Not just any other training

I will always remember the day I walked into my local American Red Cross chapter and decided to become a volunteer.

Even though I didn’t think much of it at the time, it was something that would forever make an impact on my life. I was greeted by some of the kindest and most sincere people I have ever met and treated with the utmost respect even though I was 15 at the time.

I began my work with the Red Cross by coming in weekly and cleaning manikins. Eventually, I began trying out other volunteer activities such as helping to raise funds for the measles initiative or helping to teach elementary school kids important skills such as first aid.

Once I had discovered what line of service I was most interested in, I began attending trainings of which the most memorable would be the National Youth Institutes organized by the National Youth Council. The first one I attended was the 2007 National Youth Institute in Portland, Oregon. I was extremely shy and kept to myself for the most part. When we had our first dance, I stood in the corner, snuck upstairs back to my hotel room when no one was looking and never danced the entire night. I walked away having learned some new things about programs and structure but had failed to take advantage of the social opportunities.

The next year, I was more outgoing. And, while I was shy to start out with, by the end, I was dancing at the dance. I had taken advantage not only of the training opportunities but of the social opportunities as well. Although I was in no way king of the dance floor, I learned an important lesson in life: Everyone is shy at first and if you just stick your hand out for a handshake, the other person will return the handshake, and after only a few days, you’ll both be sad to leave after becoming good friends.

This takes us to the present. I recently attended the California Disaster Readiness Conference, with the youth track led by members of the National Youth Council. Within the first half-hour, I had made five new friends. Plus, that night at the dance, I took every chance I could get to get out on the dance floor and bust a move. And, like all these conferences, I continued to grow my knowledge of Red Cross programs.

But, as I look back on it all, I learn something in itself. While these institutes do build your knowledge of all things Red Cross, they also teach important social skills that might not be gained in many other activities. The American Red Cross is an important organization that is unique in many different ways. Whether it’s the fact that we have responded to over 74,000 disasters across the U.S. last year, or that youth make up over a quarter of our over 1 million volunteers, it is truly one of the most incredible things that exists in our country today. We are also privileged to have the National Youth Council who not only provides youth representation but also promotes youth interest at a national level. It is truly amazing.

Lucas Matze, California

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