Pillowcase Project Aimed at Preparing Kids for Emergencies

Inspired by Hurricane Katrina experience 13 years ago

By Sue Wilson, American Red Cross Board Member and Volunteer Partner

In late August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast causing catastrophic damage from Central Florida to Eastern Texas. Especially devastated was the city of New Orleans, when the storm made landfall on August 29, and the protection levees failed, flooding almost 80 percent of the city and the surrounding parishes. Out of the many stories of sadness and loss came stories of heroism and survival. It is from the latter that The Pillowcase Project was born.

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John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager, teaching the children of employees of the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System during a Pillowcase Project presentation.    Photo credit:  Mary Williams/American Red Cross

The Pillowcase Project was created by the American Red Cross in Southeast Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina when Kay Wilkins, Southeast Louisiana regional executive, had learned that Loyola University students carried their valuables in pillowcases when they were evacuated for Katrina. This inspired Kay and her team to work with an art therapist to create a program in which children living in makeshift communities across New Orleans decorated pillowcases as emergency supplies kits.

Students decorate their pillowcases.

Soon, The Pillowcase Project became a preparedness education program for elementary school students. In just a few years, it was adapted and implemented by several other Red Cross chapters with substantial success. Here in Northeast Ohio, the Red Cross taught nearly 4,500 students preparedness last year through the program.

The goal of the project is to help create a generation of children who understand the science of hazards, are empowered to take action preparing for emergencies, and are excited to help create a prepared community by sharing what they have learned with family and friends.

Students who participate in The Pillowcase Project will be able to:

• Identify the best ways to stay safe during emergencies that can occur in their communities.

• Identify the best ways to prevent and stay safe during a home fire.

• Use coping skills to help manage stress during emergencies and in everyday situations.

• Gain confidence in their abilities to be prepared for emergencies through hands-on activities.

• Use their knowledge to act as advocates for emergency preparedness in their homes and communities.

• Discuss the role science plays in emergency preparedness.

• Understand and communicate the work of the Red Cross in their communities.

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In addition to The Pillowcase Project, the Red Cross has teamed up with Disney to develop the Mickey and Friends Disaster Preparedness Activity Book, which has been distributed to more than 300,000 youth nationwide. The book teaches kids and families how to prepare for and respond to a wide range of disasters and emergencies through interactive games and activities. The book is available to download in English and Spanish.

Disney also sponsored the creation of Monster Guard – the first mobile app created by the Red Cross designed specifically for kids. The app complements The Pillowcase Project, and is a game where children role-play as various monster characters and engage in interactive training episodes for hazards such as home fires, floods and hurricanes.

To learn more about The Pillowcase Project and register your school to participate, visit our Resources for Schools page and scroll down for information.

Preparedness in a Pillowcase

Milestone reached for the Pillowcase Project

One million elementary school students across the country have now learned how to prepare themselves, their households and their communities for emergencies by participating in The Pillowcase Project. More than 11,000 of those children live in Northeast Ohio.

 

Originally created in New Orleans, The Pillowcase Project is a free program inspired by the story of local university students carrying their belongings in pillowcases during Hurricane Katrina evacuations. During the presentation, participants receive a pillowcase to decorate and then take home to use as a personal emergency supplies kit.

The curriculum, targeted at 3rd to 5th graders, is structured by a Learn, Practice, Share framework. Students learn about the science of a locally relevant hazard and how to best prepare for it. They practice what to do if a disaster occurs and how to cope with related fear and stress. Afterwards, they share the information and skills they have learned with their family and friends so everyone in the household knows what to do.

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John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager was assisted by AmeriCorps worker Rachel Steiner at a Pillowcase Project presentation at the Cleveland VA Medical Center                                         Photo Credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

“It’s exciting to see young people in Northeast Ohio and across the country learn how to prepare themselves, their households, and their communities for emergencies and save lives by participating in The Pillowcase Project,” said John Gareis, Regional Preparedness Manager.

To date, 11 lives have been saved by four students who put into practice what they learned through the program. Last year, 9-year-old Camryn Sarnie of Ramona, Oklahoma was startled awake at 3:00 a.m. by a smoke alarm sounding in his home. The sound scared Camryn, but he recognized it and knew that it was alerting him to a fire. He knew that he had less than two minutes to escape, so he quickly woke up his parents, alerted them to the fire and instructed them to evacuate immediately. Camryn saved three lives that morning, including his own, by putting into practice what he learned just a few weeks earlier from The Pillowcase Project presentation at his school. According to Camryn’s mother, Lora, “Camryn told us all about what he learned in class after the presentation. Camryn is a true hero.”

