First time and youth donors play a pivotal role in helping to build and maintain a stable blood supply. In fact, those between 16 and 18 years old make up around 11% of active donors but that base is shrinking at an alarming rate. As a result, Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC) is working with high schools to try to educate young people on the importance of blood donations.
That is where Lolita Roberts comes in. She is the Department Head of Health and Physical Education at Coventry High School. She is also one of our most dedicated blood drive coordinators. Lolita recently spoke to RIBC about her ongoing education and recruitment efforts.
“My hope is through the education efforts, we teach kids about the importance of donating blood and how their time will help save lives at a young age. From there, I hope they continue this lifesaving habit after they graduate.”
For Lolita, the mission is a personal one. She is close family friends with the family of Matthew Dennison, knowing him his whole life. Matthew was just 17 when the car he and friend Kevin MacDonald was in was struck by an alleged drunk driver. Matthew was critically injured and battled for his life.
“…with the blood donations coming in at that time to help Matthew, we were lucky enough to have him for 27 days following the accident.”
Matthew would ultimately succumb to his injuries but that pushed Lolita even further in her mission to help RIBC save lives.
“Although Matthew did pass on, his story helped fuel me and his parents, Mark and Brenda Dennison, to spread the word of how important blood donors are.”
Lolita works closely with her RIBC Account Manager Heather Robenhymer to educate her students on how their donation could help patients in our community. She moved the education presentation to PE class, as that was the single class every student has to take. Lolita has seen first-hand how these presentations move students to action.
“I feel like it is such an important life lesson to learn as a young adult. Teens want to help and look forward to being of age to donate.”
Recent education efforts also involve Brenda and Mark Dennison, Matthew’s parents. Their presentation resonates with students on a personal level. That has helped the Coventry High School Blood Drives grow significantly this year.
“Since we have memorial drives in Matt’s name, we have always reached our goal of 100+ donors. Many of them first time donors.”
Lolita tells RIBC this work is rewarding. As she can see the switch in her students when they realize they can in fact have an impact in their community.
“They can help save lives at a young age.”
Lolita says that by connecting with students in sharing Matthew’s story and educating them on the process, they have become more engaged. It is something she hopes will continue even after they graduate. She also hopes Coventry High School can also be a model for other schools across Rhode Island.
“I would encourage other schools to educate students on blood donation through their physical education and health curriculum. The students really start to understand the different uses for blood and the constant need.”
Lolita has a simple message to those also considering donating.
“You can be a hero by stepping up to save 3 lives with every donation. You never know when you will need blood or someone you know may need it.”
If you would like to learn more about the donation process or how you can help visit ribc.org/donate-blood/