One arrived prepared to give a presentation in English only to discover a room full of Spanish-speaking individuals. Another walked into the assigned location to make a visual presentation and found that the glass room had no blank walls to project onto. And yet another showed up to make an age-appropriate presentation to 3rd-5th graders and instead found a space filled with kindergarteners—none of whom had yet mastered reading well enough to understand the material.
Yet, somehow, the members of the California Safe Corps (CSC), working out of the Los Angeles Region, were able to assess their situations, come up with immediate solutions and complete their assigned tasks. Serving vulnerable communities throughout the state, CSC members working out of Red Cross chapters provide youth mentoring, disaster services, community outreach, and preparedness education to children, minorities, immigrants and underserved residents.
They are part of a nationwide program known as AmeriCorps—originally started in 1994 by President Bill Clinton to engage Americans in domestic service. AmeriCorps’ administrative body, known as the Corporation for National Community Service, channels funds to state agencies, which, in turn, allocate grants to nonprofit and faith-based organizations to host service-oriented programs to at-risk communities.
And while many other programs nationwide are also fulfilling the mission of AmeriCorps—such as Teach for America—CSC is at the forefront of disaster preparedness and education. Members are selected for their passion and commitment and serve for 10 months, receiving a stipend and a small federal education award upon completion of the program. After extensive training, they are placed in areas of volunteer, disaster cycle or preparedness services.
“I wish I had done it when I had just graduated school,” Joseph Edwards, CSC Program Manager, said, underscoring the profound benefits to participants–whether as future Red Cross employees or in whatever other fields they pursue.
The program currently has 24 members throughout California, with 11 serving in the Los Angeles Region out of West LA, Pasadena and Palmdale, representing a diverse group of college graduates. Some will be attending medical school after completing their Safe Corps posts, one served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and some even have hopes to continue their work with the American Red Cross.
Amy Lin, stationed in West Los Angeles, works in disaster cycle services and focuses primarily on implementing The Pillowcase Project—a flagship preparedness education program for elementary school children funded jointly with the Disney Corporation.
Armed with pillowcases, markers and workbooks, Lin travels to elementary schools throughout her territory, using an art activity to teach children fire safety and earthquake preparedness.
Knowing that talking about disasters can be frightening, the pilot project also engages the children in a coping exercise known as Breathing with Color—telling them to inhale while imagining their favorite color and to exhale while visualizing their least favorite color.
The aim is to help children implement preparedness skills without having to rely on others. Instilling them with the confidence and tools to handle emergency situations on their own is a crucial component of disaster preparedness. Hopefully, they will also return home to educate their families and fill their decorated pillowcases with vital disaster supplies.
The 24 CSC members have also attended community fairs, taught CPR and First Aid training classes, and engaged in Service Days per requirement of AmeriCorps headquarters. Some were even deployed to assist victims and survivors of the recent bus crash in Orlando, CA, and all have responded to varying disasters throughout their tenure.
“When I first got this job, I had no idea what lay ahead of me,” CSC member Jacqueline Orrellana said. After months of working as a youth coordinator, teaching teenagers CPR, organizing puppet shows and coordinating other preparedness events, she is grateful for the experience. “I’ve definitely grown as an individual, both professionally and conscientiously.”