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Helping Kids Get Prepared for Emergencies through the Pillowcase Project

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By nature, some people are “givers” and make it their life goal to assist others in need – and some of those people, like Janice Lara-Hewey of Auburn, spend their entire lives volunteering to help those who need it. 

Nearly 20 years ago, Janice discovered opportunities at the American Red Cross in Maine while in graduate school learning to become a licensed clinical social worker. While volunteering with the Red Cross, Janice was able to gain hands-on career experience when finishing her graduate degree. In addition, Janice found an organization that would be her volunteer focus into adulthood and one she would later use to set an example in her role as a parent.

Over the years, she has assisted hundreds of individuals with family services in Ohio, Florida and Maine who have experienced personal disasters such as severe storms and home fires. 

Often times, “you are the first person they speak to about their experience; they are in a state of shock and disbelief,” Janice explained. “As a Red Cross volunteer you help them move forward on the road ahead and walk them toward getting their life back.”

Today, Janice teaches the importance of volunteering to her young daughter as they work together to present the Red Cross Pillowcase Project across Central and Mid Coast Maine to Boys & Girls Clubs, scouts and children of military members. The project teaches our youth the best ways to stay safe and create their own emergency supply kits by packing essential items in a pillowcase for transport during a disaster.

“The kids take this very seriously; they develop coping skills for this type of situation, and the program empowers them to do so,” Janice added. “Even though they are kids, they can make a difference in their families’ safety.”

During Pillowcase Project sessions, Janice noted that they talk about the impact of family preparedness. For example, the interactive session uses workbooks, art, and group discussions to encourage a family to practice fire drills at home.

Janice encourages others who like working with children to explore this volunteer opportunity with the Red Cross in Maine. “Once you are trained in the program, the Red Cross sends you everything you need to make a presentation – all packed nicely in a box.”

Janice’s lifetime spent volunteering with the Red Cross also includes working with her daughter to install smoke detectors in their hometown and even—at times—in her career as a social worker. “In addition to volunteering, many areas of my work life cross over with the American Red Cross. I have found that there is a place for everyone here, ranging from doing office work to responding to a home fire.” The main thing she noted is a desire to help others.