The American Red Cross uses Potomac Falls High School’s blood drive as a model for other high schools.
“This school produces and showcases 200 to 250 donations, which is remarkable for a high school,” said Shaun Adamec, marketing and communications manager for the American Red Cross, Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region. “The goal is usually in the 40 to 50 range.”
The school, honored two weeks ago as “High School Blood Drive of the Year,” will serve as a model for Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and southeastern Pennsylvania, he said.
Potomac Falls has a “winning formula,” with a base of committed students who produce a video of a person in the community who needs blood transfusions and shares it with their peers, he said.
Jim Crisman, government teacher and main sponsor of the Youth and Government Club, said students conducted a blood drive last year for a woman who had to have her blood replaced completely. “We did a video of her, talked to her and played it for the students,” he said.
The video gives a face to those who benefit from the donations. “Before, they had absolutely no idea who this was going to and what this person’s needs were,” Crisman said. “There are people out there every single day who depend on the blood the students are giving.”
The woman in the video was suffering from cancer. “She talked about her situation and the importance of giving blood,” he said. “Then we brought her back, and she thanked the students.”
Crisman said the American Red Cross no longer allows people to give blood specifically for any one person, but donors are permitted to give blood in someone’s name.
TWO YEARS AGO, the students donated their blood in the name of a elementary school girl whose sister attended Potomac Falls. In addition to the video, the students placed a picture of her at the blood drive, he said. “Hopefully, there was a little more motivation. It makes it more personal.”
He said the Youth and Government Club started its blood drive six years ago, a year after the school opened. “The name is a little misleading, because it’s a public service organization,” he said Friday. “We do a lot of different things.”
The club conducts a voter pledge drive at the Homecoming football game, a letter and card writing project for hospitalized veterans, and a Potomac River clean up.
The blood drive, however, is the club’s biggest project of the year. “It is mind boggling when you can save a life,” Crisman said. “You can make a difference.”
Crisman and Ed Brosh, another club sponsor and a history teacher, go into the junior and senior social studies classes and detail the age and weight requirements. They also explain that students cannot give blood if they recently have gotten tattoos.
Ashley Crisman, committee president and Jim Crisman’s daughter, grinned when she said she is only five feet tall and does not weigh the required minimum of 110 pounds. Despite her inability to donate blood, she remains an advocate of the cause and has served on the committee since she was a freshman. “It’s kind of important to be involved with your community,” she said. “I have … a lot of family who have needed surgeries, and they would have died without the blood.”
One thought comes to mind each time she sees the line of donors, she said. “It shows how much they care and they want to help.”
THE CLUB SETS UP the blood drive so students can enter their first, second and third choices regarding the time of day they want to give blood. “We schedule 11 or 12 people every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 3:30 in the afternoon,” Jim Crisman said. “We plug everyone’s name in at particular time, write out passes and give one to each individual to get out of class.”
A few students try to use the blood drive as an opportunity to skip class. “Most of the students are pretty good, though They know they are here for a good purpose and reason,” Jim Crisman said. “There are a few who try to take advantage of the situation. We always have no shows. We compare their names with absentee the list. We run a pretty tight ship.”
Club members solicit area businesses for food and beverage donations. For example, Dominos donates pizza, Costco provides drinks, Subway provides subs, the Corner Bakery and Duncan Donuts donate breakfast pastries and donuts. “For high school students, it’s a big deal. They want to get out of class and eat pizza,” Crisman said.
There is, however, a practical side to all of this, he said. “You just lost a pint of blood. You might feel a little queasy. It’s good to get food.
“For a lot of these students, the alarm goes off, they roll out of bed and they come to school without eating breakfast.”
Aside from getting a free snack, students are encouraged to give, because three lives are saved for every unit of blood donated, he said.
Students can donate blood as early as 17 years old if they have written parental permission. Jim Crisman said the Youth and Government Club schedules the blood drive late in the school year to recruit as many students who are turning 17 and 18 as possible. He estimated 95 percent of the donors are students; the rest are parents, teachers and members of the community. More teachers would participate if they had the time, he said. “It’s really hard. I’m running from the time I come in until I leave,” he said, empathizing with his peers’ predicament.
Adults donors are given special treatment at the blood drive. “Any adult who comes in, … They do the paper work. They have their blood tested, and then they go to the front of the line,” he said.
THE POPULARITY of the Youth and Government Club more than doubled this fall. Last year, it had 25 to 30 students; this year it has nearly 70, Crisman said. “It is great, but it’s almost too many. With the projects we do, the blood drive is the biggest project. Last year, we had two shifts, one group in the morning and one in the afternoon.”
A lot of students are needed to run the blood drive, he added. “We have to come in at 5:30 in the morning. We’re setting up tables and chairs, unloading the truck to get ready by 8 o’clock,” he said.
Nicole Lazaris, a senior and club member, said she encourages all of her friends and their parents to give blood. “There are a lot of people who need it,” she said. “If you can help, that’s good. That could be you one day.”
Marilyn Coover, another senior and club member, said many students would not think about giving blood or know where to do it if it were not for the school’s blood drive. “It’s a great contribution,” she said. “It’s saving lives.”
Brosh said high school is a great time to start the habit of donating blood. “The blood drive represents an opportunity for the students to connect with their community,” he said. “Kids can see they can make a difference.”