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Portland students launch COVID vaccine appointment finder

One year ago, students formed Portland Student Pandemic Response, and this "text line" is their latest community service during COVID-19.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A group of students from different high schools around the Portland area have launched a text line to help Oregonians connect with available COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

A year ago, students formed the nonprofit, Portland Student Pandemic Response (PSPR), to connect with community organizations that needed support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group has grown to include more than 100 students in virtual group service projects.

The latest project is the launch of PSPR's new vaccine text line. By texting 850-367-7033, Oregonians will receive a link to Oregon Health Authority's COIVD-19 vaccine eligibility guidelines. Everyone 16 and older becomes eligible on Monday, April 19.

Then, people using the PSPR text line can input a zip code to find open vaccination appointments nearby.

"It checks it to the second, so you're always getting the most relevant data," said Kassy Bonanno, a senior student at St. Mary's Academy. "It's based off a national open-source coding program and adapted by Portland Student Pandemic Response members, which is pretty cool."

PSPR has worked on a number of service projects during the pandemic, including donating PPE and helping people navigate food assistance programs.

RELATED: Portland students use summer break to make a difference during COVID-19 pandemic

"High school students have a lot of power in what they can do," said PSPR member Rye Scholin, also a senior at St. Mary's. "And when they're able to direct their energy to making an impact, it will happen, and it will happen at a pretty good scale."

Many of the senior students in leadership positions are working to help junior students maintain momentum and keep the group going after graduation.

Online videos train other students to become ambassadors of the vaccine program, helping friends, family and community members get vaccination appointments.

"Once they finish, [students] take a quiz, and if they pass, we will provide them with a PSPR official Vaccine Ambassador certificate," said Cole Songster, a senior at Grant High School. "It allows you to have a way to help in seeing the light at the end of this tunnel...You feel like you're contributing to the end of this long, and in many cases, painful experience."

The text line costs money to maintain, so students are crowdsourcing it online, but are also taking away a bigger lesson.

"That individuals do have power to make a difference," Bonanno said.

RELATED: Still having trouble finding a vaccine appointment in Oregon or Washington? Try these tips