My experience with the National Youth Council
What does the National Youth Council actually do?
When I was a high school chapter volunteer, I had no idea. All I remember was going to the 2004 National Convention and seeing the National Youth Council walk into a room together wearing nerdy matching polo-shirts and thinking, “………….” Now I’m wearing one of those shirts!
The official description is here. Basically, we’re a group of high school / college/ young professional volunteers, supported by staff advisors and the Office of the National Chair of Volunteers at NHQ, that works on youth involvement across our beloved organization. We have two types of projects, generally. The first are projects designed to support and recognize youth programs—such as administering the Navin Narayan Awards, planning the National Youth Institute, running Red Cross YouthWire and Redcrossyouth.org, creating the Youth Involvement Toolkit, working on a school clubs kit, and answering your questions and trying to help youth programs that we know. The second part is working with Red Cross senior leadership at NHQ to advise and educate them about youth and young adult involvement. For example, we’re working with NHQ Communications & Marketing on a number of their initiatives. Because we are from all around the country, we meet face-to-face about four times a year. The rest of the work is done by conference calls and emails.
I love serving on the Council! (I myself am a college junior, and this is my second year on the Council.) It’s an honor, a privilege, lots of hard work and fun, and just a tremendous opportunity to make a real difference in the world’s best humanitarian organization. I like to think of it this way—as a Council member, you are granted a title and position at NHQ. Now, go crazy. Meet phenomenally passionate and talented Red Cross staffers and volunteers. Cook up whatever ideas you have to advance youth involvement—and get them done!
The Council is divided into four committees- Core Services, Communications & Marketing, Fundraising, and Events. The committees are chaired by, respectively, the Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary of the Council. There are two wonderful and dedicated staffers at NHQ who we work closely with, and also a number of staffers from the field who sit on the Council as advisors.
For those of you who are thinking of joining the Council, I would tell you that it’s vastly different from leading your chapter youth program or your school club. We all became Red Cross volunteers because we love delivering Red Cross core services—for me, I was a first aid responder and fundraised for the Measles Initiative, among other things. When you join the Council, the vast majority of your work becomes trying to think broadly and strategically, and to execute Council projects, you will probably spend the majority of your time behind a computer and on the phone.
In a nutshell, being a Council member means being more of an organizational leader than a deliverer of Red Cross services.
Serving on the National Youth Council is a serious commitment. On top of your school, personal, and social lives, you will have to contend with urgent emails from NHQ staffers and difficult, abstract projects that you need to execute. As Vice Chair of the Council, I work hard. I know that the Council’s impact isn’t always readily visible, but duty calls often. We are meant to represent the needs of all youth volunteers across the country. I know that is an undertaking that is impossible, but it is a responsibility that I (and all of us) take very seriously and strive to meet.
Also, in order to really enjoy your Council experience, you should be a person who knows what he or she wants to work on. The Council absolutely depends on its members to identify needs in youth programs and come up with projects to meet them. No one is going to tell you what to do; in order for the National Youth Council to actually make a difference for youth involvement, then, members need to be attuned to what is right, and what is wrong, with Red Cross youth programs, and have a sense of what to do about it.
For me, I felt that the Council really needed a way to reach out directly to youth volunteers. As a high school volunteer, I had missed a lot of opportunities simply because I had never heard of them—our chapter was constantly in flux, hiring volunteer managers and then letting them go (something, unfortunately, that many of you experienced). So I suggested the idea of creating a listserv that would allow us, the youth volunteers of the National Youth Council, to speak directly to our peers, our youth volunteers around the country. YouthWire was born.
Serving as a Council member is incredibly rewarding, and it’s my greatest honor to serve in that capacity. American Red Cross volunteers and staffers are amazing, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of them, from our charismatic, talented, passionate, and hardworking President & CEO to the charismatic, talented, passionate, and hardworking youth volunteers all over the country.
So apply to join the Council! Get involved in the American Red Cross in a new way! This blog entry hardly does the experience justice— because at the end of the day, you can make your Council experience anything you want it to be. I can’t wait to work with you next year!
Thirty years from now, how will your Red Cross story read?
Chris Chen, Cambridge, MA