A sample of the face masks sewn by Ashanti Barber.

Everyone’s shared sacrifice and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are real, but the emotions hit just a little closer to home for Great Crossing High School and Elkhorn Crossing School student Ashanti Barber.

Friends and family members are on the front lines as medical first response all around the state. And to those who believe only the elderly and those with obvious, outward conditions are in imminent danger, Barber can confirm differently.

“I’ve had to think about protecting myself even more than I have been before. I recently started a medication that puts me at a higher risk of getting an infection and not being able to fight it off,” Barber said. “It’s definitely scary, I’ve always been a homebody, so being able to stay at home has been peaceful and less stressful than going to school.”

Aside from completing the non-traditional instruction work to complete her junior year, Barber, 17, has faced the now-universal challenge of occupying all that free time. Combined with her natural inclinations to help and serve, those hours of solitude will help flatten the curve of infection in Scott County.

Working by herself in the basement of the family home, Barber has sewn dozens of personal protective masks over the past two weeks.

“I feel that I’ve always had the heart to give back,” Barber said. “Service hours has become a requirement for most extracurricular activities that I do. I’ve never seen volunteer work I’ve done as a requirement. I’ve genuinely enjoyed some of the opportunities, and I look at it as a way to build my character in a positive way.”

Taught the somewhat lost art of sewing by her late mother, Barber sprang into action when she saw a Facebook post from her former middle school teacher, Willow Hambrick.

Hambrick’s husband and daughter work in the busy office at Georgetown Pediatrics, where the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) had begun to take root. Barber also heard from her aunt, who works at a long-term care facility in Midway, and her father’s girlfriend, employed in a medical office in Somerset, that the needs there were equally great.

Barber additionally has a cousin who is undergoing chemotherapy, leaving her immunity compromised. Simply stated, this break in the action at school was no time to sit around and watch the crisis get worse.

“I did a little digging and found fabric my mom had from 2004, and I started setting up shop in my basement. The next day I went to Walmart and bought some elastic and more fabric to have a variety,” Barber said. “I wanted people to be protected even if I wasn’t able to magically supply N-95 masks. Something is better than nothing.”

She began sewing the masks for those doctors and nurses she knew directly. Then she posted a simple request on social media, asking if anyone had scrap cotton fabric or elastic that they would wish to donate.

“That’s where things blew up. Almost immediately I had people commenting or messaging me, saying they would love to donate fabric or donate money for me to purchase any materials I needed,” Barber said. “It really warmed my heart seeing how many people were willing to help me as I helped others. I’m extremely thankful. People were even messaging me asking to buy the masks I was making. I’ve had multiple donations of fabric that my pool table is almost completely covered.”

Barber joked that procrastination is her greatest challenge. She said that once she gets a full head of steam, though, the process is fairly simple.

Each individual mask requires two nine-by-six-inch rectangles of fabric and two pieces of elastic, each about seven inches long.

From start to finish, Barber said she can complete a mask in about 10 minutes. She sewed about 50 in the first seven days. The pace picked up this week during what was originally scheduled as the spring break for Scott County schools.

“Aside from donations from other people, I am a one-woman team,” Barber said. “I’ve been camped out in my basement trying to balance sewing and school work. It’s been kind of difficult to manage my time wisely. It’s easy for to sit down and sew for hours and not even touch my NTI work.”

She awakes early and hits the books first, then devotes the rest of the day to sewing. Teachers have been extremely supportive, Barber said. They are among the first with offers to buy supplies or go pick them up at the store for her.

Mask motifs run the gamut from simple to flamboyant. Barber said her favorite patterns are tributes to female superheroes, as it fits the profile of many people who will wear them. She has been careful to mix in a few male-specific ones, too.

An aspiring nurse in her own right, Barber acknowledged that many people don’t expect someone so young to be so adept as sewing. She’s still using the same machine on which her mother taught her the initial skills.

“It is definitely an important life skill to learn. Whether its just with a handheld needle and thread, or with a sewing machine, it will always come in handy,” Barber said. “It surprises a lot of my family members that not all the traditional home economics courses are around anymore. I’m not the best seamstress, but I know how to use most parts of the machine. Its an ongoing learning process.”

In another of her school projects, Barber collaborates with a partner to make sleeping bags out of discarded, sterile medical instrument wraps for the homeless population.

Barber is part of the Health Science Village at ECS. Through the program, she is CPR certified and has received Community Emergency Response Training, which equips students to help emergency professionals during times of need, such as natural disasters.

She is part of the senior nurse aide program with five others in her junior class. They are scheduled to take their test and eventually work as certified nurse aides.

A candidate for the Governor’s Scholars Program, Barber hopes to study nursing the University of Kentucky or Eastern Kentucky University.

“They have some of the highest pass rates for the nursing exams,” Barber said. “I hope to get lots of scholarships to be able to pay for my education so my dad won’t have to worry about it, because I still have a lot of school ahead of me.”

Not to mention countless more people to help and comfort in the most troubling of times.


Kal Oakes can be reached at


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