“The easiest way to become a hero is to donate blood,” Rebekah Miller, a fifth grader at Holliman Elementary School, said Monday morning during a presentation by the Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC). “Three lives can be saved from just one pint. My dad donates blood, so to me, he’s a superhero. I bet anyone who donates blood thinks of themselves as a hero. Why can’t you?”
Miller, along with five other fifth graders, were winners in a persuasive writing contest in which students wrote articles to encourage their family and friends, as well as members of the community, to donate blood.
Their writings were entered into a competition through the RIBC, with Holliman teachers serving as judges. Each of the six students earned certificates from the RIBC for their efforts.
“You don’t have to be a doctor to save lives,” said writing champion Hailey Alteri. “People have lost a family member or friend because they need more blood in their body. You can change that. On my 16th birthday, I might donate if I weigh enough.”
Another writing winner, Benjamin McQuade, feels the same.
“There are many kinds of heroes out there [and] one of them is what I call a lifesaver,” he said. “They give blood to people in need. Two of them happen to be my dad and uncle. They donate blood every time they can. When I get old enough, I’ll become a lifesaver with all the others.”
Ashley Kinsley’s article was also selected as one of the top six. She noted that while it’s important for students to participate in Pennies for Patients, a fundraiser that generates money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, it’s equally as imperative for adults to donate blood.
“If children can donate money, why can’t adults donate blood?” she said. “The best part is [that] it doesn’t take much.”
Jordan Clark, another winner, agreed.
“It’s not that hard to donate,” he said. “It takes a quick 45 minutes. You fill out forms for 10 minutes, take 15 to donate and relax for 20 minutes.”
For winner Julian Rodas, the assignment hit closer to home, as he deals with a heart condition and has received blood transfusions in the past.
“A couple years ago, I got really sick [and] I was in the hospital for a long time,” said Rodas. “If I was your child, wouldn’t you want me to live? If you needed blood, wouldn’t you want people to donate?”
Josh Toso, account manager for RIBC, led yesterday’s presentation and showed students samples of the three components of blood, red blood cells, plasma and platelets. He explained that cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy need red blood cells, plasma is often needed to treat burn victims and platelets are crucial for hemophiliacs and trauma patients.
Toso also told students that it’s vital for people to make blood donations, as less than 40 percent of the American population are eligible to donate. Donors must be 16 years old, have parental permission and weigh at least 130 pounds, or be 17 years old at 110 pounds. It is recommended that donors wait eight weeks between donations.
Further, the Blood Center needs 280 to 300 pints of blood each day to assist those in need. That means at least 17,000 individuals are needed to donate every two months.
Along with the event, the children will be hosting a blood drive next Monday from 2 to 6 p.m. to solicit donations. It will take place in the school’s all-purpose room at 70 Deborah Road.
To prepare for the drive, as well as the contest, former Holliman teacher Jeanne Petit, who worked part-time at the RIBC during her college days, visited the three fifth grade classes last month.
Petit assisted fifth grade teachers, including Beth-Anne Rafanelli, Sonya Yazidjan and Susan Warrener, as well as special education teacher Barbara Blackledge, to educate the children about blood and the importance of encouraging others to donate.
Rafanelli said the lesson helped them learn more about blood, while the contest improved their writing skills. Moreover, she feels the experience taught them to be problem solvers who are lending the community a helping hand.
“They are trying to figure out ways to get people to donate,” she said. “They say, ‘If my mom can’t donate, maybe my neighbor can.’”
Rafanelli, along with Petit, began including the blood drive as part of their lessons more than eight years ago at Rhodes Elementary School, which has since closed. According to Petit, more and more Pilgrim High School students are donating, which she feels is a result of their lessons, as many Holliman and Rhodes students went on to attend Pilgrim.
Since its inception, Petit said the two schools have donated more than 320 pints of blood, or 960 people.
“It’s been very successful over the years,” said Holliman Principal John Vuono.
Petit will also be visiting Warwick Neck School soon, as they are preparing for a blood drive June 7.
Rhode Island Blood Centers are located in Warwick, Middletown, Providence, Narragansett and Woonsocket. For more information, call the RIBC at 453-8385 or visit ribc.org.