If one turns on the news today, they may be bombarded with death tolls, closings and government statements. It may seem like everyone is focused on the worst possible outcomes of the pandemic. Todd Mercer is trying to remind the world of the good news, too. Thus, the Orange Ya Glad? project was born. OYG? is an online community outreach program where it shares stories of people spreading positivity in their communities.
These individuals’ stories are told on its website as well as its social media posts on Instagram and Facebook. Some of these heroes include an alterations shop owner who’s making masks for healthcare workers, a baker providing bread to food banks and a couple who started a foundation to support families battling cancer.
“It’s really easy when you’re in a negative place to stay in that negative place,” Mercer said. “Everything seems dark, gloomy and dreary and you just get stuck. But, positivity can have the same effect. If we can continue to immerse ourselves in positivity, the hope is that it radiates out and maybe we can help pull some other people out of that darkness.”
Mercer said the project has a strong tie to JMU. Mercer graduated from JMU in 1998 along with his wife, Jennifer, who’s also part of the project. He said not a day goes by when he doesn’t think of the memories he’s made during his time at the university. They’ve also recruited Jonathan Wszaleck (’04) to help with the program’s design elements.
Orange Ya Glad? began as a vague idea to share stories of everyday heroes around six to eight months ago. Todd said he and his wife, along with their friends Josh and Mary Baldwin, got together a few times to brainstorm the idea, but it was put on the back burner. Josh said that the COVID-19 pandemic becoming prevalent in the U.S. accelerated the process and got the project up and running quickly, due to the new need for positive news.
“My favorite part has been the people that are working on the project and really coming together in a positive way,” Said Josh Baldwin, another member of the team.
On the program’s website there’s a button titled, “NOMINATE A HERO,” where individuals can nominate someone they know who’s contributing to good news in their community. Todd said there’s no financial obligation and anyone can nominate someone. OYG? posts about its heroes and sends them a T-shirt.
“It’s just a little token thing, but they get something and it lets them know that we are thinking about them and hopefully encourages them to keep being awesome,” Todd said.
Not only does OYG? celebrate people who are giving back, but it also gives back. It just announced its first charitable beneficiary, the Children’s National Hospital. Children’s National Hospital is the leading pediatric health system in the Washington D.C. area and has started a COVID-19 Emergency Action Fund which OYG?’s money will be going toward, according to a recent press release. Jennifer saif a portion of every hero sponsorship will go to the fund.
“OYG? is so excited to be working with Children’s National,” Todd said. “We wanted to find a beneficiary on the frontlines combatting COVID-19 and are moved by all of the important work Children’s is doing.”
Jennifer said that the team is made of volunteers who also have other jobs and responsibilities, so it can be hard to juggle everything they're doing. Another challenge is the uncertainty of the current market due to the pandemic. Despite the challenges, Josh said that he hopes to see OYG? grow larger and be able to spread positivity to more people.
“It has kind of all happened very quickly, but it’s been a really great process,” Jennifer said. “All the people that are volunteering their time and chipping in to make it go has been impressive and very amazing.”
Contact Sarah Connor at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.