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From Diapers to Donors: Cultivating America’s Next Generation of Donors

Among "ooohs" and "aaahs," a batch of tiny, red Play-Doh “dots” is passed around to elementary school students. These learning aids give young donors a sense of what a blood cell is. It’s the “touch and feel” part of the “Be a Hero” program led by United Blood Services of Louisiana in collaboration with the state’s school system.

The program has been around for at least a decade and teaches students the basics of blood donation, while at the same time cultivating future donors. It is held in elementary and middle schools as well as with Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops and youth groups.

The educational materials, developed by the Blood Systems Foundation and the Alberta B. Farrington Foundation, introduce students to cool blood drop “Ubie” through classroom materials. Ubie, who sometimes shows up in person during presentations as a mascot, guides students through the basics of blood.

“Be a Hero” breaks things down things to a basic level. Elementary school students are taught the function of red cells and how they are used to save lives, they learn about platelets and plasma, and they are familiarized with the donation process.

They also learn about unconventional heroes. “We ask them to identify the heroes they recognize. The typical names we get are Superman and Batman,” said Landers, director of donor recruitment at United Blood Services of Louisiana. “But then we ask, ‘What if we told you that someone you know could be a hero?’”

Landers introduces the concept that anyone who can save a life can be a hero, including the children’s parents, by making a blood donation to someone in need. “Their part in being a hero is encouraging those in the community to become blood donors,” she said. Although the program primarily targets parents, anyone over age 16 — siblings, aunts, uncles and other family members — can donate as part of this initiative.

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