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The Red Cross has engaged more than 35,000 volunteers and partnered with more than 13,000 schools, community organizations and partners to deliver this program to students across the country and at more than a dozen U.S. military stations abroad. The Walt Disney Company is the founding sponsor of the program.

Contact John Gareis at 216-431-3219 to schedule a Pillowcase Project presentation for your school, or email john.gareis@redcross.org. .  Additional information about The Pillowcase Project is available at redcross.org/pillowcase.

Resolve to be Prepared

by: Melissa Papini, Disaster Program Manager

As we spend time reflecting on the closing of 2017, celebrating the season with our loved ones, being thankful for all the little things that bring us joy like safety and security, let’s also take time to think about (and say prayers for, if you’re so moved) our friends and family all over the world whose safety and security was threatened this year by natural disasters.

12292-409.jpgI recently heard an interview on the radio about a couple who moved from Brooklyn, NY to Ventura, CA this year. The interview was about the mandatory evacuations in their neighborhood related to the Thomas fire. They talked about how different it is to live in a community that has to be prepared at all times to flee their homes. Everyone they know has an emergency kit ready for not if, but when the wildfires get too close. That observation struck me. We live in a part of the country where very few people have natural disasters on their minds regularly. How many people do you know in Northeast Ohio that have an emergency kit ready at home?

Through my recent career move to “all things disaster,” my 10-year-old daughter has picked up on the idea of disaster preparedness. She has heard me talking about the Pillowcase Project and has created her own emergency kit that she’s packed in a pillowcase. She has a change of clothes, a flashlight, and a first aid kit ready to go if we ever need it. After reviewing the checklist in the Pillowcase Project booklet, I may suggest she add things like toiletries, markers and paper, a blanket, and a favorite toy.

For a detailed list of items that you can put together to create an entire household emergency kit please refer to our previous posts. There are also many Red Cross apps that can help you be prepared for and alerted about local disasters.

One other thing I’ve realized about preparedness through follow-up casework with our clients who’ve had home fires is how important it is to create an inventory of the contents of your home. If you are ever in a situation where you have a fire, your insurance company cannot begin to help you start replacing things until you’ve created a detailed inventory list for them. This is a daunting task for people who have millions of other things on their minds after a home fire. The easiest way to do this is take videos in each room of your home. Be sure to open drawers where you may have valuables too. Keep a copy of this video somewhere safe like an external hard drive in a fire proof lock box, the cloud, or you can even email it to yourself.

If you are like me and can’t wait to crack open your new planner for 2018 and start making lists of goals, be sure to add preparedness to your list of resolutions!

Reflections on Americorps Experiences

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Rachel Steiner

Someone once told me that life isn’t about finding yourself but creating yourself. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I started working for this AmeriCorps program at the Red Cross.

Life deals everyone a different hand. Every individual has different strengths and weaknesses. Meeting so many adults and kids through this program, I’ve discovered what it means to be successful. It means putting yourself in situations that may be uncomfortable but can save lives. It means being the strong one and making the right decisions even when it’s difficult or confusing. Successful people struggle just like anyone else. Time and again I’ve seen individuals who’ve lost everything and persevere. No one has complete control over the future but when these people keep making tough decisions every minute of every day; they are giving themselves, and their families, a better chance in the future. Despite the fact that they may have no support system, they are doing it. No one ever became good at dealing with problems without dealing with any problems.

I have no doubt that my AmeriCorps experience at the Red Cross will help me get a good job. I’m very thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given here. – Rachel Steiner, AmeriCorps Member stationed at the Summit, Portage, and Medina County office

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Rachel Steiner and Shelby Begg

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Shelby Begg

The experience I’ve had with AmeriCorps and the Red Cross over the past year has been truly amazing. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to provide impactful service to so many families throughout Northeastern Ohio, and that I got to work alongside so many wonderful people – both staff and volunteer! – Shelby Begg, AmeriCorps Member stationed at the Greater Cleveland office

We are so grateful for Shelby and Rachel, who served as AmeriCorps Members for the bulk of the 2017 fiscal year.

“We are grateful for the terrific support from the Corporation for National and Community Service which allowed us the opportunity to have Rachel and Shelby come on board for the year,” said John Gareis, Regional Manager in Preparedness and Community Planning. “By helping support our Home Fire Campaign and Pillowcase Project, we have been able to teach more households and children about fire prevention and the importance of being prepared.”

As their time with the Red Cross winds down,  Rachel and Shelby will move on to new projects in their lives.

We will begin the search for two more AmeriCorps members to help work with our Home Fire Preparedness Program and The Pillowcase Project. If you know an individual who would like to join the AmeriCorps program and work with the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate suffering in our community, send them to www.nationalservice.gov to get started on their application today!

