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Brentwood teen selected to FEMA safety panel

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the South Hills Record
Sahara Duncan, 17, of Brentwood, was selected as one of 12 new members for the 2014-15 Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Youth Preparedness Council.
Randy Jarosz | For the South Hills Record
Sahara Duncan, 17, of Brentwood, was selected as one of 12 new members for the 2014-15 Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Youth Preparedness Council.

As a child, Sahara Duncan of Brentwood watched from the front seat of the car as her mother helped to ease the pain of strangers in their darkest hours.

Her mom worked for the American Red Cross and Sahara, an only child, accompanied her on trips to local disasters and watched as her mom showed compassion and generosity to people whose homes had been destroyed by fire or floods.

“There would be tears in their eyes. Sometimes they wouldn't know where they were going to go the next day,” Sahara, now 17, said. “My mom would be there to calm them down and say, ‘It's going to be OK.'”

Sahara, who recently received her 10-year volunteer pin from the Red Cross, was selected as one of 12 new members for the 2014-15 Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Youth Preparedness Council. The council was formed in 2012 to bring together youth leaders from across the country to help raise emergency preparedness awareness, as well as to provide a different perspective on the issue.

Sahara, a 2014 Brentwood High School graduate, will join youths from Connecticut, Utah, Hawaii, New York and California on the council. As part of her role, Sahara will complete a yet-to-be-determined legacy project that she will choose and attend the Youth Preparedness Council Summit on July 22 and 23 in Washington, D.C.

“I'm extremely excited,” Sahara said.

The summit will be at the American Red Cross national headquarters, and will include a tour of the White House, said Pauline Duncan, 41, Sahara's mother and the military intelligence program specialist for the western regional chapter of the American Red Cross.

Sahara said the best part of the summit will be sharing her perspective on emergency preparedness with others, and teaching youths that tools are readily available in case of an emergency.

An example: Sahara once cut her finger on a pair of scissors while designing a T-shirt, and her mom went to the Red Cross app on her smartphone for tips on how to wrap and treat the wound.

Volunteering comes naturally for Sahara, who is humble about her accomplishments, her mother said.

Sahara's volunteering experience has been diverse at the Red Cross. She received her babysitting certification, worked with children at outdoor fairs and stood alongside local models in historic Red Cross nursing attire at a recent ball.

“She can wear shorts and T-shirt by day and be able to mix and mingle at our signature event at night,” said Renee Willow, Red Cross disaster workforce engagement and program support specialist. “She could be counted on, no matter what.”

Sahara, who will attend Seton Hill University this fall to major in hospitality and tourism management, has canvassed the area, sharing information about fire safety and emergency preparedness with local Girl Scout troops. Sahara also will be recognized on Aug. 9 at CAPA High School during the eighth annual Shyne Awards for her volunteer work in the community.

Willow said Sahara is a “sponge of learning” with a continuity of service to one organization that is not often duplicated.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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