A Heart for Working with Youth

Inspiring teens and young adults to give back to their communities through Red Cross Clubs

Ask volunteer Linda Collis what she thinks about young people today, and she’ll have a lot of good things to say. There’s a reason for her positive outlook. She’s the Youth Engagement Lead in the Space Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross of Central Florida, where she works with middle, high school and university-based Red Cross Clubs.

After years of volunteer experience working with Red Cross Clubs in Alabama, Collis retired to Florida and has put her talents to work right away.

“(In Alabama) My favorite position with the Red Cross was working with the youth volunteers,” said Collis. “I walked into the Space Coast Chapter and told them I’d really like to work with youth.”

Central Florida didn’t have a large youth club presence at the time. This motivated her to jumpstart the initiative, draft a proposal and start reaching out to local schools.

“At that point, my goal was one or two schools a year to add on,” said Collis. “I planted the seeds, and in 2018 we added seven schools to the program.” The newest schools include Deltona High School, Melbourne High School, Pine Ridge High School, University High School, Lake Mary High School, Seminole High School and New Smyrna Beach Middle School.

Students take on a lot of responsibility during their middle, high school and university years. Classes, homework, sports, jobs, clubs and other extra-curricular activities occupy much of their time. Even with their packed schedules, many students still seek opportunities to give back and help others.

Volunteering provides this opportunity. Students are empowered to take on leadership roles and participate in a variety of Red Cross activities supporting the humanitarian mission.

The students are learning new skills and feeling inspired through their work with the organization. One of those students is Julio Blanco, President of the Pine Ridge High School American Red Cross Club. Julio joined the club in the summer of 2018 and shared his experience as a member.

“What I love most about being involved in the Red Cross Club is the satisfaction of knowing I’m doing good in the world,” said Blanco. “I’ve always wanted to help people in need, but I didn’t know where to start. When I was told about the American Red Cross Club being created, I was immediately excited for it and everything to come with it. What made it a billion times better was getting that call from our Health Academy President offering me the President position for the club. Since then I’ve met so many people with the same purpose as me and have gotten to experience things I am beyond grateful for.”

Red Cross has more than two dozen approved activities for youth, and the students are required to do three a year. Six schools participated in Holiday for Heroes, where they made over 400 greeting cards for military veterans in Central Florida. Three schools participated in Totes for Hope, where the students had the opportunity to collect and assemble personal care kits that were distributed to homeless veterans through VA hospitals and outreach programs.

Many of the clubs participated in hands-only CPR training. Students learn this important life-saving technique so they can teach it to others. The youth club at Pine Ridge High School trained 180 students at their annual health fair.

Two clubs have joined local chapters to install free smoke alarms in at-risk neighborhoods as part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Other clubs have helped with the Pillowcase Project, an emergency preparedness program for children ages 8-11 to increase awareness and understanding of natural hazards, and to teach safety and emotional coping skills during a disaster.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by how many youth really want to do something for their community,” said Linda. “Every time they accomplish something and I see how much they grow, there is no way to measure the importance of their actions and how much it will change their future. They tell me how good they feel helping others and how they want to learn and do more after each event or training. I am introducing them to the Red Cross mission, something I believe in, and now I have brought more volunteers to help us achieve our mission.”