JEFFERSON — Jefferson Area High School saved 180 lives on Nov. 1 by participating in the American Red Cross blood drive. Peggy Savarese, Jefferson’s school nurse, was in charge of the blood drive from 1991-2010. The American Red Cross efforts have not changed much but the students’ and staff’s outlook on it has.
“It has been a lot easier recruiting kids to sign up, and getting teachers to allow students out of class to donate,” said Savarese. “Also the scholarship that is offered to students has inspired more students to not only give blood, but to volunteer working the blood drive.”
The new school has made the blood drive less complicated. “The blood drive was initially always in the gym, creating an inconvenience to gym classes. Having a bigger school with more rooms, allowed it to become easier on the gym teachers,” Savarese said. “We’ve also increased our drives; we now have two drives per year instead of the one drive we once had which was in the winter and often canceled due to bad weather.”
Hosting a blood drive takes preparation and good advertisement. Tayler Johnston, a junior at JAHS, took part in the process. “We start preparing two weeks ahead of time. We have to recruit people to sign up in all of the time slots, and advertise by hanging up posters around the school,” said Johnston.
Many students are returning donors, but to those who are not it may seem intimidating.
Denise DiDonato, an American Red Cross representative, visited Jefferson prior to the event to educate students on the preparation needed before and during their donation. Education is a critical piece to the success of a blood drive.
“I am incredibly thankful that the administration allows me in ahead of time to speak to the students so they understand the need for blood, the blood donation process and what the ‘rules’ of donation are,” said DiDonato.
DiDonato explained that Jefferson students are very well mannered and respectful toward her and the staff.
“I am fortunate that I run blood drives in schools where, for the most part, the students are very respectful to our staff and do not try to get away with anything when there isn’t an adult school representative at the drive,” said DiDonato.
She said the most exciting part of high school blood drives is watching so many people donate for the first time, watching the friendships and the kids supporting each other as they all go through the very same thing together- saving lives for the first time.
The day of the event, 60 students anxiously awaited their turns to donate blood. Jefferson’s blood drive was set up differently than all other schools in the county. The choir director, Casey Tomlinson, graciously provided her classroom for the use of the drive. The American Red Cross staff was partially set up in the choir room and the remaining staff was set up on a bus just a short walking distance from the nearest exit. The question and testing area, which determined if students were eligible to donate, was located in the classroom. Once each student passed, a student volunteer escorted him or her out to the bus where they were prepared by the nursing staff to donate. After the process was complete, they were escorted back into the choir room to sit in the “canteen” area to drink juice or water and eat snacks provided by the American Red Cross.
The true challenge in donating blood, especially for first time donors, was the anticipation.
Hanna Punkar, a senior at JAHS and first time donor, said, “Prior to donating I was really nervous because it was the first time I had donated.”
Tyler Gancos, a fellow classmate of Punkar’s agreed. “I must admit, I was really nervous about the needle,” he said. Despite their nerves, both Punkar and Gancos agreed that they felt accomplished afterwards, and that overall donating blood was a very positive experience.
“I love how the American Red Cross goes out of their way to find as many people as they can that are willing to donate,” said Gancos.
“There’s always a blood shortage, and with students working and involved in sports it’s often hard to donate blood at a different drive,” Savarese said. “With the American Red Cross coming to the students it gives them a better opportunity to save three lives.”
DiDonato is passionate about her work and looks at every day as a new day to make a difference.
“I know that with every blood drive I have, with every pint that is collected, I have helped people celebrate another birthday, anniversary, marriage, birth of a child, and a few extra years to be with the ones they love,” she said. Jefferson has been able to be a part of this movement and has made an impact on many individuals.