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fireman wearing mask

Quarantining one evening this summer, in his home at Carolina Meadows retirement community, Charlie Lehmann watched a very sad and deeply disturbing COVID-19 news conference. Daily cases of COVID-19 were rising uncontrollably and the death rate among people in his age group (75 to 90) comprised 20% of the daily cases, and 80% of the deaths. Charlie said to his wife, “It’s apparent that effective medical treatment or a vaccine to prevent this virus might not be seen in the near future.”

It was during that news conference that Charlie realized it was our responsibility, as a community, to follow safety precautions and protect ourselves with the only tools that we have — “keep your distance and wear a mask.” As a self-proclaimed, “old-ad-guy” Charlie decided he needed to make a public service announcement campaign (PSA) and fast!

Charlie Lehmann turned to Don Stedman, the former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Dean of the School of Education, his friend of almost a decade and his neighbor at Carolina Meadows, to help him raise money for the project. Next, Charlie knew he needed to find a creative resource with an all in-house team. An ad agency with the heart to help. One capable of doing it all – TV, radio, design, digital, social and PR, web, and most importantly — a creative director capable of carefully creating their dream campaign, quickly. Charlie and Sarah Owens, our Executive Creative Director have worked together for years on many projects.

nurse wearing mask

Enter Rivers Agency and Sarah Owens’ Creative Team

The phone rang and our old friend Charlie Lehmann was on the other end of the line. He said, “Sarah, I have an idea that I think could save lives.” To that, Sarah responded, “What?.. Charlie, you’ve called the wrong place. We’re an ad agency not UNC Hospital…”  (Sarah is very funny.)

Charlie said, “Masks should not be political.” It was at that moment that Charlie and our entire team at Rivers Agency began to learn together what it meant to be involved in a public service announcement campaign (PSA). And, the “Help Me – Wear a Mask” project was born.

The idea was to urge people to wear a mask in order to prevent the spread of the virus and speed up the reopening of our communities and our lives. Sarah and Charlie envisioned a campaign that would feature ordinary Americans who both need and want to go back to a pre-pandemic world.

We wanted the story in our (we are a team now) PSA to focus deeply on real people, with real life stories, using their real names and expressing the new reality that the lockdown has placed on their lives.

man wearing mask

Enter Catherine Schramm

Catherine Schramm is our quintessential, “finder of real people” our street-caster extraordinaire. She’s our production Barbie and Swiss army knife all in one. We have worked with Cat Schramm for years and she is our direct link to massive talent on both sides of the camera.

Cat found our amazing and talented crew

Josh Steadman
Carla Hendrix
Bryan Reagan

woman wearing mask

And, Cat found the real life, real world talent –

Andie Falconi “Single Mom”
Annette Saunders “Special Ed Teacher”
Lilianna Paige “Teen”
David Schifter “Fireman”
Jennifer & Tegan Riechers “Mom & Daughter”

Rivers Agency and the whole creative team are honored to be a part of this project to help bring Charlie Lehmann and Don Stedman’s idea to life, make an impact on the community, and hopefully save lives by simply reminding people to wear a mask.

Please go to to see all project updates and watch the full length (60-second) PSA video.

If you would like more information about this project please contact Charlie Lehmann. He is happy to talk about project updates and where we are headed with our efforts.

If you or your corporation would like to add your name to the Sponsor roster at please contact Don Stedman.

Links to each social media pages:



“You Can Help Me – Wear a Mask” is a campaign with the goal of depoliticizing masks to promote safely returning to some sort of normalcy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mask-wearing has turned into a controversial topic by some, this public service announcement aims to focus on various relatable aspects of everyday life that have been impacted by the virus. By simply wearing a mask, we can promote public health and help others gain parts of their lives back.


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