By Arti O’Connor, President, Gilroy Federation of Paraeducators

Diana Torres, a paraeducator in the Gilroy Unified School District, has been instrumental in establishing the STEAM lab and program at Las Animas Elementary School. I met her several months ago and was extremely impressed when she showed me the lab — with a 3-D printer — that she uses to teach students about that form of technology.

When the Covid-19 crisis struck and we couldn’t physically be at school for the rest of the school year, Diana put her skills to work 3-D printing the frames for over 500 face shields, with help from her son Alexander. The plastic shields go over face masks to prevent droplets from reaching the face of a frontline worker. These face shields can be sanitized and used multiple times for hospital use.

Most of the face shields have been distributed through the all-volunteer group Masks for Docs, and some have been distributed locally through the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce. All are provided free of charge.

Diana has spent many hours doing logistics — coordinating shipments and volunteers. Alexander is tasked with watching the family’s three 3-D printers that are running at home while Diana focuses on the operations side of the process. She also cleans, packages and boxes the shields almost daily. This is all in addition to her school job duties as a paraeducator.

When the order to shelter in place was given, Diana said she felt lost.

“It was just this hole, this empty hole,” she said. “It was a feeling of ‘I need something to fill that empty space and empty feeling.’”

The first 25 face shields produced went to a team of doctors and nurses at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Orange County where Diana’s aunt works.

“We were very nervous that for a real life task with doctors and nurses, they would crumble and fall apart and not stand up to being disinfected and bleached,” she said. But the masks were successful and were subsequently distributed free of charge to doctors and pharmacies in Gilroy as well as to doctors, nurses and agencies in need on the East Coast, where Diana’s family lives.

Diana is also part of a New York Star Wars group called the 501st Legion. When they asked her for help, she delivered masks to them.

Because of the coronavirus, Diana has not been able to visit her family in Putnam County, New York, which was a Covid-19 hotspot. It’s especially difficult for her because her father is seriously ill.

“I can’t physically be there for him,” she said. “But I can support what’s going on in New York in some way by my efforts here.”

Diana and Alexander plan to continue producing face shields until the crisis is over. Along the way, she’s setting a powerful example that her son will likely carry with him for the rest of his life. Alexander said the work has given him a “sense of purpose and a sense of hope at a time where everything seemed kind of hopeless.”

The Gilroy Federation of Paraeducators is proud of Diana’s giving spirit and her ability to apply the technical skills from her work that allow her to pitch in and help others during this time of extreme need.

Portions of this article first appeared in the Gilroy Dispatch.