We’re in the business of preparing the nation for disasters and emergencies, and it’s always a thrill to hear how our training makes a difference. That’s why, during National Preparedness Month, the American Red Cross and Disney are celebrating the significant impact of The Pillowcase Project. This disaster preparedness program for kids has reached more than 500,000 youth nationwide since 2013.
Want to hear the best news out of The Pillowcase Project? Six lives have been saved so far after kids participated in the preparedness training. SIX!
We sat down with Norma Gamero who manages The Pillowcase Project at the Red Cross National Capital Region chapter and her daughter Giselle Gamero, who is a Pillowcase Project volunteer, to learn more about the impact of the program and why it’s important to them.
Norma and Giselle, how does it feel to work together on The Pillowcase Project?
Norma: The Pillowcase Project is a great preparedness program for young children. Inviting my daughter into the program to conduct these presentations is amazing because she believes in what the Red Cross is doing, and believes The Pillowcase Project is an amazing program to help better prepare children for future emergencies.
Giselle: Growing up with my mom working for the American Red Cross, she has always taught me how to stay prepared in any situation. This is why it has been incredibly amazing to work with her as a presenter for The Pillowcase Project. I truly believe in the value of the Red Cross and now I get to teach and prepare children about future emergencies.
What kind of feedback do you receive from the children and their parents?
Norma: So often we receive nice emails back from teachers on behalf of the children and parents stating how awesome The Pillowcase Project is, and how much the children learned during the presentation.
Giselle: I always hear children talking about how excited they are to fill their pillowcase as they leave the classroom. Children are always super excited to go home and get started on their workbook and to color their pillowcase.
Do you have any stories you’d like to highlight from a recent presentation?
Norma: Yes, during a presentation in June 2016 at a school in Virginia’s Prince William County, we showed the children a smoke alarm and asked them if they knew what it was. Most of them of course knew what it was and stated it, but there was one child who didn’t know what a smoke alarm was and said: “Wow, that’s what a smoke alarm looks like?” His statement let me know we had taught that child something. I then asked him to go home and ask his parents to show him where the smoke alarms were installed in their house, and to make sure to ask them if the smoke alarms were working properly. And if not, to ask them to call the nearest Red Cross so we could come to check them, and install one if needed.
What’s the value you seen in programs like The Pillowcase Project?
Norma: There is a great value in The Pillowcase Project because it teaches children how to be better prepared for emergencies and the do’s and don’ts of a disaster. I personally think that with The Pillowcase Project kids are now better prepared than they were a few years back when programs like this one didn’t exist.
Giselle: I believe The Pillowcase Project has a huge value, because it not only teaches children how to be prepared for any type of emergency, but to practice what they have learned and to share with their friends and family. The Pillowcase Project aims to help any child, and if a live is saved because of a presentation, then our goal is met.
How does Disney’s support of The Pillowcase Project help you prepare children in your area?
Norma: Well, first I definitely want to thank Disney for providing the funding for The Pillowcase Project program because kids identify with Disney and their characters, like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, etc. This makes it much easier for us to provide the training to smaller children. The kids are concentrated receiving a pillowcase with their favorite characters and at the same time learning about how to make an emergency kit out of it. I think this is ingenious, and children are more receptive to sit in a one hour presentation.
How has this program impacted volunteers who work with the children during the presentations?
Norma: The volunteers say that presenting for children is pretty rewarding, and that preparing children on what to do and how to be better prepared for emergencies is a way to give back to the younger generation of future volunteers.
Giselle: Being a Pillowcase Project presenter has taught me a lot about my own knowledge in certain situations. Children ask the most interesting questions and just want to learn about everything, so they always keep you on your toes. Children love answering questions and to be involved, so it’s always so exciting to go into any presentation.
Do you have any tips for new Pillowcase Volunteers?
Giselle: The tip I have for volunteers is to practice because it makes going into each presentation less nerve-racking and to not forget they are presenting to children and that children are very forgiving.
In addition to The Pillowcase Project, Disney is an ongoing supporter of Red Cross youth preparedness activities. Here’s a peek at our partnership with Disney:
If you’re interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please visit Redcross.org.