Valerie Saiki’s volunteerism earns praise from Red Cross

WAILUA — Volunteer Valerie Saiki of Wailua earned the American Red Cross “Spirit of Pacific” award for her efforts to educate keiki.

Saiki helped teach more than 300 fourth- and fifth-grade students at Koloa, Hanalei and Kekaha schools about the type of natural disasters that can occur on Kauai.

“She is really good with that age group and has a passion for teaching disaster preparedness,” said Padraic Gallagher, director of disaster services for Kauai. “She really hit the ground running and jumped in with both feet by arranging sessions at the elementary schools.”

He also added that her dedication not only affected people here but throughout the entire state. Her successful work inspired communities on the other islands and pushed them to meet their national quota.

“It is important we teach about tsunamis and hurricanes to help students be prepared and know what to expect through historic events,” Saiki said. “They learn to help their family with basic fire safety and evacuation skills including planning escape routes and meeting places. We explain to youth that disasters can be scary and help them cope through breathing exercises that calm them down.”

Saiki also provided keiki with presentations for the Disney-sponsored Pillowcase Project, an interactive program that aims to increase awareness and understanding of natural hazards by teaching safety and preparedness. She believes the Disney characters are a great motivation to attract the children’s attention and maintain their focus.

“It’s a great program partnered with the American Red Cross,” Saiki said. “With three to four mentors keeping the student’s attention, we can better educate them.”

The Pillowcase Project teaches students best ways to stay safe and pack essential emergency supplies in their own personally decorated pillowcases. The kids color the sacks and pack in water, snacks, and pictures of loved ones. They can bring it into their homes to help with disaster preparedness.

“I like to see the eagerness in the kids’ eyes,” said Saiki. “Their motto is ‘Learn, Practice, and Share.’ They feel empowered that they can do it themselves and share it with others.”

Although she was honored to receive the “Spirit of Pacific” award, Saiki emphasized that everyone can make a difference in their community by helping youth.

The American Red Cross is seeking volunteers to help with its hurricane preparedness program and disaster services throughout Kauai.

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