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Kendra TaylorA social work graduate has played a big role in helping elementary school students in her community be better prepared for disasters and emergencies.

Kendra Taylor, in collaboration with the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Red Cross, brought the Pillowcase Project to Fentress County third- to fifth-graders in two elementary schools this academic year.

“When I grew up in Fentress County, you saw everything always happening somewhere else,” she said. “I saw this awesome program and I wanted to take it home. It’s a great opportunity for children.”

Taylor graduates this week from the UT College of Social Work Master of Social Work program with a concentration in management leadership and community practice.

She noted that children are at a much higher risk of being hurt in a home fire or other disaster.

“The Pillowcase Project is a great way to bring emergency preparedness to a small area,” she said. “The children need the education, also, including knowing how to prepare for an emergency, knowing where to meet, and how to escape.”

Fentress is a rural East Tennessee county with a population of about 18,000 residents.

Taylor began interning with the Red Cross in fall 2014. Through her efforts—including cold-calling schools and, in one case, making a presentation before a superintendent and his emergency planning committee—the project is currently in place at South Fentress and York Elementary Schools. Sponsored by Disney, the program teaches youngsters about personal and family preparedness, local hazards, and basic coping skills. It also gives each child a pillowcase that acts as a hands-on teaching component and includes a checklist of needed items for families to fill, including batteries, flashlight, change of clothes, and a child’s favorite toy.

Taylor said she hopes the program expands to other elementary schools in Fentress County. Another training session will likely be offered in the next academic year.

“I would love to see this be a part of the normal curriculum in schools,” she said. “The core concept of this program is learn, practice, and share. They learn the information and practice it so it’s ingrained in them, and they share it with their family and friends.”

Taylor is already seeing proof of the program’s effectiveness.

“I talked to a parent following one of the presentations. As soon as she picked up her son, he started quizzing her about their family’s emergency plan,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The experience showed Taylor that she picked the perfect profession. She has accepted an offer to become a disaster program manager at the Red Cross following graduation.

“I love knowing that I’m part of my community being better prepared,” she said.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,