2010 Class Blog by Samantha Choma

Day 1

June 6th came a whole lot sooner than I ever thought it would. I don’t know where the months have gone, but it feels like one day I was filling out my application for the internship in D.C., and the next I was on the plane headed for the Reagan National Airport. From the moment I woke up that Sunday morning and drove to the airport in my hometown of Rochester, NY, I knew that I was in for a big adventure over the next two weeks: I’d never been on a plane before, never traveled by myself before, never been to D.C. before, and I was going to meet up with 12 other NAIA athletes from all across the country that I had never met before.

As it turns out, the start to this grand adventure wasn’t disappointing: I got on the wrong train, tried to lug a 65 pound suitcase around without impaling anyone, battled the stifling humidity and looming thunderstorm, and waited over an hour in line for check in. Not a bad start to my trip!

No, in all seriousness, the first day was great! From the time I left the airport in Rochester, I received numerous texts from the lovely Katie McLintock (a participant from last year’s program that was already in DC to serve as a mentor along with Tori Anderson) checking in to see how my trip was going and giving me directions on how to get to the proper building. After I got off the metro (finally at the right stop), I started down 23rd Street, and right as I was crossing an intersection I heard someone call my name. I looked up and saw a young woman walking toward me, and I immediately panicked – who was she? How’d she know my name? Should I know her?! Confused, I looked up, smiled and politely said hi, and I think she saw that I had no idea who she was because she immediately introduced herself as Katie, the one I had been texting. Finally I was able to put a face with a name, and I was so relieved to find that yes, I do know her, and no, I won’t get lost in D.C!

After a quick hug and chat we headed over to drop my stuff off at the dorm and then met up for lunch at the Pot Belly with the few other students that had already arrived in D.C. . Throughout the rest of the afternoon the remaining students arrived one-by-one, most of them making it in time to all grab dinner at Johnny Rockets (except for one, who actually didn’t get in until 1:30am!), and it was a really neat experience to see 13 different students from a number of different states across the country come together and mingle with one another. I was so nervous that things would be really uncomfortable, and although I suppose awkwardness is inevitable to an extent in this type of situation, I was so relieved to find every student genuinely interested in the other members of the group and really making an effort to get to know one another.

After dinner we all hung out together at the dorm, and by the end of the first day I really felt like this group of 13 strangers could and would become a group of 13 friends. Over the next two weeks, I’m so incredibly excited to work alongside Alex Starr of Plymouth, Indiana; Becky Colling of Omaha, Nebraska; Patrick Turner of Fort Bragg, California; Jon Rogers of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Kayla Anderson of Alma, Kansas; Steven Clark of Boston, Massachusetts; Olivia Goodall of Marietta, Georgia; Hanna Malak of San Mateo, California; Jessi Lea of Eugene, Oregon; Amber Rafko of Monroe, Michigan; Lark Nightengale of Polarville, Mississippi, and Jacob Fox of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey as we all embark on this great adventure in D.C. together.

Day 2

Sunday night was definitely a long one, and I don’t think I slept for more than an hour at a time! It’s so funny, you’d think I was a child waiting for Christmas morning to come with the way I was anticipating our first real day in D.C. - such a bundle of nerves and excitement!

The morning started off nice and slow. We arrived at headquarters around 9:00 AM, all of us dressed in our fashionable business attire. The first thing we did was receive our ID badges that we swipe to get into the building. After that we moved on to our conference room, where we received a brief introduction to the program from Brian Hamil, the National Chair of Biomedical Services, and then did some fun ice breakers with Katie McLintock and Tori Anderson, two returning interns from last year’s program.

We were also given the opportunity to hear from several very important individuals within the Red Cross, the first of which was Michael Brown. Michael is the Vice President of Corporate and Foundation Partnerships, and he spoke to us about the importance of programs like ours and how they can shape our character so we can influence our campuses and communities. Next to speak was Jerry DeFrancisco, President of Humanitarian Services, and he gave us an overview of different Red Cross lines of service, including the various places and ways in which the Red Cross is making an impact at the international level. Later on, President of Biomedical Services, Shaun Gilmore, came in and gave us not only an overview of his department, but also gave insight into ways in which to be a more effective and successful leaders.

