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Newport Beach teenager sews hundreds of masks to help hospitals and others battle coronavirus

Rylen Schmid of Newport Beach, a sophomore at Orange Lutheran High School, has been making homemade masks to help battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Rylen Schmid of Newport Beach, a sophomore at Orange Lutheran High School, has been making homemade masks to help battle the coronavirus pandemic.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Rylen Schmid was enrolled in a design class at 6 years old and has been sewing ever since.

When the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak became a pandemic last month, Rylen began thinking about ways she could help and tap into her creative side.

Now 16, the Newport Beach resident decided on making masks.

“When COVID-19 happened, I knew that I wanted to do something through service,” she said. “I researched and figured out what hospitals needed and I started making my masks. I make them with four different layers of 100% cotton. It’s tightly woven, so it’s less likely to get germs through. I’ve just been donating them to local elderly centers, hospitals, local businesses, family and friends.”

Rylen, a sophomore at Orange Lutheran High School, enjoys giving back to those in need. She’s been making homemade blankets for about a year for Project Linus, an organization that donates blankets to people in intensive care units at local hospitals.

Her mask-making operation is out of a small room in her family’s Eastbluff home. Equipped with a single sewing machine that was once a birthday gift and fabric she bought locally, she’s made close to 500 masks over the past three weeks, she said.

The first, for her mother, Heather, was made out of a vacuum bag so Heather could go to the supermarket. It has taken off from there.

Rylen Schmid says she donates her handmade masks to local hospitals, senior centers and businesses.
Rylen Schmid says she donates her handmade masks to local hospitals, senior centers and businesses.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Rylen said Emily Williams, her dance teacher at Newport Beach’s Odyssey Dance Academy, recently donated a large amount of fabric that should help keep the masks coming.

“I’ll probably be able to make at least 200 masks with the fabric she donated, which is really amazing,” Rylen said. “Other people have been donating as well. Everyone in the whole community has just been really supportive.”

Orange Lutheran has been on spring break this week, which means Rylen could devote more time to making the masks. She planned to drop off about 100 on Friday to Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange and 50 at Orange Coast Medical Center of Hope in Newport Beach.

Since Rylen’s father, John, works in property management for medical buildings, he’s able to deliver many of the masks.

“It seemed like there was this need, and it really just came about organically,” Heather Schmid said. “As a mom, I’ve loved it. It’s engaged her. When the world seems out of control, it probably makes her feel like there’s something that she can contribute.”

Rylen began sewing with Lisa Mayer, who runs Angel Threads Sewing School in Newport Beach. About a year ago, Rylen created an Instagram page, Rylen Schmid Designs, to highlight some of her design work. She also has a website, rylenschmid.com, that explains her story.

Local college counselor Iris Berkley has had Rylen as a student for about a year and continues to be impressed with the teenager’s drive. She also has volunteered with Costa Mesa-based Girls Inc.

“She’s pretty amazing,” Berkley said. “I give a lot of my students guidance on things they can do to really deepen their passions. She just goes, ‘OK.’ … You just give her the idea and she runs with it, which I love to see. I don’t know that I come across so many kids her age who execute consistently like that. It’s always, ‘How can I learn more, how can I do more, how can I be more helpful?’”

Rylen said she will continue producing masks as long as there is a need. She uses hair ties so the masks can be secured to faces and does the masks in mostly neutral colors, though she also likes using fun designs.

“I love being creative and I love that I can use this skill to donate in any capacity, even if it’s super minimal,” she said. “I’m really thankful that I have the ability to give back through my designing and sewing.”

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