EHS drive volunteers Hailey Peters, Kristine Neal, Taylor Berry and Kelsey Swartz.

Opportunity knocks loudly twice a year at Edgewood High School in Trenton, OH. EHS hosts two Community Blood Center (CBC) blood drives each year and when February 3, 2012 rolled around 151 students seized the opportunity to save lives. But members of a select group were not only motivated to do more, they want to be in the driver’s seat.

For the students in Jennifer Chilman’s marketing class blood drives are both an opportunity to give back and a golden opportunity to build. The students plan and build the blood drive itself, leaning how to lay all the basic bricks, then brainstorming new ideas and approaches. Along the way they add bullet points to their college resumes and a take steps up the career ladder; the multiple deadlines sharpens their respect for responsibility and accountability; and by meeting the challenge they build character.

“No matter where you go, you can use marketing skills,” explains senior Hailey Peters from her post behind the check-in desk at the entrance to the gym on the day of the blood drive. Multi-tasking is not a problem for Hailey as she efficiently asks arriving students for their required ID, cross checks the registration sheet and questions her co-workers about gaps in the appointment schedule.

“It’s a learning experience,” says Hailey. “I love this! It’s a lot of fun for me. Helping save lives is very rewarding. At first it’s kind of stressful because you have to pull it all together, but Mrs. Chilman helps us with that.”

At a nearby station Jennifer Chilman is working with another team of marketing students whose job is to solve problems. Alicia Brown does not have a photo ID with proof of age. At many high school drives she would be turned away immediately. But Jennifer, who is also chairwoman of the EHS blood drive, will take extra steps to help the drive meet its goal.

With a couple of swipes across her iPad Jennifer enters the EHS student data base (she is allowed access from the device for the day of the drive). Alicia’s smiling face pops up on the screen and she is cleared to donate. “That helps us so we don’t have as many deferrals,” Jennifer explains with satisfaction.

Like a master chef surrounded by young culinary students, Jennifer preaches that success – and avoiding stress – is all about the preparation. “From my end, it’s helping students keep aware of the timeline,” she says, “Because for example, if they have to do a food donation request they can’t wait until the last two weeks to do it.”

Her Donor Café committee has learned that Panera Bread will donate bagels – if you make the request two months in advance. They also learn that planning goes hand in hand with perseverance. “Go to the Kroger and the manager might not be there to speak to you,” Chilman said. “You have to follow up and be aware of the timeline.”

Judging by the EHS Donor Café the students followed up well. The table is teeming with fresh-baked donuts, muffins, fresh fruit and, of course, plenty of cookies. Juniors Taylor Berry and Austin Farler are serving the donors as they arrive for replenishment.

“I thought it would be more hectic,” says Austin as he helps Taylor pour pretzels and animal crackers into plastic cups. Underclassmen usually play support roles, assisting the seniors and learning the ropes before taking on full responsibilities their senior year.

“I really like it,” Taylor says about the marketing class, which also gives the students the options of working in the “Cougar Corner” campus store or helping produce the annual talent show. “I like to do stuff, be really active and help out. I wanted to be a part of that.”

The challenge for each new marketing class is incorporting the secrets of success from past blood drives, while discovering new ways to be creative and add their own unique stamp on the blood drive they produce.

That means a lot of meetings to target sponsors and funding sources. When it comes to planning the menu for the Donor Cafe, Hailey Peters says a good guideline is to judge by “what donors like and what makes them feel better.”

Whether the snacks and drinks are supplied by CBC, volunteers or sponsors, every drive must have some type of Donor Café. And everyone who registers to donate at a CBC high school drive this spring will get the “I Gave, I Saved, I Touched a Life” t-shirt. But it’s the many extras the marketing class comes up with that gives Edgewood its unique “edge” over other high school drives.

Senior Kyle Spampinato writes a personal appointment “reminder letter” (“Make sure you eat breakfast and have a photo ID,” he recites) and distributes them the day before the drive. He also gets gift card contributions for door prizes and announces the winners over the school PA.

“I got the music ready,” says senior Seth Swartz, who is in charge of the sound system. He chose the basketball warm-up CD and added some rap and rock.

Juniors Kristine Neal and Matt Kennedy work a station stacked with cut-out blood drops made from red construction paper. They write each donor’s name on a droplet and post it prominently on a long “Hallway of Fame” for everyone to see.

And there is a particular creative challenge that really sets Edgewood apart. The class designs and produces its own blood-drive t-shirt, worn proudly by all the volunteers. A photo of EHS seniors wearing the 2011 superman-style “Save a Life” t-shirt now has a prominent place in the CBC Lead the Way Scholarship Program application. This year’s design is all new.

“We make our shirt and they are different every year,” says Hailey. “We talk it over at our meetings, and one senior usually comes up with the design.” This year’s t-shirt is black with the slogan “Every Drop Counts” in blue letters with a red blood drop. All these details go into a portfolio presented to Jennifer Chilman after the blood drive for a final grade.

But amid all the planning and execution, the students never lose sight of the purpose of their marketing endeavor: to encourage the gift of life. That’s why junior Maura Hackney takes time out from her volunteer work to donate blood.

“I like organizing and creating ideas, like the blood drop leaflet,” says Maura. “It’s fun and it gives you more freedom to have more responsibilities and organize something that is successful.”

Blood recipients are grateful for the talent and energy of the Edgewood students, and so is CBC West Chester Branch Rep. Marlene Bubash. She considers EHS a model program.

“When these kids take it from day one and do everything they seem to be a lot more accountable and responsible,” Marlene says. “They want to see it be successful because their names are tied to it.”

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