SARASOTA, Fla. — Right now, millions of people are concerned about their health. But for some people with compromised immune systems, the global pandemic has exposed the fears they experience every day.
"I'm always worried. I mean you never know,” Aleah Colón-Alfonso said. “I'm still researching which hospitals have ventilators. That's a weekly habit that's been ingrained into my family at this point."
Aleah Colón-Alfonso is going into her junior year at New College. She's majoring in biological psychology with a minor in neuroscience, but she's not your typical college student.
Before the age of 18 she was diagnosed with small fiber neuropathy and Lyme disease.
But if you know Aleah, you know she doesn't let that hold her back.
"I try not to look at it as too much of a hindrance,” Colón-Alfonso said. “You know it definitely puts roadblocks in the way, but it teaches you a lot too.”
She believes an illness gets as much in your way as you let it.
“Sometimes there’s days where I can’t walk but when I can’t walk, instead of just sitting there I try to start a company,” Aleah Colón-Alfonso said. “So, I think it’s just a matter of adapting to the circumstances that you’re given and trying to make not just the best but make something really good out of it."
Within just two years of college, Colón-Alfonso has become an entrepreneur, building two companies.
"The first one is called 'Aleah Wears' and I designed the first infusion friendly sweater for patients undergoing any sort of intravenous therapy,” Colón-Alfonso said.
She came up with the idea freshman year. This business hasn't quite launched yet, but it's in the works.
Her second company is a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Even taking every single precaution that we could I kept noticing that people just weren't respectful of other people's space and I kept saying I want to wear a sign that says ‘hi everyone I am immunocompromised, please just keep your distance,’" Colón-Alfonso said.
And that's how 'Stay Safely Away' was born.
“As a nicer gentle reminder to give people the respect and space they deserve,” Colón-Alfonso said.
She makes t-shirts, face masks and more. She even learned graphic design to personalize her merchandise for any age.
“I just wanted to make it science-based,” Colón-Alfonso said. “I just wanted to make it a signal and a sign that you want space.”
Her ultimate goal is for Stay Safely Away to become a recognizable sign.
“My website says ‘The Sign of the Times’ and that would be my ultimate dream, is that bus drivers and teachers can wear it and people would know when you see the symbol OK I need to take a step back, that person is immunocompromised or wants their space,” Colón-Alfonso said. “You don’t even have to be immunocompromise to want to social distance in the mitts of a global pandemic.”
Colón-Alfonso say she's gotten so much positive feedback after launching just a few weeks ago.
“It’s been incredible! We had an international sale within the first week, somebody from Ireland,” Colón-Alfonso said. “It’s just it’s been an incredible experience.”
She says New College has really helped her with the entrepreneurial side of things and hopes to eventually partner with them to create a clothing line.
In the meantime, she is prepping for the start of the school year and she’s planning to head back to campus. And don’t be surprised if you see her in one of her designs.
“Mask, gloves, the whole 9 yards,” Colón-Alfonso said.
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