Throughout the day, everything just seemed so surreal – I couldn’t believe that we actually had the privilege to hear from and speak with some of the most important leaders in the American Red Cross today! As much as Brian, Katie and Tori kept reminding us of this fact, I’m not sure it’s all been able to sink in. I guess such an honor feels like it should be something out of a dream rather than an actual reality!

Later that evening we all went and grabbed dinner at Baja Fresh and then headed over to the harbor for some ice cream. By the time we got there, the sun was just about set, and the place was absolutely gorgeous! The water was still, and a variety of restaurants and shops lined the stone walkway. The air was warm with a light breeze, and I honestly could have sat there beside the water forever!

After we got back from the harbor, a few of us decided to go for a nice run, so I set out with Kayla, Becky, Larke and Alex for what was meant to be a quick 15 minute out 15 minute back run to and from the Whitehouse. As it turned out, about 25 minutes into the run we still hadn’t found the Whitehouse, so we stopped and asked someone where it was and discovered that we had completely passed it by, so we turned around and tried to find it once again. We never actually made it to the front gate, but we did get a small glimpse of it from one of the streets we walked down. By the time we got back it was close to midnight, and the five of us went back to the room and crashed, exhausted after a long first day in D.C.

Day 3

In light of the fact that I didn’t get very much sleep Sunday night and Monday’s schedule was busy with all sorts of exciting things, I assumed that when I laid my head on my pillow Monday night that I would be out like a rock and not wake up until my alarm went off the next morning. Like many things in life, though, I got another little curveball thrown at me that made for quite an interesting sleep. When my roommate Becky and I went to bed that night, the room was comfortable, and the air conditioning provided some nice white noise to which we could fall asleep. At about 3:00am, though, we both coincidentally woke up at the same time, and our bodies were absolutely frozen! Because I was just coming out of a sleep, I was a bit delirious, and I remember trying to figure out why my body was shaking and why I was so uncomfortable – I felt like I should be sick or something! As I began to regain my consciousness, I figured out that over the last two and a half hours our room had transformed into an ice box. I stumbled out of my bed and over to the thermostat only to discover that, although we had set the temperature to a comfortable 70 degrees, the room was, in actuality, near 60. Body still trembling I turned off the AC, threw on the biggest sweatpants and sweatshirt I brought, and curled up into a ball under my sheets and tried to fall back asleep. Needless to say, the next morning Becky and I told everybody about our fun little experience, and it instantly became a big joke. Actually, the two of us were so determined to make our room warm again that we kept the AC off and opened up our windows to try and let the hot D.C. air in, but at one point during the day we returned to find that some troublemaker in the group had managed to sneak into our room and turn on the AC, making it an ice box once again. Thanks Patrick.

At headquarters that day we got to hear from several more important individuals within the Red Cross, the first of which was Executive Vice President of Biomedical Services, Chris Hrouda. Chris shared with us some of the different lessons that he has learned throughout his experience in the working world, one of which was to not shy away from given opportunities, but rather to be willing to take on positions and situations that may be uncomfortable. Next we heard all about blood and the blood collecting process from Senior Vice President of Quality and Regulatory Affairs, Eva Quinley. In light of the birth of her most recent grandson, however, Eva could not be with us in person, so we tried to teleconference her via Skype. Unfortunately the connection was very poor, and it was hard to hear everything she said because her voice kept cutting in and out. Despite this complication, we were still so appreciative that she would even take the time to try and talk with us – thanks Eva! After Eva we got to hear from Communications Manager, Jan Hale, who spoke to us about practical ways we can make our blood drives a success. I absolutely loved her presentation, and she used contemporary musical figures and genres to express various key ingredients to a successful drive, such as incorporating the “Lady Gaga” factor to stand out, and “country” to tell a compelling story. After Jan we heard first from Account Representative, Chrystel Bell, and then from Donor Recruitment Representative, Cameron Branock. In addition to sharing her own story, Chrystel encouraged us to find out what the specific needs of our campus are in order to have a successful blood drive and then meet those needs, as well as to overcome the fear of rejection from potential donors. Cameron, a member of the 2008 Red Cross/NAIA Collegiate Leadership Program class, flew in the day after his wedding to share some of the different experiences he’s had in his own blood drives and to share his wisdom into how to make ours even more successful.

