took to fellow Albuquerque Academy junior Andrew Spears.
“I decided we had to do this and we discussed it,” Modisette said. “Andrew is the practical one. He is the one who said how will this work, who will look at it.”
Spears, 17, is a member of the Academy track team and chess club and a student with a keen interest in mathematics.
“I was struggling with how to get people to exchange information safely online,” Spears said. “We had to make some compromises, but I think it is a very cool thing and I think that it has worked out.”
On the website, Modisette is listed as web creator and administrator and Spears as editor and administrator, but at least a half dozen others – fellow Academy students, parents, even Modisette’s cousin in Germany – have joined in as contributors and authors.
“It is not really my website but the website of people in the community who want to display that we are not in this alone,” Modisette said.
Early birds and Triscuits
You have to believe that the “Schedules” portion of the website was conceived by Modisette, as dedicated as she is to regimen and getting things done.
But is also easy to see the value of this aspect of the website to those of us forced to stay home when we are accustomed to being up and off to work. Our discipline eroded by circumstance, we might spend all day in our pajamas, staring at the TV.
“This is to get myself up and going and other people as well,” Modisette said.
The website’s schedule for a productive day starts with getting up and dressed at 6:30 a.m., but there is also a schedule for active early birds that starts at 5 a.m. and one for students that starts at 7.
The site’s “Good News” section is just that, stories about people doing positive things to tackle the problems of the pandemic or just pieces about birdsongs or how Triscuit, the 100 percent whole grain wheat cracker, got its name.
Along with “ABQ Exchange,” the most significant element of the website now is “MakeAMask,” which offers tips for using everyday materials to make face masks designed to limit the spread of the virus, and instructions for cleaning and caring for the masks.
This section includes an amusing and helpful video that shows Modisette – actually only her hands – making a mask.
“I made that video using a tripod, a table top and duct tape,” she said. “I found a design that was the easiest to make because some kids, like me, don’t know how to sew.”
And it is here that the public can learn about the website’s campaign to donate the more sophisticated face masks needed by medical personnel to local hospitals.
“My mother was born in China,” Modisette said. “Most of the specialized masks that have been donated to local hospitals through the website have come from friends of family in China.”
Nearly 1,000 of these specialized masks have been donated so far, 820 to Presbyterian Hospital and 175 to the University of New Mexico Neurology Center.
Modisette and Spears are back to schoolwork now, taking classes online, tending to the website when they can and looking ahead to better days for everyone.
One of these days, Modisette wants to be an electrical or mechanical engineer.
“I like to build things,” she said.
She’s also a talented artist. Her watercolor painting of an Albuquerque Academy scene livens up the “About Us” page on the website.
Spears dreams of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and carving our a career related to some aspect of mathematics.
But now, both find satisfaction in carrying on the campaign against COVID-19.
“Right now the website is more about being hopeful and enthusiastic, finding something happy in all the bad news and working together,” Spears said. “As things go on, I think more people will start to take advantage of the site.
“I think a lot of people feel helpless right now, but the website makes us feel like we are doing something.”
“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.”
– Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, “The Fellowship of the Ring”