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American Red Cross Prepares Youth Through The Pillowcase Project

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Our summer program is all about experiential learning that helps youth grow academically, socially, and emotionally.

The American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region is partnering with Youth Organizations Umbrella Inc. (Y.O.U). to teach preparedness skills using hands-on learning activities that blend art and science through The Pillowcase Project. The Red Cross program educates youth on natural disasters and how to create an emergency supply kit using a pillowcase they decorate with colored markers. 

More than 50 youth at Y.O.U.’s elementary summer camp will participate in the preparedness lesson led by Red Cross instructors and decorate their pillowcase Tuesday, July 29 at 2:30 p.m. at Washington Elementary School, 914 Ashland Avenue in Evanston. 

The Pillowcase Project emphasizes the importance of developing an emergency communications plan, fire evacuation plan and emergency contact cards. Children also learn about the science of natural disasters, the difference between storm warnings and watches, and dangerous weather patterns including thunderstorms, lightening and tornadoes. At the end of the lesson, youth have fun using markers to color and personalize their pillowcase, which can easily carry emergency supplies during a disaster. 

“Red Cross instructors take a scientific-based approach with hands-on activities, while at the same time, show children how to take a simple object—a pillowcase—and use it in an emergency if they have to evacuate their home,” said Fran Edwardson, Chief Executive Officer, American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region. “Working with organizations like Y.O.U., the Red Cross is helping children build confidence and learn coping skills in the event of an emergency.” 

Created in New Orleans, The Pillowcase Project was inspired by a story of local university students carrying their belongings in pillowcases during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Through the program, the Red Cross aims to incorporate preparedness education into elementary school and after-school curriculums nationwide. In the Greater Chicago region, the Red Cross will teach more than 5,000 youth these preparedness skills. The program is sponsored by Disney. 

Y.O.U.’s summer program engages youth in fun-filled workshops in arts and culture, science and technology, and sports and recreation. Studies show that participation in high-quality summer learning programs adds up to a five month learning gain for students when they return to school in the fall. This summer Y.O.U. is serving over 450 Evanston and Skokie youth. 

“Our summer program is all about experiential learning that helps youth grow academically, socially, and emotionally,” said Seth Green, Y.O.U.’s Executive Director. “We see The Pillowcase Project as a wonderful addition to our summer curriculum because it simultaneously empowers youth learning and helps keep our kids safe.” 

The Pillowcase Project is a national program of the American Red Cross and is structured by three core principles: Learn, Practice and Share. Children entering grades 3 through 5 learn about hazards, how to prepare for emergencies, enhance coping skills, practice what they have learned, and share their knowledge with friends and family. 

The Greater Chicago region is one of 60 Red Cross regions nationwide piloting The Pillowcase Project this year, with the goal of expanding it to 96 regions nationwide by the end of 2015. 

About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or visit us on Twitter at @ChicagoRedCross

About Y.O.U.

Since 1971, Y.O.U. has provided services and leadership to meet the emerging needs of young people and their families. Each year, we serve over 1,000 youth and touch more than 4,000 family members with a holistic set of services that includes after-school enrichment, emotional support, and mentorship. These services ensure youth success across all of their different environments - in school, at home, in the community, and in moments of crisis. Learn more about our impact at