After work, our group was able to do the most incredible thing – we got to go to the Washington Nationals’ baseball game! To make things even more exciting, we found out that this was the night that the Nationals’ pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, would have his debut game, and that because of this the game was a total sell out! Before we watched the game, we had the honor and privilege to meet with Israel Negron and Bob Wolfe, Director of Community Relations and Executive Vice President of the Washington Nationals, respectively. Both of whom shared some words of wisdom with us as we enter our new positions of leadership.

The game itself was so much fun! The Nationals won, and Strasburg ended up pitching 14 strikeouts, setting a new record and making the game both an exciting and historical event.

Trying to get back to the dorm was absolutely crazy, and I learned quickly that there are no manners on the Metro! The station was absolutely packed, and it took some skill and assertiveness to get on the train itself. Once you were on you had to squish in so close together…it was all definitely very hot and sweaty!

After we got back, a few of us decided to end the night with a nice little run, so I set out with Hanna, Jake, Alex, Larke and Amber, and we ran to the Washington monument and back. Back at the dorm we all hung out a bit, but it wasn’t long before all of the craziness from the day hit and I crashed and went to sleep, definitely very tired.

Day 4

Prior to coming to Washington, one of the key coordinators of this program, Jennifer Lourie, had sent us all an e-mail asking for our social security numbers. She was in the process of trying to put together a special event for us, but she didn’t want to tell us what it was so that in case it fell through we wouldn’t be disappointed. I tried to think of all the different things she could be planning, and last night we were finally told what the surprise was – a tour of the White House scheduled for Wednesday morning!

When we showed up to the White House this morning, there were so many people lined up the street and around the corner, all waiting in line to get in. Because Jennifer was able to get us a special tour time, however, we were able to skip ahead of the line, and it was funny because as we passed the different school groups, I heard some of the little kids asking, “Are they V.I.P?” Needless to say, that made me feel pretty special.

The tour itself was absolutely fantastic! In reality the house was a lot smaller than I imagined, so the tour wasn’t very long, but the rooms were gorgeous and I found the intricacies of the rooms captivating. I was talking with some of the girls in the group, and a common favorite room in the house was the State Dining Room, mostly because of the beautiful chandelier that hangs above the table. My favorite aspect of the house were the intricate moldings found in the rooms, but I also really enjoyed the East Room because it reminded me of something straight out of Pride and Prejudice – I could almost hear the orchestra playing and see men in suits and women in flowing dresses dancing across the floor!

After the tour, we headed back to headquarters where we heard first from Tori and Katie, who shared with us some tips that they’ve picked up over the last year while running blood drives on their own campuses. After them we had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Richard Benjamin, Chief Medical Officer of the American Red Cross, and he spoke to us about the advantages and disadvantages associated with younger blood donors, as well as ways in which the Red Cross is working to improve the blood donating experience for those young donors. After Dr. Benjamin we heard from Gloria Huang, Social Media Specialist, who gave us an overview of the various means through which the Red Cross is communicating to its community, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Later that afternoon we went up to our offices on the 9th floor to work on our strategic plans, which are the final projects that we are preparing to present to Brian, Katie, Tori, Jennifer, and other important Red Cross figures a week from Friday. Although we’re all in the beginning stages of preparation, I know that my group has some fantastic ideas coming together, and I’m really excited to see what everybody else comes up with!