Funding for the Red Cross program is provided by a grant from the Corporation for National Community and Service. Since the program’s inception in 1994, more than 1 million men and women have served in AmeriCorps, providing more than 1.4 billion hours of service and earning more than $3.3 billion in education scholarships to pay for college or pay back student loans, more than $1 billion of which has been used to pay back student loan debt.

Magics Learn Disaster Safety

Hurricane Season begins June 1.

And while that usually (usually!) isn’t a major factor when planning for Northeast Ohio weather, we do have plenty of disasters that we need to be aware of and plan for, here in NEO.

To that end, the Red Cross continues to help children in our communities learn about disasters that can (and do!) happen in NEO through our Pillowcase Project.

Nearly 300 students at Barberton Elementary School West had the opportunity to learn more about home fire safety and winter weather safety when kids from third to fifth grade participated in the program in February.

The volunteer team leading the education portion included members of the Advancement to Nursing program, high school students from Barberton and the surrounding communities.

To learn more about how to host the Pillowcase Program at your school, click here.

3 Reasons and 4 Ways to #Help1Family on Red Cross Giving Day

GD16_Meals_FacebookNearly every eight minutes, the American Red Cross extends a helping hand to a family in need that has lost everything – the roof over their heads, their clothes, and their most cherished possessions – to a home fire.

The Red Cross has been busy helping neighbors in and around Northeast Ohio, but we need your help on one special day to continue to provide the emergency services that our neighbors depend on each and every day.

On April 21, you have a chance to help families in need whenever and wherever they need it by participating in the Red Cross’ Giving Day to #help1family. A donation of just $88.50 can provide a family with a day’s worth of food, plus blankets and other essentials.

We are proud of the work we accomplished to help people in Northeast Ohio last year:

  1. Installing 8,960 smoke alarms in NEO communities
  2. Provided 3,161 students with disaster readiness training through The Pillowcase Project, sponsored by Disney
  3. Responded to over 950 disaster incidents such as home fires or flooding

Spread the word about Giving Day – the more people who support Giving day means we can help more families.  Use your social media channels to reach out to friends and family and ask them to donate to #help1family by visiting https://givingday.redcross.org/region/northeast-ohio.

Here are four ways your donation will #help1family:

  1. GD16_Volunteer_FacebookSupporting a family in urgent need: provide funding to give a family a day’s worth of food, blankets, and other essentials.
  2. Supplying warm meals: help provide hearty, comforting meals to people impacted by disasters.
  3. Providing clean-up kits after a disaster strikes: make clean-up kits available for families in need that include vital items like a mop, bucket, and disinfectant.
  4. Deploying an emergency response vehicle for a day: Red Cross workers travel to impacted neighborhoods in fully stocked Emergency Response vehicles to provide food, water and critical relief.

 

Imagine the impact that we could have on our community if everyone wanted to #help1family.

Thank you.

Prevent and Alleviate: Providing Fire Safety Education to Everyone

You may think that preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies – the two actions our mission charges us to do – is a tall order.

With over 4.5 million residents to educate and assist, it can be a little overwhelming.

And yet, when eating an elephant – take one bite at a time.

The first bite: teaching our young community members more about how to keep themselves (and their families) safe before, during and following a disaster.

We are proud to announce that we have hit our annual goal by teaching the pillowcase project, sponsored by Disney, to 2,892 local school-aged children!

The pillowcase project teaches kids about disasters that can happen here in Northeast Ohio, and what they and their families can do to prepare for and respond during an event. Home fire education is the most prevalent piece of this program, as we respond to an average of three home fires across Northeast Ohio each night.

During the program kids are taught about smoke alarms, what to do when a smoke alarm sounds, knowing exit strategies for each room, creating a family meeting spot and so much more.

But this education isn’t just for the children of our community.

We are dedicated to sharing these safety tips with everyone. That’s the second bite of the elephant.

Through Operation Save-A-Life we are helping families learn more about fire safety as well as providing the tools necessary to put that education into practice, should the time come.

As of March, 2016, we have installed over 8,844 smoke alarms in homes throughout Northeast Ohio.

That’s just 1,156 off from the stretch goal we gave ourselves in June, 2015. Our region currently leads the nation in number of smoke alarms installed.

We are very proud of what we have accomplished. And our dedicated work and planning is paying off. We see it in the success stories of families like this one from last summer, and this one from December.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to the Red Cross workforce who made those numbers happen. Thank you to those who continue to educate, install and provide hope to families and individuals in each of the communities that we serve.

You can eat an elephant – one bite at a time.

Thank you!!