Guo Receives MLK Humanitarian Award for Coronavirus Relief Project

Della Johnson | Staff Writer

Senior Jiahao Guo (middle) received the MLK Humanitarian Award, presented to him by Tamara Lang (left), UC Health Director of Community Relations, and Daniel Maxwell (right), UC Manager of Community Relations. Guo was recognized for his work as founder of the Coronavirus Relief Project.

Mason High School Senior Jiahao Guo’s efforts in helping his community have not gone unnoticed. 

In early 2020, Guo gathered a few friends together–all of them teenagers–to start the Coronavirus Relief Project (CRP), a nonprofit organization that provides masks and other health-related items to places in need, whether it be internationally or, as Guo has been aiding in more recent months, locally. The support he provides assists people who are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic in having access to the necessities they need to stay safe. 

The University of Cincinnati (UC) Health department and College of Medicine acknowledges yearly outstanding contributors to the community with their Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. 2021’s theme of the year is “Activism in Healthcare”, with the award being presented to people who took their interest in medicine and helping the people around them, on a path towards making a difference for all of humanity. Guo, at just 18 years old, received this award in January 2021 as the Founder and Executive Director of his relief project. 

“I’m incredibly honored to receive this award,” Guo said. “The other two recipients are both leaders of incredible organizations who have also been working nonstop throughout this effort to serve this Cincinnati community. It’s truly an honor.”

The Coronavirus Relief Project began with Guo noticing the difficulty China faced during the early stages of the soon-to-be global pandemic. He realized that “there was a massive shortage of supplies” in the country, and the same situation soon became reality in the United States. As China began to recover, they had a surplus of factory-made masks, while America’s supply of masks was running dry. The CRP “began to fundraise and use that money to purchase masks in China, to then ship over and donate to [those masks] to groups in Cincinnati.” 

The group has since raised over $10,000, and donated over 15,000 masks to various hospitals, homeless shelters, senior homes, and schools.

Although the project was a group effort, Guo showed strong leadership in his founding position. Constant reaching out for potential financial backing and contact with groups that required aid proved to be a large amount of work that Guo headed. Doing all of this was a difficulty during a global pandemic that led to devastation for many.

“I constantly had to be reaching out,” Guo said. “Initially, I tried to find a sponsor to see if we could see if we could get some company or some business locally to fund this effort. But of course, COVID-19 isn’t exactly the most economically friendly thing. Afterwards, it was a constant rush of reaching out to donors, potential recipients, the media and all that to get as many funds as possible to buy as many masks as possible.”

Guo’s consistent effort towards bettering the world, especially during such a troubling time, is part of the reason why UC Health decided to award him with the MLK Humanitarian Award. Other recipients were 

Dr. Amy Acton and Renee Mahaffey Harris, both adults and long-time veterans in the medical field. Being so young in contrast to other award recipients hasn’t affected Guo, however– it has only reminded him of how this common cause can unite people.

“I don’t think there’s any special feeling in terms of being among these adults for this award,” Guo said. “Ultimately, what we’re doing is we’re helping the community. There’s obviously many more people here in Cincinnati and in Ohio who have also devoted a lot of time and effort in order to help the African American community, or the homeless community, or whoever needs it at this time. The other two [recipients] were doing direct aid with many communities in Cincinnati. I think it’s just really an honor to be able to help them in donating masks to these organizations that are doing incredible work.”

Helping the community goes beyond organizations and groups for Guo. He was once contacted by just an elderly couple– two Mason residents who were simply requesting four masks so they could go to a doctor’s appointment safely. He thought this approach “was sort of surprising” as he had been expecting “only community organizations with those requests.” The CRP gave the couple around 10-20 masks, and Guo said he learned a valuable lesson.

“It doesn’t matter the scale of the operation, it doesn’t matter the scale of the efforts,” Guo said. “What matters is that, even though it may be small quantitatively, the impacts of any sort of effort, any sort of volunteerism, can be enormous for other

people. I think that’s a huge takeaway from this.”

While he has received acknowledgement and the UC Health MLK Humanitarian Award for his founding and work on the CRP, the reasoning behind the beginning of the project was, according to Guo, purely out of concern for the people around him. 

“When starting this [project], it wasn’t out of recognition purposes, it was entirely because COVID-19 was decimating our community,” Guo said. “This is something that’s not like other sorts of healthcare efforts, where it’s something that’s affecting only a small group of people. COVID-19 is something that is in our community. The effects are entirely visible by everybody. It’s not like we’re saving this community, but the impacts of this are humongous to the people affected.”

Being a leader in this project for about a year now, Guo has become accustomed to a life of volunteering and charity. Once the pandemic is over, he hopes to continue this kind of lifestyle, specifically if other organizations he were to get involved with were aiding the people around him at just the same magnitude.

“I participate in many other health care initiatives, helping to donate and helping to spread awareness,” Guo said. “But, for this specific type of project, like the Coronavirus Relief Project, if there’s an opportunity to be had such as with COVID–being able to find masks in China to donate across the world. If there’s this kind of opportunity again, then I’ll definitely seize that, especially if it’s for helping the community.”

Photo contributed by Jiahao Guo