For dinner we all went to Nooshi, a fun Asian restaurant, and in addition to good food we also had a good night filled with lots of laughs. One popular game that we played both at the restaurant and after we left was Rock-Paper-Scissors, which Patrick introduced to us as Ro-Sham-Bo, and it’s been addicting! Everybody ro-sham-bos now, mostly to try to get someone to do something crazy. For example, if there’s a funny looking piece of food on the plate, we rock paper scissors and the loser has to eat it. Throughout the night we ro-sham-boed and Amber had to eat a spicy pepper, Tori had to hold chopsticks out of her mouth so she looked like a vampire, I had to hold a pair on my head so they looked like antennas, Becky had to order her ice cream with a British accent, and Kayla had to give Tori a piggy-back ride down the block. The rounds get pretty intense, and they’re so fun and filled with lots of laughs!

One pretty neat part of the night was the fact that we happened to pass by a restaurant where the President of Georgia was eating! We were walking down the street, and in front of this one eating place there were several police cars and secret servicemen. After we found out that the President was there, we all pulled out our cameras and were taking pictures of the place. In hindsight I’m not sure if that was a great idea because we got some dirty looks from the guards…the photography must have made us look pretty suspicious.

We headed back to the dorm as the sun was close to setting, and when we got there a group of us had a fun little photo shoot out front before heading in for the night. Needless to say, we all learned very quickly that our forte does not lie in photography – it was pretty difficult to get a good group shot of us all jumping in the air, but it was definitely funny to see us try!

Day 5

The first event that I saw scheduled for today was labeled “Diversity Awareness,” which, in all honesty, didn’t sound too exciting. Throughout high school and my two years in college, I have been a part of similar programs that work to overcome barriers associated with diversity, the majority of which have been repetitive and boring. This morning’s program, however, was completely different. Tim O’Malley, Founder and Lead Consultant of Fios Consulting, engaged us in discussion and activities that were exciting, relevant, and also very fun.

The first activity was a card game for which Tim divided us up into three different groups at three different tables. Each table was given a set of directions and then some time for a practice round. After the practice round we began a mini tournament, and the winners would rotate to the table to the right, while the one who lost would rotate to the left. The most important rule of the game, though, was that we were not allowed to speak or make any sort of sound – all our communication had to be done in silence and in gesture. Notepads were a viable option, but we were only allowed to use symbols and pictures, no words. At the end of the first round I was the loser at my table, so I moved to the table to my left and we played another round. After we began playing, however, I became extremely confused: from what my table had understood, the directions had indicated that the ace was the trump card, but the people at my new table didn’t play that way. I wanted to say something but couldn’t, and I became rather frustrated, thinking that I had misunderstood the directions. After a few more rounds, things got even more confusing, and it wasn’t long before we figured out why: each table had been given a different set of directions at the beginning of the game. I really enjoyed this activity because it not only made for lots of laughs, but also provided a unique segue into discussing diversity within the workplace and other communities. It emphasized how communication barriers lead to frustrations, especially when people are from different backgrounds.

Later that afternoon we had the opportunity to hear from Director of Sales and Marketing of Biomedical Services, Vicki Thomas, who spoke to us about the legal and logistical details regarding the guidelines of the use of the American Red Cross label. Next the Director of Customer Relationship Management and Business Transformation, Kelly High, came in and shared some more wisdom and insight into adding those elements that will make our blood drives successful.

Every Thursday evening, there’s a company in D.C. that coordinates free concerts in the city, so after work a group of us walked over to a reggae concert that was held at Farragut Square. When we arrived, a few people decided to go shopping at some of the retail stores that were close by, while others of us chose to go to the local farmers’ market. I absolutely love farmers’ markets! The people are so nice, the food is home-made or home-grown, and the free samples are absolutely delicious! If I had had enough money I would probably would have ended up buying something from every stand, from jam to beef jerky, but since that’s not the case I actually ended up walking away empty handed.

