Westmont Magazine Alumna Aids Health care Workers with Masks on a Mission
Kim Wertheimer ’12, a nurse who lives in Detroit, has created Masks on a Mission to help put critical face masks in the hands of every health care worker during the pandemic. A neonatal intensive care unit nurse, she has felt the anxiety of nurses caring for COVID-19 patients while facing shortages in personal protective equipment.
A friend offered to sew a mask, which sparked the idea that Kim could do more to protect those fighting the coronavirus. She received an outpouring of support and donations for the concept after posting about it on Instagram. Soon she began shipping boxes of masks and Masks on a Mission took off.
As the initiative grew in Michigan, Kim reached out to Shannon Balram, director of residence life at Westmont enjoying maternity leave with a 3-month-old baby girl. The two met 10 years ago at the college when Shannon served as her resident director.
“We developed a mentoring relationship that turned into a deep friendship,” Shannon says. “She and her husband, Stephen Wertheimer ’12, are people we consider to be family and are lucky to have in our lives.”
Shannon coordinated producing face masks in Santa Barbara. She helped collect donations of fabric, bias tape and wire as well as monetary donations to turn each dollar into a mask for a health care professional in the community. They were able to send out more than 3,500 masks in Santa Barbara, including 200 to the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex, where nearly 1,000 have tested positive for the coronavirus. “The volunteers who are sewing are the real heroes behind Masks on a Mission,” she says. “We also provided meals to our local authorities in town, helped support the local food bank and several social initiatives alongside providing the masks.”
Since returning to work at Westmont, Shannon has passed her work onto the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, which is also making masks and face shields.
Kim, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor who has been in remission for a decade, decided to pursue nursing school after Westmont while getting periodic infusions. “I fell in love with all the nurses and the way they took care of me in a really dark season,” she says. “They would make me smile, set up a patio table outside for my treatments, help me study (I was still attending my classes at Westmont), and watch ‘The Bachelor/Bachelorette’ with me.
“Though Westmont does not currently have a nursing program, it prepared me to be the well-rounded nurse I am today. Westmont trained me in honing my leadership skills, which has allowed me to become a charge nurse. And Westmont taught me how to have honest and loving conversations with ideas and theologies different than my own, which is very important in an acute-care setting when differing opinions and thoughts are frequently discussed. Westmont also taught me the value of a human—as a nurse, that is everything! I assess the entire person (their physical, psychosocial and spiritual aspects) and figure out how I can best meet them where they are.”
Shannon has returned to work after her maternity leave. “I have to be even more creative in how I can continue this mission, but I’m committed to seeing this through,” she says. “Our health care professionals need to know we’re here for them, and we’ll do everything in our power to support them during this crisis.”