Habersham County Firefighter/EMT Jeff Parker (back, far right) and Red Cross volunteers Ron Laughton, Mary Jane Phillips, Judy Royal, and Dennis Edmiston present The Pillowcase Project to students at Woodville Elementary School.
Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast nearly thirteen years ago but it’s impact is still being felt, even here in Habersham. Local Red Cross volunteers and Habersham County Fire Department Safety Educator Jeff Parker recently launched The Pillowcase Project at Woodville Elementary School. This emergency preparedness program was developed by the American Red Cross for 3rd-5th graders. The program originated in New Orleans. It was inspired by university students who carried their belongings with them in pillowcases during Hurricane Katrina evacuations.
“In this class, students receive a pillowcase to decorate and use as a personal emergency supplies kit. They practice what to do if a disaster occurs and how to cope with related fear and stress,” explains Executive Director of the Northeast Georgia Chapter of the American Red Cross Laura Allen. She says students then share the information and skills they learn with their family and friends “so everyone in the household knows what to do.”
There’s even an online game based on The Pillowcase Project curriculum. Monster Guard: Prepare for Emergencies is the first mobile app created by the Red Cross that’s designed specifically for kids.
Preparing for the unknown
The Pillowcase Project reached over 445,000 youth during a three-year pilot between 2013 and 2015, according to Allen. Disney funded the pilot program. Trained Red Cross staff and volunteers now present The Pillowcase Project in communities nationwide. Parker was instrumental in getting the curriculum into the local public school system.
“I hope they take the initiative and prepare for the unknown.”
“As educator with Emergency Services I wanted the opportunity to get involved with young children of the county and help educate on emergency preparations,” he says. “The more we teach our children, the better they will be prepared if they ever find themselves in an emergency situation.”
Emergency preparedness doesn’t stop with natural disasters. “We also talk with students about having working smoke alarms,” Parker adds.
Recent statistics released by the State Safety Fire Commissioner show most fatal fires occur in homes without working smoke alarms. Parker has made it his stated mission to make sure “we have working smoke alarms in every residence in Habersham County.” He encourages students and families living in homes without working smoke alarms to call (706) 839-0575 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org. “We can make arrangements to come look and possibly install free alarms if they qualify.”
When asked what he hopes students and their families will get out of the Pillowcase Project, Parker says, “I hope they take the initiative and prepare for the unknown.” He adds, “If we can teach (and) reach one child and they take anything from this program, it would be a success.”
To request a Pillowcase Project presentation or to volunteer, contact the local Red Cross office at 770-532-8453.