After the farmers’ market we all walked back to the concert – such a good time! It was a beautiful, sunny evening, the temperature was comfortable, and I just loved sitting on the grass, breeze blowing in my face, listening to some reggae and watching people dance and hula hoop. Katie was such a team player – one of the guys there recruited her to go up and hula hoop, and she did! He tried to get a few of us to come up and dance or hula hoop as well, but I think we all agreed that we couldn’t be as good as Katie so we just chose to remain seated and enjoy the music and dancing from a distance.

Ever since arriving in D.C., the one thing that people have told us over and over again is that we need to see the monuments at night, so after the concert a group of us hit up a few popular sites: we got to see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Monument, and the Capitol building, and everything was absolutely gorgeous! My favorite spot, though, was probably the Lincoln Memorial. I absolutely loved sitting on the steps, looking out and seeing the lights from the city reflecting on the water. It’s such a peaceful place to be, and since it was the last stop that night, we all sat there for a good half hour, not talking, just soaking in the experience. I really hope we get to do evening sight-seeing later on in the trip!

Day 6

So at the beginning of the week, Patrick approached Becky and me with a proposition: he wanted to know if we would be willing to iron his dress shirts, which got kind of wrinkly from his trip, and he would return the favor to us in some other way. Of course we said yes, and since then we’ve been ironing away every morning and he’s been helping us out with things like carrying big cases of water bottles to our room from CVS. Today was really fun, though, because our little business is growing! Hanna showed us his shirt one night, which was kind of wrinkly, and so we offered to help him out in the same way, so now Becky and I are up to two customers!

The first speaker at headquarters this morning was Bianca Kahlenberg, Co-Chair of the National Youth Council and President of the Red Cross Club at the University of Florida, and she was there to share some information regarding the formation of Red Cross clubs on our campuses, as well as to answer any questions we might have regarding the club-forming process. After Bianca we had the privilege to hear Jacqueline Battle share her personal testimony as a recipient of blood donations. Jackie is the Senior Administrative Specialist of Sales and Marketing for Biomedical Services, and her story was personal and moving, and I felt honored to be able to hear her talk about what she’s been through and how people’s generosity saved and forever changed her life.

During lunch, our group was invited by Dr. Richard Benjamin to attend a presentation given by a doctor from Afghanistan, who shared with us the current situation in his country regarding the opportunities and complications of blood transfusion and the blood-donating process there. I found the things the speaker had to share most fascinating – it was shocking to hear that, at present, there are no phlebotomists in his country, however, it was exciting to learn about all the ways in which efforts are being made to expand and refine the blood donating process there.

The last speaker we heard from today was Brian, and in addition to asking us for some feedback regarding our experiences over the past week in D.C., he also gave us some pointers on how to present and conduct ourselves professionally. This was done not only because it’s something that will be critical to our success in the working world, but specifically in light of the very important reception that we have coming up. On Monday night we will be meeting with some of the most important figures within the Red Cross, and the purpose of the reception is to mingle and engage with them in conversation so as to form those networks and professional relationships. In all honesty, I’m very nervous about Monday night – interacting with individuals of such accomplishment and status can be intimidating, but I’m hoping that all goes well.

After work, Brian was such a sweetheart and treated us all to dinner at Lauriol Plaza, an upscale Mexican restaurant about 10 minutes from headquarters. All seventeen of us were able to sit at the same table, the conversations were great, the laughs were many, and the food was absolutely delicious! As is our custom now, our night couldn’t be complete without a few rounds of Ro-Sham-Bo, and we played to see who would eat something crazy, from dangerous looking peppers to four packets of sugar. Poor Hanna was on a bit of an unlucky streak – he had to do the consequence 3 times in a row! He was definitely a good sport about it though, which made it all oh so fun.

