Let’s Welcome Pedro the Penguin to the Red Cross

By Gordon Williams

Pedro the Penguin, as seen on Ready.gov

There’s a new face at the American Red Cross Northwest Region, and you will be seeing a lot of him in the years to come. His name is Pedro, and Regional Preparedness Specialist Hannah Knowles explains that he was brought aboard to close a gap in the highly-popular Red Cross Pillowcase Project.

Pedro is a penguin — not a real one, of course, but an interactive preparedness education program called Prepare with Pedro. It is meant to complement the Pillowcase Project. Hannah explains that where Pillowcase targets kids in grades three through five, Pedro is aimed at kindergarten through second grade.

Pedro launched in 2019 as a pilot program. “Our goal for the pilot was to reach 200 kids in fiscal 2020,” Hannah says. Fiscal Year 2020 for the Red Cross ends on June 30. When we talked with Hannah recently, 140 youngsters had already seen Pedro. “We will reach our goal of 200 kids by next month,” Hannah says. Pedro will become an established program in fiscal 2021, starting July 1. Pillowcase was seen by 1300 youngsters in the most recent year. The expectation is that Pedro will do as well in 2021.

Hannah explains that the Pillowcase Project began in Louisiana in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Red Cross workers in Southeast Louisiana learned that youngsters driven from their homes by the storm had carried their belongings in pillowcases. That led the Red Cross to develop a preparedness education program in which elementary school students would learn about hazards and how to prepare ahead of time to cope with them.

As part of the presentation, kids talk about the items they might load in their pillowcases to be used in an emergency. The students can personalize the pillowcases and take them home when the presentation is over.

The Pillowcase idea quickly took hold at Red Cross chapters all over the country. It officially came to the Northwest Region in 2014, and has been a popular program ever since, “The kids love it,” Hannah says. In fact, more than one million school kids nationwide have received pillowcase disaster training from the Red Cross. Trained Red Cross presenters teach the children vital lessons about preparing for an emergency. The children can take home a workbook, the pillowcase and a fabric marker for decorating the pillowcase.

The one obvious gap in the program is that it only covered kids in grades three through five. It did not cover the very young, who were perhaps even more in need of preparedness education than their older school mates. It was to close that gap that Pedro was born. ‘Having a program tailored to the K-2 age group is awesome,” Hannah says. “The younger kids are as receptive to Pedro as the older ones are to Pillowcase.”

Pedro is presented as a story book. Kids listen to the story, ask questions and then get to take the storybook home. In its pilot form, Pedro concentrates on the dangers of home fires. As it becomes a permanent part of the Red Cross preparedness arsenal, it will be broadened to include more of the dangers that children in the Northwest Region might experience. The Region includes most of Washington plus northern Idaho.

Pillowcase, by the way, stresses home fires in presentations in Eastern Washington, and earthquakes in presentations in the Western part of the state.

Hannah Knowles, animal lover and Youth Preparedness specialist at the Red Cross

Hannah Knowles has had ample opportunity to see how kids react to both Pillowcase and Pedro. She reckons that she has personally taken part in more than 100 presentations. Born and educated in Virginia, she came to the Northwest Region Red Cross in 2015 as part of the government’s AmeriCorps program. That is the program that places young adults with public service programs, such as the Red Cross.

“I wanted to live in Washington State and I wanted to work for the Red Cross,” she says. She became a salaried Red Cross worker three-and-a-half years ago.

The Northwest Region is seeking volunteers to present Prepare with Pedro to school audiences in the area. You can start by becoming a Red Cross volunteer. For more about training sessions, or to bring Pedro to a school near you, contact Hannah Knowles directly at NW.Preparedness@RedCross.org.

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