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Two Organizations With One Goal In Mind

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"We were trained to be able to go back and train our volunteers" - Betty Boccella, RSVP coordinator

Last winter, an Iowa volunteer program partnered with the American Red Cross serving Greater Iowa with the interest of becoming advocates for The Pillowcase Project.

The Red Cross trained Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) members from several Iowa counties after Betty Boccella, a volunteer coordinator with RSVP, read about The Pillowcase Project in Louisiana. At the time, the project had not yet been introduced to Central Iowa.

Sponsored by Disney, The Pillowcase Project is a way to immerse children (grades 3 – 5) in a “Learn,” “Practice” and “Share” demonstration involving disaster preparedness. The children learn about disasters, practice what to do in case they encounter a disaster then are expected to share the information with their families and people around their community. It also teaches them how to use coping skills to help manage stress during emergencies and in everyday situations.

Now with The Pillowcase Project in full swing as of March, the goal is to reach 5,000 children by March 2016, and RSVP is helping the Red Cross accomplish just that.

RSVP has had a long relationship with the Red Cross in terms of recruiting volunteers for different Red Cross volunteer opportunities, Boccella said, especially after disasters.

A handful of RSVP volunteer coordinators met in Des Moines to take part in a “train the trainer” day, where Red Cross members prepared them to be able to teach their own senior volunteers the crucial fundamentals of The Pillowcase Project.

“We learned about all the materials that need to be presented to the kids,” Boccella said. “We were trained to be able to go back and train our volunteers, so I came back to Story County and trained our senior volunteers to be presenters.”

Before giving the presentations, the RSVP members had to register as Red Cross volunteers so they could access the group share page in Volunteer Connection—a single organization-wide volunteer management system used to engage, match, train and deploy volunteers in order to respond to community needs and deliver the Red Cross mission. It allows the volunteers to stay actively engaged during the duration of their Red Cross careers. Background checks are also a must for volunteers interacting with people in their communities, and it all takes place through Volunteer Connection.

“They have all technically become Red Cross volunteers,” said Mycaela Crouse, an AmeriCorps NPRC member who trained the RSVP volunteers. “That’s a requirement of the program, but we don’t think of them as Red Cross volunteers; they’re RSVP volunteers first. They’re the ones going into the schools and giving the presentations, but they’re using Red Cross materials to do it.”

The materials the RSVP volunteers use for The Pillowcase Project include workbooks, pillowcases and markers, all provided by the Red Cross and Disney

“It’s really fun to see a kid when they get their pillowcases; they’re very excited,” Boccella said. “They get to use markers and put their names on them and draw on them. They really enjoy that.”

In Story County, RSVP asked for donations in order to purchase items to put in the children’s pillowcases—items such as flashlights and first-aid kits. This was to encourage the children to put more items in their preparedness kits after returning home, Boccella said.

Although The Pillowcase Project is directed toward children, Boccella said they aren’t the only ones learning from the presentations.

“It’s been a real learning experience for the volunteers becoming better acquainted with some of the local hazards and getting better acquainted with Red Cross as well,” Boccella said.