Later that night I had the chance to go on a nice run with Alex, and it was really neat because we just had the chance to talk and get to know each other a little better. Although the stuff we do at work during the day is fantastic and all the things we’re learning are so important, the aspect of this trip that I appreciate most is the opportunities to hang out with and get to know 12 other athletes from all across the country – I absolutely love being able to hear their stories about where they’ve been and who they are, and I can’t wait to see how close we all become over the next week.

To top off the night, our group got together in the hallway and played games like “What if… Then” and “Mafia.” It was so much fun to see everybody laughing with one another and just enjoying each other’s company. Because our group is so big, many of the activities that we do on our own are done in smaller groups of 3 or 4, so it was nice to switch it up and see us all hanging out as one big group.

Day 7

Today was an absolutely incredible day, and we all have the amazing Jennifer Lourie to thank for that! All week we’ve been looking forward to the special tour of D.C. that she put together for us, and I must say it definitely exceeded all expectations!

We woke up early and headed to the Metro around 9:15 to begin our tour. From there Jennifer took us to some of the most amazing and historical sites in D.C., including the Supreme Court, Union Station, Library of Congress, Botanical Gardens, National Gallery of Art, and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. At a few of the stops she would share all sorts of interesting facts and information about the sites that we were at, and we all learned so much! Not going to lie, though, the heat today was pretty intense. The sun was shining so bright and my skin felt like it was baking – I was sweating so incredibly much, and to make matters worse I chose to wear a light gray t-shirt. Let’s just say I wasn’t such a pretty sight.

My favorite stop of the day, though, was the Holocaust Museum. Hands down, it’s probably the best museum I’ve ever gone through. There was so much to read and see that I could have easily spent an entire day wandering through each of the four levels. To say that the realities that are exposed in the exhibit are tragic only touches the surface of the horror that went on at the hands of the Nazis and other involved parties. The information is portrayed appropriately and with taste – it is challenging, overwhelming, and informative. From the moment I entered the exhibit was engaged in mind, body and spirit, and as I exited I felt as though I had walked through those events in history myself.

After finishing up at the museum we all split up into smaller groups and went our separate ways: some went shopping, some went sight-seeing, and others like Alex, Amber, Patrick and myself wandered around the city in search of an H&M store, but didn’t end up accomplishing anything outside of making ourselves really tired and sweating off five pounds in the overwhelming heat.

For dinner we all met up with Brian at 5 Guys, a neat little burger place in Georgetown, and it was so much fun to see everybody sitting and talking with one another. In fact, afterwards Brian even mentioned that seeing the group conversing and laughing is probably one of his favorite things about the D.C. experience – the forming and building of relationships.

After dinner we went to the harbor to re-visit the delicious gelato shop that we had gone to earlier in the week – after all, you can never have too much ice cream! Once we all picked our flavors we headed down to the docks and sat by the water, talking and laughing. Jennifer asked me what my favorite part of the week has been so far, and I told her that it’s probably been the nights we’ve gone to the harbor. I can’t say enough how much I love the water, and how much peace and joy I find in the beauty of the soft ebbing of the river, the bright reflection of the lights on its surface, the clear, starry skies and the warm breeze. Take that setting and put together a fantastic group of 13 friends from across the country, each with their own unique story and things to offer, and I don’t think it can get much better than that.

Day 8

Although Sunday is supposed to be a day off filled with rest and relaxation, today was, in reality, quite the opposite.

I began my morning by waking up early and going with Becky, Tori, Hanna and Kayla to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a historic church founded in 1794, for their 10:00 service. After that we met up with Jessi, Steve and Olivia and walked to Ford’s Theater – the place where President Lincoln was assassinated – which was just down the street. When we showed up, we went inside to see if there were any tickets left for the tour, and we were so surprised to find that, although they had all been sold, someone had turned in enough extra ones so that we could not only get into the tour, but go through it for free!

The tour itself consisted of three different parts. First was an exhibit that explored the context surrounding Lincoln’s assassination (the Civil War and the impact of important leaders of the day.) Next was a session in the main theater where we learned all about the events leading up to John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of the President, and finally we got to tour the Peterson House, the boarding house across the street where Lincoln passed away.

