Working with youth and their families to become more prepared for emergencies has engaged me in something that was always so foreign. I never imagined the full impact of a house fire or a flood. Let alone a tornado, hurricane or earthquake. The neighborhoods of Chicago display the work that has begun and the vast amount of work that still remains. Each week I see American Red Cross volunteers hop into Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) and drive to the same neighborhoods where we held a fire safety fair the week before. During last winter’s blizzard, people survived but had to endure without the blankets, water and first aid kits that would have made it easier. I have never seen anyone receive a citation for lack of emergency preparedness, but my hope is that we shift the norm by preparing our youth to lessen the impact of future disasters.
Every year the disasters we see are different but the educational programming we provide in schools, home, and churches is constant. The American Red Cross in partnership with the Serve Illinois Commission supports AmeriCorps members in their work to educate thousands of pre-kindergarten through 12th graders how to make a life-changing difference in an emergency. To date our youth preparedness program has engaged over 400 AmeriCorps members and triple that in volunteers. I talk about creating a culture of preparedness; I see it in the AmeriCorps serving, and those that have served, and I see it daily in the kids learning from them.
Each lesson is designed to complement and build upon previous interventions. Kid Safety Programs emphasize youth preparedness and solicit participation from entire families in mitigation and prevention programs. We are in people’s homes performing home hazard hunts, walking through neighborhood talking about fire safety and helping parents recognize emergencies. Our youth have the tools they need to prepare for disaster; it is through collaboration that we must build confidence and inspire them to prepare, prevent and respond to future emergencies. I am blessed to work with people and communities that see a critical need in developing our youth and empowering them to be leaders in disaster preparedness now and in the near future.
Martin Makowski serves as an American Red Cross Outreach Coordinator responsible for programming in 13 counties in Illinois and Northwestern Indiana. He also coordinates the AmeriCorps Safe Families program.