Georgia 4-H offers teens way to help during natural disasters

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The national My Preparedness Initiative (My PI) program provides students with extensive training to be better equipped in case of emergencies. In Georgia, the My PI program was funded by 4-H and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Training young people with My PI helps an entire community because they go out and work with other families to get them prepared for disaster situations. It’s like a ripple effect,” said Jazmin Thomas, Dougherty County University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H agent and certified My PI Georgia instructor.

Dougherty, Bryan, Gordon, Haralson, Jackson, Morgan, Turner and Wilcox counties offered the program.

Georgia is no stranger to national disasters. Hurricane Michael hit the state hard in October 2018, Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, and hurricanes Matthew and Hermine were felt in 2016. A series of tornadoes also damaged south Georgia pecan production in 2017.

To graduate from the program, students must complete three steps: (1) complete FEMA-certified Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training; (2) gain CPR and automatic external defribrillator certification and learn about specialized technology and career tracks; and (3) complete Prep+6, which requires students to work with their families and six other households to compile supply kits and create emergency plans.

By participating in the Prep+6 part of the program, students could also serve as a resource for first responders in a time of disaster, according to Thomas.

“There may be a situation where there is a power line down and first responders can’t get to a community,” she said. “This would allow kids to help their neighbors until professionals arrive.”

Keri Hobbs, UGA Extension and 4-H specialist and My PI Georgia coordinator, says offering this training in different regions throughout Georgia allows students to be resources across the state.

“The My PI Georgia instructor teams and youth cohorts are distributed in order to serve as pockets throughout the state to offer a network of support in a time of need,” Hobbs said.

This strategy of distribution is also implemented at the national level. Since the states that offer a My PI program are widespread, it allows those resources to be scattered across the country.

Georgia’s program is slightly different from other participating states in that community volunteers help county Extension agents lead the trainings. This enables the program to reach more youth with emergency preparedness training and to form stronger community instructor teams, Hobbs said.

“We decided to team up our instructors with a volunteer so hopefully that community member could leverage even more people and resources that they have in their network,” she said.

My PI Georgia instructor and Gordon County 4-H Agent Allie Griner feels better prepared to be the first county to offer the program because of the program’s community volunteer, fire chief Doug Ralston, who brought access to additional professional expertise, facilities and contacts to the program.

“Because we had that partnership with the fire chief, it was easier to get off the ground,” Griner said. “It was exciting to be the first county to pioneer this program in Georgia, especially since emergency preparedness is so important.”

Georgia’s My PI program was recognized as the national winner of  the Citizenship for Youth Development award from the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents. Georgia 4-H plans to continue offering the program in the future with a goal of graduating 125 students from the program this year.

“I think you will see a lot more from Georgia My PI instructor trainings once we get more funding, and we hope we can offer another one in coming years,” said Hobbs.

For more information about the My PI program and to read testimonials from teens who have completed the training, visit www.mypigeorgia.org. Follow them on Facebook at My PI Georgia.

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