After the tour we met up with Katie, Alex, and Amber and grabbed lunch at the Hard Rock Café – my first time eating there ever! I loved walking around the restaurant and looking at all the different mementos and memorabilia from famous stars like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. I even sent my mom a picture of a beige jacket that Billy Joel (one of her favorite singers) wore in the 80s.

After that we all split up and I ended up going shopping with Becky, Katie and Tori. In addition to hitting up some gift shops, we also went to this amazing frozen yogurt place called FroZenYo. You start by grabbing a bowl and filling it with as much frozen yogurt as you want of whatever flavors you want, from strawberry to peanut butter to mango with all sorts of mixes and varieties in between. Next you walk over to a buffet of toppings and add as many strawberries, blueberries, M&Ms, chocolate chips, kiwis, graham crackers, etc. that you like. Finally, you take your bowl to the check out where you pay according to how much it weighs, and then you’re free to enjoy a very delicious dessert that’s at least a little better for you than ice cream!

After dessert we headed back to the dorm, where we quickly changed and then left for Arlington Cemetery. The goal was to make it in time to see the changing of the guard, which is done every half hour between 5pm and 7pm, but what we didn’t realize was that we had a big hike throughout the cemetery to get to the site where the event takes place, and we were already pressed to make it back for dinner by 7. This time constraint combined with the intense heat rendered for a rather sweaty walk, but good news was we did make it in time to see the changing of the guard! Although I really did enjoy being able to walk through the cemetery, I found myself wrestling with a few conflicting emotions. On the one hand, my breath was taken away by the beauty of the landscape: the trees were thick and alive, the flowers blooming, and the hilly path gave character to the place. On the other hand, it was overwhelming to look out at the thousands of gravestones that fill the terrain, knowing that each one represents a life that has passed. The mixture of these two elements felt strange when I really thought about it, but at the same time they made the walk through the cemetery both a powerful and humbling experience.

After Arlington we all headed over to a nice little pizza place called Bertucci’s and had dinner with Rob Haworth and Staci Schottman, the NAIA Vice President for Champions of Character and Director of Public Relations and Communications, respectively. It was just a low-key opportunity for us to get to know each other and enjoy some food together.

Day 9

Thus far in the program, the speakers we’ve heard from have focused their attention and lectures on information pertaining particularly to the Red Cross and our involvement in the blood donation process. This morning, however, Rob Haworth and Staci Schottman from the NAIA came in to talk to us about the other key aspect of why we’re in D.C., which is our involvement in NAIA athletics. As Brian and others involved in the Red Cross/NAIA Collegiate Leadership Program have pointed out, the purpose of the program is to train quality individuals whose lives have been disciplined through athletics to be the voice of the American Red Cross to this upcoming generation, and since we’ve spent the first part of our time in D.C. focusing on the Red Cross component, it was nice to see the athletic component come into play as well.

What I appreciate most about the vision of the NAIA is that its goal and desire is to instill within athletes not only discipline for their individual sport, but also to develop a discipline of character. Throughout high school I always felt that coaches and schools only cared about the results of competition and the honing of skills, but paid little attention to their athletes’ character. After having gone to Houghton College as well as having had the privilege to hear from Rob and Staci, I have seen, heard, and experienced first-hand what it means to value both skill and character development, and it’s honestly been refreshing and encouraging.

In order to accomplish these two goals, the NAIA has developed their “Champions of Character” program which emphasizes the fusion of the five core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership not only into the context of sports, but also into the workplace, at home, with friends, etc. The program sets a high standard for coaches and student athletes alike, holding them accountable for the things they say and do, and I’m really excited to see this movement continue on NAIA campuses across the country.

In the afternoon we also had the opportunity to hear from Sharon Jaksa, Chief Executive Officer of the Great Lakes Blood Services Region. She spoke to us a little more about the important role that our generation plays in the collection of blood, and how imperative it is for us as leaders to work towards increasing the number of first time donors, provide them with a positive experience, produce life-long donors and Red Cross supporters, and increase donor frequency, simply because our generation is the donor population of tomorrow.

