From IHL Action Campaign to National Youth Council: Staying Connected to the American Red Cross after Graduation

It was an August just like any other. I was preparing to head back to school to begin my junior year at Bradley University, but I was also coming home after interning in Washington, DC for the summer and I was full of anticipation about spending my upcoming spring semester in Denmark. I never would have guessed that I was about to enter a semester that would end up being so life changing in every sense of the word.

Shortly before the school year began, International Services made its debut at the Central Illinois Red Cross chapter. This was big news for an International Studies major like me who was dying for some relevant professional development smack dab in the middle of the United States. Before long, my university had formed a team for the International Humanitarian Law Action Campaign (IHLAC). I scrambled to join and struggled my way through my first Raid Cross training. Little did I know, I would go through the training at least three more times – as a participant, organizer and facilitator. With each passing day, email or meeting, I became more involved and began to look for more ways to be a part of the American Red Cross. Before this, my only experiences had been with Biomedical Services. I knew the Red Cross did humanitarian work overseas, but I couldn’t figure out how to be involved locally until IHLAC came into my life.

Once I came back from my semester abroad, I had the chance to intern with my chapter in their International and Military Services Department. I was part of a two-person team and quickly surrounded myself with all of the different programs. I became a Restoring Family Links (RFL) and Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Caseworker.  I was able to help train other students on Raid Cross and work with my own IHLAC team to start the work for our fall campaign.  I also created an internal training guide for staff and volunteers on the ins and outs of the RFL program. I looked so hard for more ways to increase my Red Cross involvement. I couldn’t seem to get enough of it.

Shannon (fourth from left) with the Bradley University IHLAC team at the 2015 Youth Leadership Summit in Washington, DC

Shannon (fourth from left) with the Bradley University IHLAC team at the 2015 Youth Leadership Summit in Washington, DC

It seems as though my final year at Bradley was consumed by IHL. First, we had our fall campaign where freshman students were put through a simulated prisoner of war experience. That was quickly followed up by another round of Raid Cross and the creation, development and execution of our spring campaign on refugees. I had also spent the semester interning remotely for National Headquarters and their IHL Youth Education team. Before I knew it, I was weeks away from graduation and the future of my Red Cross involvement was left in limbo. I wasn’t ready to move on from my chapter because I couldn’t convince myself that I was okay with no longer being an IHLAC Team Member.

Then I found the answer: One day I stumbled across this fantastic group known as the National Youth Council (NYC). The NYC is a group of 13 members ranging in age from 16-25 and two adult advisers who “nationally represent the youth volunteers of the American Red Cross, and continually strive to better serve them.” This is what I was looking for. I could go into a new chapter of my life and I could bring the Red Cross with me. There was no reason not to apply, so I sat down and put my biggest Red Cross youth volunteer dreams onto paper.

Three months after doing that, I sit here as one of seven new members on the council. The other 12 members are some of the most inspiring, dedicated and encouraging people I have ever had the opportunity to work with…and it is only the beginning! I am starting my two-year term with big dreams to increase youth involvement nationwide, especially when it comes to International Services. I want every volunteer to know about these incredible programs. Maybe their lives will change —  mine sure did.

– Shannon Vance, National Youth Council member and former IHLAC participant

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