Spreading Hope in an Uncertain Time


April 18, 2020

Ingenuity and compassion.

Olsson employees have responded with both during this unprecedented time.

They honor our firm’s founder, John E. Olsson, who always encouraged the sharing of time, talent, and resources with our communities. And they inspire others to find ways to spread hope in the face of fear and uncertainty.

Tabitha Hutchins-Wass, senior technician on our General Civil team who works in Phoenix, responded to the call for facemasks. Equipped with a sewing machine and fabric, she followed the recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to incorporate three layers into the design.

“My husband made me a template out of metal that is the suggested size of 6-by-9 inches from a tutorial on the Joann Fabrics website, so I’ve got that to work from,” she said.

Tabitha has made more than 75 masks and bought enough material to make another 200 to 300.

“My plan is to make them for whoever needs them, especially our health care workers,” she said.

While Tabitha wields a sewing machine to make personal protective equipment (PPE), Ryan Meints programs a 3D printer. The design associate with our Traffic/Technology team in Lincoln found a way to print a simple frame for a face shield. A three-hole punch through a sheet of clear plastic completes out the critical piece of PPE.

Ryan soon had requests for more than 300 face shields from health care facilities in southeast Nebraska, and he expects to receive more. He got his hands on two more 3D printers with the goal of producing up to 40 shields per day.

“My hope is that this small gesture can help keep our health care staff safe so they can go home at night with the reassurance they have enough supplies to get through the next day,” he said.

Of course, some people have no homes to return to at night, an issue that raises significant health risks during a pandemic.

Sarah Foster, Olsson’s Western regional leader, learned that Denver Human Services has experienced an overwhelming need for staffing and support at numerous homeless shelters in the city and county. So, she committed to volunteer two or three shifts per week through mid-May.

“As a shelter volunteer, we are making sure the residents have meal service, a safe place to practice social distancing, and a friendly face during this time,” she said.

Ryan Amys, construction administration manager with our Field Operations team, joined several “old BBQ teammates” to serve a freshly prepared meal to 300 people in need in his home city of Omaha.

One of Ryan’s teammates secured the food donations and the venue – an outdoor plaza in Omaha’s iconic Old Market that hosts a rotation of guest chefs. Salads, roasted veggies, and soups were contributed by one of the city’s high-end eateries. Meanwhile, one of the BBQ crew made 100 batches of pizza dough by hand while Ryan and the rest baked every pie in pellet grills equipped with oven inserts.

Masks were donned, social distancing was observed, and high-fives were forsaken, but everyone enjoyed the experience – guests, law enforcement officers, surrounding business owners, and Old Market residents.

“We met so many like-minded folks and experienced firsthand how communities come together in times like this,” Ryan said. “It was a feel-good day and we really took the focus off what we can’t do and realized what we should do.”

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