GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) — Grand Island Senior High senior Joshua Wiemers stood in the corner of a vacant store space at the Conestoga Mall on Aug. 17, ready to make a difference in the community.

Along with a dozen members of the GISH Junior Air Force ROTC, Wiemers, a core commander, helped recruit people at the mall to donate blood and get them set up to do so.

"They asked us to come in early and help set up. We will be here all day running the front reception area," he said. "Before that, we were the main ones looking to fill time slots because we have everything scheduled out. We went through our contacts and through the Red Cross contacts and asked people to sign up to donate."

Jeremy Aupperlee, account manager with the American Red Cross Midwest Region, said the ROTC members and other high school drives are helping fulfill a "huge need" for the Red Cross. According to a press release from the organization, blood donations at high school and college blood drives account for as much 20 percent of donations during the school year.

The Grand Island Independent reports that in getting high school donors, Aupperlee said the Red Cross is gaining lifelong blood donors.

"With high school blood drives, we get mostly new donors," he said. "We are teaching high school students about the importance of why we donate. It teaches them how to get involved in the community, recruiting people to save lives and educating themselves about the process."

Aupperlee said most area high schools have a blood drive in the fall and another in the spring. He added GISH has the biggest blood drive in the state, collecting anywhere from 300 to 500 donors every year, which equates into saving about 1,500 lives.

In the summer, Aupperlee said, the Red Cross partners with high school groups such as National Honor Society or ROTC to host summer blood drives. He said these drives are a way to "make up" all the donors lost during the summer.

Wiemers said this was the first year ROTC hosted a summer blood drive. The organization chose to do so as a way to give back to the community, he said.

"It is part of our objectives to do that," Wiemers said. "This is something we do all the time to help other community service organizations. The Red Cross is one of our valued partners. We do a spring blood drive and they asked if we could do a fall one. We accepted it because we like serving the community — it is what we signed up to do."

On Aug. 17 afternoon, the ROTC was well on its way to meeting its goal of 53 units of donated blood.

The blood drive, Wiemers said, was 100 percent student-run on the side of recruiting donors and getting them signed in to donate blood. Representatives from the Red Cross handled the actual blood donations. Wiemers said the blood drive Friday attracted a mix of high school and adult blood donors.

"Since we are high school students, the people we can contact generally tend to be around our age group," he said. "But then we have parents, friends of parents, and neighbors who come in and donate. It is really anybody who is willing to come out and donate."

In order to donate blood in the state of Nebraska, Aupperlee said an individual needs to be at last 16 years of age and provide a parental consent form if they are at this minimum age. He added people can donate "whole blood" every 56 days and "power red," where the Red Cross takes two units of blood, every 112 days. Aupperlee said most people donate whole blood.

"After people donate, we test it make sure it is safe for patients," he said. "We then separate the red cells, platelets and plasma. Red cells go to people in trauma situations. Platelets go primarily to cancer patients. Then plasma goes to people with immune deficiencies and things like that. It goes locally first and then we will send it out all over the country to wherever they need it most."

As a high school student, Wiemers said he donates blood regularly.

"I really want to be out there (and) be a service to other people," he said. "I know that there are a lot of people who go through high school and just do academics or athletics. I want to be out there helping the community."

Aupperlee encouraged people to read up on blood donation at redcrossblood.org and donate blood.

"I always tell people that if they have never donated before to give it a try," he said. "One hour of your time can save three people's lives. It really does make a difference."

___

Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com