Pillowcase Project Prepares Kids for Any Disaster

Pillowcase Project Prepares Kids for Any Disaster
The Pillowcase Project encourages youth to become advocates for emergency preparedness

The American Red Cross NEPA Region introduces The Pillowcase Project, a nationwide pilot program with a vision of teaching kids to be prepared for any disaster and to teach empowerment through a series of age-appropriate activities. The Pillowcase Project originated in the American Red Cross's Southeast Louisiana Chapter in New Orleans as a response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Students of Loyola University utilized pillowcases to carry their belongings during emergency evacuations. The event inspired the Red Cross team to collaborate with an art therapist to develop a program in which children affected by the Katrina disaster decorated pillowcases to hold their valuables in order to mentally and physically prepare for future emergencies. The program later evolved into a preparedness education program for elementary school students, introducing meteorological and geological hazard concepts, emergency safety approaches, and coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety during emergency situations.

Early in 2013, Disney became a sponsor of The Pillowcase Project, enabling the program to build on its success and expand and permeate throughout the Red Cross chapters across the United States, as well as on an international level.

The vision of The Pillowcase Project aims to create a generation of children dedicated to understanding the science behind hazards, committed to practicing emergency preparedness, and motivated to share safety related lessons with family and friends to ensure a prepared community.

Children are provided with pillowcases in which to decorate the exterior with pictures and words of item reminders that they both would need in an emergency and want while away from home. The pillowcases also allow children to physically place their valuables inside to act as an emergency kit.

Students in third to fifth grade in both traditional school classrooms and after-school programs remain the primary target of the program due to the age group's excitement for learning and strong willingness to communicate and share messages to loved ones, promoting preparedness within families and other networks.

The Pillowcase Project provides the opportunity for children and their families and friends to build hazard-specific prevention, awareness, and preparedness skills, increase coping skills to manage emergencies, raise household prevention levels, and formally implement preparedness education into the elementary school curriculum. It meets many performance expectations for the Common Core Math and Language Arts Standards and Next Generation Science Standards for grades 3-5.

Encouraging youth to become advocates for emergency preparedness and coping skills through the program enhances awareness of the issue, increases confidence in emergency situations, and strengthens a sense of community.

At the heart of the framework of The Pillowcase Project, lies the "Learn, Practice, Share" structure of the program. It provides youth with a simple approach to learn how a specific emergency occurs and the best ways to stay safe, while also incorporating practice of what to do during the emergency, and sharing the learned behavior and knowledge to loved ones in the child's household and community.

The Red Cross team utilizes two approaches to handle stress and anxiety in emergencies of all kinds: "Breathing with Color" and "Symbol of Strength." By providing youth with more than one tactic, it allows them to determine which works best for them individually.

The Pillowcase Program additionally focuses on home fire preparedness by stressing the importance of concepts such as smoke alarms, fire escape plans, fire drills, crawling to safety, and evacuating quickly. Fires remain one of the most common disasters throughout the United States.

Through the program's geographically customizable capability, regions have the ability to select hazards specific to the area to educate students. Examples include earthquakes, floods, home fires, hurricanes, thunderstorms, tornadoes, tsunamis, wildfires, winter storms, and volcanoes.

For further information on The Pillowcase Project in the NEPA Region, please contact Gail Toscano, Direct Services Support Manager, at (570) 476-3896 or email Gail.toscano@redcross.org. In addition, The American Red Cross welcomes volunteers interested in participating in The Pillowcase Project as project presenters and other positions. To get involved, please contact your local Red Cross chapter or visit redcross.org and search Volunteer Opportunities. Those interested may also directly contact Volunteer Services Manager, Susan Kahlkhuis-Beam, at (484) 403-4718 or email volunteerservices.NEPA@redcross.org.