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Celebrating 40 years of teaching CPR

One of the many intangibles that add value to family life in Claremont is its well documented sense of community. And one of the longest running organizations in town, the Rotary Club of Claremont, has been doing a particularly good deed for City of Trees families for 40 years.

The Rotary began offering free CPR training to El Roble Intermediate eighth graders way back in 1979. Last week, their program—Together We

See our video of the Rotarians at El Roble

Prepare—trained it’s 40th group of eighth graders in lifesaving skills. It’s a legacy of which one of the program’s co-founders is understandably proud.

“I was one of the younger people when we started,” joked Lee Goldstein, the 76-year-old retired optometrist and Rotarian who was among the training program’s founders. “I think probably the fact that the Rotary Club of Claremont has been continuing to sponsor this and have members participate has been just a really significant project. That sort of continuity, you don’t see it a lot.”

Together We Prepare got its start when Gerald Ford was president and the American hostages in Iran were on the minds of the nation. At the time there were a number Claremont Rotarians active with the Red Cross, and still more that were physicians. CPR was in the news too, gaining in popularity as a way to save lives.

“Rotarians are interested in helping communities and in youth service, and it just sort of came together,” Mr. Goldstein said.

Mr. Goldstein’s son was in that first CPR class at El Roble. His granddaughters have now been through the training as well. At the start, not all eighth graders got training. Now, every one of them takes part.

Rotarians Bonita Ramos and Rich Laughton are now the co-chairs of the long-running program.

Ms. Ramos is a program supervisor with Ability First, a Claremont organization that assists children and adults with disabilities. She’s been a Red Cross instructor since 1991. She joined Rotary in 2008 and began volunteering with Together We Prepare straightaway. “I jumped right in. It was something I was very familiar with.”

Mr. Laughton joined Rotary in 2006. He started heading up Together We Prepare in 2007. He worked in the petroleum business for 37 years, retired, and then opened up a baby-proofing business, installing gates and latches for anxious new parents.

“Neither Bonita or I wanted to do it, but they said ‘If we have a co-chair, then someone else will work with you.’ So they conned us into it,” Mr. Laughton joked.

“We both have a lot on our plates, but this is near and dear to hearts, so when they needed somebody we both said yes,” Ms. Ramos said. “I see the value in it.”

For Together We Prepare a gang of about 80 volunteers—made up mostly of Rotarians—spends about 240 hours over three days training the El Roble kids in the invaluable life skills of disaster preparedness, first aid and CPR.

The training consists of game exercises, emergency kit building practice, CPR, preparedness media and other demonstrations. One of the most valuable skills taught is how to develop a family emergency evacuation plan.

This portion of the training includes vital information such as where to meet outside the neighborhood if a disaster strikes; an out of state emergency contact number in case local phone service is down, where all family members will call to check in; and knowing the location of the home’s water and gas shut off valves, as well as how to close them.

El Roble PE teacher Debbie Foster has been part of Together we Prepare for 31 years.

“It’s amazing, all the [Rotary] volunteers that they get to do it,” she said. “They’re very close to our hearts.”

Forty years of these trainings have no doubt paid off in innumerable ways. And while it’s impossible to know how many times the skills learned have been used to save lives, Ms. Foster does know of one.

“We had a girl six or seven years ago that was part of our junior lifeguard program, and she had to use it at a family birthday party,” she said. “One of her uncles was drunk and fell in [the pool], and she got him out and started CPR on him and saved his life.”

Sending the El Roble kids out into the world with a set of valuable life skills has been gratifying for everyone involved with Together We Prepare.

“We’ve actually had some [Rotarians] use it, and they’ve saved loved ones and grandchildren,” Ms. Ramos reported.

The program continues to evolve, and has changed over the years to reflect current Red Cross techniques, medical advances and other new information.

“Right now with CPR for adults, we don’t do the rescue breaths, we do compression only,” Ms. Ramos said. “With the babies, they still do breaths and compression.”

The sheer number of kids who have taken the training—hundreds per year over 40 years—is quite a legacy for the Claremont Rotary Club and El Roble.

“We haven’t asked, but we could have third generation kids coming through,” Mr. Laughton said. “I know we’ve had second generation kids. The kids are great. The teachers do a great job with them. We all have stories of the kids and how appreciative they are.”

Ms. Ramos has also been moved by the response from the teens.

“That’s the thing that touches me,” Ms. Ramos said. “At the end of the period, as they leave, so many of them come up to us and say ‘Thank you for doing this.’ That really makes all the effort worth it.”

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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