Like many cities, the population of San Fernando is having a homelessness crisis. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency, homelessness in the area is up nearly 40 percent since 2013. Students at San Fernando High School, many of them income-insecure themselves, walk past tent cities in parks and under the off-ramps.
Because we live here, we see it growing constantly,” says Maggie Mejia, a student there. “If your parents miss X amount of bills, you can fall into homelessness, too.”
Inspired to seek a way to help these people, their neighbors, Mejia and a team of girls at the school have invented something special: a tent with built-in solar panels, that can roll up into a rolling pack, easily portable for those who must live their life on the go. The tents have button-powered lights, USB ports for charging cell phones, and a small fan for air conditioning.
The twelve teenagers, mostly seniors, learned many new skills to bring their project into fruition; coding, design, soldering, 3D modeling and printing, and more. They used YouTube to teach themselves most of what they needed to know, since their school doesn’t have a shop or engineering teacher.
They are supported by the Lemelson-MIT program, who awarded them a $10,000 prototype grant, and by DIY Girls, a nonprofit to encourage young women, particularly young women of color, into science, technology, engineering, and math fields. Their adult adviser, Evelyn Gomez, is the executive director of DIY Girls.
“I love to tell the girls that engineering is not only about math and it’s not only about science and numbers…It’s about identifying a problem and helping people,” Gomez told NPR.
In the middle of June, the team presented their invention at a young inventors’ conference at MIT. Getting there was a triumph of fundraising and determination, and the young women, all of whom are at the age to decide what they plan to do with their futures, took the stage as innovators with a product of which they could be proud. They’ve been featured on local and national TV and on celebrity radio shows, and are looking for ways to get their tents mass-produced.