Building a teenage readiness club in Monson, Mass.

Posted by: Rachel Little, FEMA Youth Preparedness Council Member, Region 1

Monson, Mass., July 7, 2011 -- The debris that was left behind by the June 1 tornado that hit the town of Monson and western Massachusetts. Alberto Pillot/FEMA

My name is Rachel Little and I am a junior attending Monson High School.  I have lived in Monson, Massachusetts, my whole life, and couldn’t have grown up in a better place.  My town is full of strong- willed, determined people, always willing to lend a helping hand.

When a tornado struck our town on June 1st, 2011, it brought our small community even closer together.  Everyone was reaching out to give support, from supplying food or water, to giving neighbors hope for a better tomorrow.  It was a very moving event to watch.  Even though I was not directly affected by the tornado, I had people very near and dear to me in the path of the tornado.  I wanted to help out in whatever way I could, because I saw how much the people of Monson were suffering.  I couldn’t stand by and watch — I had to take action. 

Therefore, I joined the Monson volunteer efforts and eventually became a member of The Street Angels.  The Street Angels is a dedicated volunteer group that brought supplies to families in need after the tornado,  and helped families make connections with landscapers and builders. My fellow Street Angels helped me fill out an application to become part of FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council, and I am now going into my second year of being a proud member.  To me, the Youth Preparedness Council is the beginning of people realizing that youth can make a difference in emergency preparedness and response — not just myself and the wonderful people of this council, but the world’s youth.   My fellow members and I are just the beginning of that change.

My plan for 2013 is to collaborate with the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), to start a teen readiness club in my town.  I know a lot of people my age wanted to get involved after the 2011 Monson tornado, but they didn’t know how.  If either a Jr. MRC or a Teen CERT had already been in play before the tornado, Monson would have seen a significantly higher amount of youth action.   Being a member of the Youth Preparedness Council, my mission is to increase the amount of prepared youth and families in my region.

I’ve also been trying to share emergency preparedness at my school.  I’ve hit significant road blocks during previous attempts at getting a teen readiness club up and running for Monson High School.  After last year’s Youth Preparedness Council summit in Washington DC, I had my heart set on starting a Teen CERT. The idea of getting my friends and classmates interested in preparedness and prepared for disasters was exciting.  I asked around to see if I could get a trainer to help me get the team started.  I found a man in my neighboring community who seemed very willing to help me out, but unfortunately, that fell through.

I turned to my Local Emergency Preparedness Committee, which was formed after the tornado.  Although I made a presentation to them and they liked my ideas, we weren’t able to get the plans off the ground.  I did meet a woman in the Local Emergency Preparedness Committee meetings who happened to be the head of the MRC in my town, and she introduced me to Jr. MRC.   We’re still hoping to get the Jr. MRC started, and it’s a current work in progress.  I anticipate that the challenges for this year will again be finding someone to teach the course or help me with the establishment of the club.  I have a backup plan, so that if things fall through, I will take the Teen CERT “train the trainer” course so I can teach a class myself.

As a result of starting Teen CERT or Jr. MRC in Monson, I want to see this little community become prepared for future emergencies.  I hope never to see another disaster to the extent of the tornado ever again, but it’s better safe than sorry.  I will know I’ve met success when I have a fully functioning teen readiness club in Monson High School.  From there, I can only hope to expand my efforts to other communities and beyond.

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