High schooler Jonah Liss launches international nonprofit to run errands for those most at risk during COVID-19
By Eden Lichterman
Photography by Allison Farrand
In January, Jonah Liss began hearing about the novel coronavirus tearing through countries overseas. As he watched the news, the 17-year-old Bloomfield Township resident figured it was only a matter of time before the virus made its way to the U.S. and put older people like his grandparents at risk. So he started thinking about ways he could help.
His solution: Mediumize, a nonprofit that connects high-risk individuals, primarily people in their 80s and 90s, with volunteers who run essential errands and provide technology assistance. Liss launched the service in mid-March; since then, Mediumize has expanded to 151 cities across the U.S. and Canada — and one in Hong Kong — with the help of 250 volunteers.
“When it comes to how fast I’ve been able to launch, I think this is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Liss. “I wanted people to get the help right away. Especially because there was lots of panic at the beginning, I thought it would be important to step in and let people know there would be solutions like this.”
Liss, who’s going into his senior year at the International Academy of Bloomfield Hills (he’s eyeing several colleges for next year), had an easy time finding volunteers — most of whom are teens — online. He also partnered with Covid Connections, an organization doing similar work in Los Angeles. Together, the two businesses created a volunteer network that spans across the country and beyond.
By simply filling out a form on the Mediumize site or giving Liss a call, at-risk individuals can get the help they need in a matter of hours. Kathy Else, 82, of Bloomfield Hills, is a frequent Mediumize user. “I didn’t want to go to the stores because of my age,” she says. She frequently relies on the service for her prescriptions and groceries. “I am so proud to know [Liss] and so thankful to him,” she says.
While this is Liss’ first time starting a community service organization, his mom, Jennifer, says he’s always volunteered for charitable causes. “The minute [we] were told to stay home, he started the business that day,” she says. “He was like, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’”
Along with providing essential services, Liss also uses Mediumize to assist other community-based organizations. Following the floods in Midland, Liss partnered with an organization called 4OurCommunity to donate bags of toiletries, clothing and nonperishable food to displaced people in need. Liss also organized a PPE drive for essential workers at the University of Michigan’s hospital.
In the coming months, he plans to launch a business called Zing AI, which uses artificial intelligence to understand the connotations of language. (Users will be able to feed the software text, and it will “read” the emotions behind the words.) On a large scale, the software will be able to identify trends that humans can’t, such as analyzing social media posts about political candidates to gauge who people in certain areas support.
Liss also says he’ll also continue his COVID-19 relief efforts and lean into the activism aspect of his business to help others in need. “I have created a platform,” he says, “which I can leverage to solve other issues.”