Building a Social Movement of Gratitude

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(Editor’s note: The following story is by Jenna Jorgensen. Photo by Mark DiOrio)

One month can change a lot. Just 30 days ago, Ben Sharf, of the Colgate men’s hockey program, was preparing for playoffs with the Raiders.
In our new normal, Sharf is wrapping up his senior thesis for his final year at Colgate through distance learning in quarantine, in addition to building the not-for-profit organization 6FTCloser.
6FTCloser Website
6FTCloser Social Media: Instagram / Twitter
A company looking to give back by appreciating frontline workers fighting the spread of COVID-19 through personalized thank you videos, 6FTCloser was created by Sharf and a group of other 20-somethings. The group saw a need to recognize individuals, in a time where mass pandemic statistics are broadcast on the news and social media.

“I had been talking with a couple of friends, and one was wanting to give back in our current situation,” Sharf said. “The thing we realized that was missing was personal gratitude. In New York City, people are applauding from their balconies. But as a frontline worker, you’re just another statistic, just another one of the many workers. While they’re appreciated from afar, no one knows who they are as individuals.
“We felt, if there was a way to actually thank these workers — show them we know who they are and appreciate what they’re doing — that we could get powerful responses.”
And in just a matter of days, powerful responses are what they saw.
Through the collective group effort, 6FTCloser was launched on April 10. In the five days since the program’s launch, hundreds of appreciation videos have already been shared.
The campaign targets all frontline workers, including healthcare professionals. People are also able to nominate anyone from meal delivery volunteers, to police personnel, grocery store employees, fire fighters, custodial staff, and utility workers, who continue the fight against COVID-19.

A site to thank frontline workers, anyone can access 6FTCloser for free to nominate a family member or friend by submitting the person’s name, job, and city where they are located. It’s also a free and streamlined process to sign up to submit a video.
Through the moderating by 6FTCloser, individuals are recognized with a personal connection but still maintain privacy.
Once workers are added to the database, they are matched with someone who wants to send a thank you. Through a text, people learn info on the individual and send back a short video. An opt-in text is then sent to the worker to see the video made just for them. They then have the option to respond to the person who nominated them, and to their video submission.

“This whole idea didn’t even exist two weeks ago and we launched on April 10,” Sharf said, in regards to an immediate impact of the program. “A modest team brought this all together, while our founding team is about seven people. We all come from different backgrounds, but are people just looking to make an impact.”
Each person in the startup of 6FTCloser brought their own talents to help the platform expand quickly, while it has been a large effort within the Sharf household. In addition to Ben serving as Head of Strategic Partnerships, his sister Ariella has taken on running the program’s social media presence.  
“I was brought in after the initial thought of a one-on-one appreciation platform to help take things one step further,” Sharf said. “We started by building out a product and had a couple of videos made. The responses were breathtaking. Reading the responses from the workers, even from just five of them, was enough to realize that this is a powerful thing. It gives us the energy to keep building 6FTCloser, in addition to the schoolwork and jobs we have going on as well.”

As Head of Strategic Partnerships, Sharf coordinates with large healthcare organizations, fire departments, and any company that has a bulk number of employees fighting the spread of COVID-19.
His goal is to get as many frontline workers registered in the system to be acknowledged, and he works with marketing teams at various companies to motivate organizations to get involved. Outside of doctors and nurses, Sharf said he is specifically communicating with agencies to get everyone contributing on the front lines involved.
“We have one key indicator of success for the company, and that is the number of videos that we can create,” Sharf said. “That, and how many smiles.”
Even in the company’s short time since its launch, Sharf and the group have already discussed the ways for 6FTCloser to be applied to the future, beyond the fight against COVID-19.
“We have a big vision for 6FTCloser and have hopes to build it into a full non-profit organization,” Sharf said. “We feel that this technology can be used past our current challenge, into disaster relief and beyond. While our ambitious goal is to recognize every frontline worker in the world, we are going to live in the moment, with more conversations for down the road.”

Sharf encourages people to nominate others or to sign up to share thanks with the people keeping others safe in a time of quarantine.
“The world is in a place right now where we need positivity and gratitude, and it can be a really powerful tool to bring communities together.”
We built 6FTCloser as a constant reminder that we are all intrinsically connected, even when we’re forced to be physically distant. We are in this together. We hope that these messages of communal gratitude remind us that in spite of our physical distance we are communally resilient. We are connected. Even if we have to be six feet apart, we can still stay close.

We wanted to create a simple way for citizens to show their gratitude and connect— human-to-human— with those keeping us safe.

From healthcare workers to police officers, there are so many courageous heroes who are fighting against COVID-19 on the front lines. We want them to know how much we respect their relentless effort and hope we can brighten up their day if only for a moment.

We invite you to join us in expressing our thanks.