A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
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Youth Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic

March 2021

From distributing masks to hosting webinars on vaccinations, teens in Youth Preparedness Councils across the country are stepping up to help their communities during the pandemic.

In January, Yusuf, founder of the Youth Emergency Preparedness Council for teens in his northern California city, hosted a webinar to help dispel myths about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“When I first heard about the vaccines being developed,” he remembers, “I thought the nation will be set. But I heard people repeating rumors like that the government is going to spy on us with the vaccine. I thought, ‘Wait, all this work scientists have put in is going to go to waste if people don’t take it. We literally have the solution in front of us. We just need to have people understand why to take it.’”

Yusuf, a high school senior, set up a webinar attended by both students and adults. Presenters in the webinar included two doctors and representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the county Department of Public Health. The webinar covered the science behind the vaccine, the vaccine’s rollout, and potential side effects. About 200 people participated in the live webinar, and more than 400 have since viewed it online.

Since it began, Yusuf’s Youth Preparedness Council has offered a hands-on CPR training and a Stop the Bleed class, among other in-person activities during pre-pandemic times. Yusuf also began a Teen Community Emergency Preparedness Team (Teen CERT).“Then the pandemic hit, and we had to scrap plans. We had to shift gears to focus more on community outreach,” Yusuf says.

The council then worked to raise more than $5,000 for additional beds for the local hospital. It also helped distribute 10,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to essential workers, shelters, and other community locations.

In Michigan, Region 5 Youth Preparedness Council member Janice also decided to lend a hand. As schools moved online, she created a series of virtual disaster preparedness classes for students with disabilities and other access and functional needs. The first class focused on COVID-19, including how the virus works and ways students can protect themselves.

She’s inspired by her sister, who has a “mild cognitive impairment [and is] in the cognitive impairment program at her school. I wanted to spread the message of preparedness to her classmates and teach them how to stay safe because I believe that they are also young leaders,” she says. She notes that the pandemic “led me to think of a project that would be especially memorable to me and challenge me in the current setting.”

Janice says she observed the way her sister’s teacher worked virtually with the students to find a way to engage them.

“I prepare presentations for each disaster beforehand. This includes an interactive review about the disaster that I taught them the previous week, in the form of a game. In addition, I let them choose the disaster that they would like to learn about the following week so that they can look forward to it,” the high school sophomore says.

“I specifically use pictures and basic vocabulary in my presentations and talk to them in an animated manner to help them understand better.”

In Washington state, high school senior Dania has been helping with pandemic response efforts since last March. The Region X Youth Preparedness Council member founded a nonprofit organization called Review for Relief. It provides study guides to students around the world in exchange for donations to help with people affected by COVID-19. It’s raised more than $5,600, so far.

She has also partnered with her city government and fire department to distribute kits that include four masks and a pamphlet with information on how to stay safe during the pandemic. Dania plans the locations and helps hand out the kits.

“Honestly, it’s been a mixed reaction,” she says of response to her work. “Some people will be so appreciative and quite surprised that we’re handing them out for free. Others don’t seem inclined to wear masks at all. The important thing, though, is letting people know what resources are available to them. Accessibility is crucial when it comes to [responding to] any kind of emergency.”

Disclaimer: The reader recognizes that the federal government provides links and informational data on various disaster preparedness resources and events and does not endorse any non-federal events, entities, organizations, services, or products. Please let us know about other events and services for individual and community preparedness that could be included in future newsletters by contacting FEMA-prepare@fema.dhs.gov.

This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.