From left: Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, Superintendent Diane Kornegay, Education Foundation of Lake County Director Carman Cullen-Batt, L.A.S.E.R. Board Chairman Michael Tart, L.A.S.E.R. Director Brandi Martin, and Real Life Christian Church volunteers Carla Esposito-Lake and Sandi McCormack display face masks for Lake high school graduates.
When Lake County’s high school graduates cross the stage next month in ceremonies throughout the district, each will be provided a souvenir face mask decorated with their school colors and mascots, sewn by a team of local volunteers, according to a press release issued by Lake County Schools.
The project was led by L.A.S.E.R. (Lake Support and Emergency Recovery), a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 to help the county recover from disasters through a coordinated community-wide approach. The group and its volunteers have provided meals for food pantries and helped with cleanup after tornadoes and hurricanes, but creating face masks was a new venture for them.
“Up until March 1, we had never made a mask,” Michael Tart, a founding member of the group and chairman of its board of directors, said in the release. “Most of us probably didn’t even know what the term PPE (personal protective equipment) was.”
Since then, with the help of volunteers from multiple churches and the textile program at the Lake County Jail, they have created thousands of masks for first responders and local hospitals in light of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Then, when the school district started planning how to safely celebrate its seniors, the group came to the rescue with a team of volunteers from Real Life Christian Church in Clermont and financial support from the Education Foundation of Lake County and Lake County Sheriff’s Charities, Inc. A team of 45 women – some cutting, some sewing – created more than 3,000 masks in less than two weeks. They handed the masks off to Superintendent Diane Kornegay today.
“I’m extremely grateful for the support of this community,” Diane said in the release. “They have rallied to make masks for all of our seniors. Keeping our seniors and our guests safe is our top priority, and the masks are one of the safety protocol requirements outlined by our local health department for graduation. Thanks to these volunteers, having a traditional graduation ceremony for our students is now possible.”
Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Lake’s school buildings were shuttered in March and have yet to reopen for classes, making 2019-2020 an unforgettable school year in many ways. Seniors missed out on prom, Grad Bash and other year-end celebratory experiences. They came close to having a very different kind of graduation ceremony, too, with guests remaining in their vehicles as graduates emerged from the cars to walk across a stage. But those plans changed last week when Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted restrictions on youth activities, opening the door for more traditional graduation ceremonies on school football fields as long as safety protocols outlined by the health department are put in place.