One unique part of the day was the filming that we did with the NAIA. Rob and Staci are currently putting together a promotional video that explores the relationship between the Red Cross and the NAIA, as well as the importance of the Collegiate Leadership Program, and we get to be a part of it! They took us aside one at a time and had us answer questions like, “Why should I donate blood?” or “Why did you choose to participate in the Red Cross/NAIA program?” and it’s exciting because our responses just might make it into the video!

After work we all headed back to the dorm for a quick change of clothes, and then left for our long anticipated reception. The reception was, in essence, an hour and a half of mingling with some of the most important figures in the American Red Cross, and honestly I was so nervous for it! As participants of the Red Cross/NAIA Collegiate Leadership program, we are expected to conduct ourselves in a professional and intelligent manner, and trying to do that in front of these very important leaders sounded intimidating and very much outside my comfort zone. To my pleasant surprise, however, the night was not uncomfortable or awkward – every guest there showed a genuine kindness and interest in who we are as well as in the program that we’re a part of, and this enabled us to interact naturally and comfortably with them.

Day 10

This morning’s session started off with Chief Executive Officer of the Lewis and Clark Biomedical Services Region, Julia Wulf, and she spoke to us about how to maximize our future experiences in our blood region. One aspect of our involvement will be attending the regional board meetings, and these are so important because it’s through those meetings that the leaders on the boards get the perspective of young donors and learn new and better ways in which to connect with this upcoming generation. Because of this, it’s critical that we as representatives of our generation not only get involved in the meetings by actively participating and contributing, but also return to our campuses and work to make our blood drives a successful.

After lunch we got the opportunity to do the most incredible thing: meet the President of the American Red Cross, Gail McGovern! Prior to meeting her, I had just assumed that a woman of such position and responsibility would be very formal and serious and that I would feel uncomfortable and out of place while listening to and speaking with her. From the moment she walked into the conference room, however, I knew that my assumptions had been completely wrong. Unlike my mental picture, Mrs. McGovern was bubbly, personable, and down to earth. I never felt like her inferior, and the way she carried herself and responded to our questions tore down any walls we had inadvertently put up, enabling us to thoroughly enjoy our time with her and glean from what she shared. Although I was blessed to see the passion that Mrs. McGovern has for the work of the Red Cross and the genuine interest she expressed in our involvement in this program, the quality that I appreciated most about her was the way in which she allowed herself to be vulnerable – she didn’t try to put on a charade of being the most intelligent or of having all of life figured out, but rather she shared personal stories, fears and struggles that enabled us to relate to her and feel as though she understood us. It’s so rare to come across a leader whose humility gives her that unparalleled strength and ability to lead, and I firmly believe that the Red Cross is incredibly blessed to have Gail McGovern as president.

Throughout high school and my two years in college, Red Cross blood drives have always made their appearance on those campuses several times a year. In all honesty, prior to becoming involved in this program, I hadn’t put much thought into giving blood – I knew it was something that I “should” do, but I was quick to justify not doing it, looking mostly to sports and even the importance of not missing class as my chief excuses out of it. After being accepted into this program, however, my attitude towards giving blood began to change, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I became a donor myself. Well, a week and a half into our time in D.C., and I can proudly say that I am now an official Red Cross blood donor! After work today a group of us headed over to the donation center right next door to headquarters, but unfortunately only five or six of us were able to donate due to low iron levels – I myself just made the cut with a 12.5, which was the minimum! Overall I had a really great first experience: my eyes started to black out once, but I didn’t faint, and I’m always a fan of free food and a free umbrella after! Aside from the material rewards, though, there truly is that wonderful sense of gratification and accomplishment that comes after giving blood, knowing that this type of sacrifice will be an incredible blessing to someone else, and that’s enough for me to continue donating blood from this point on.

We finished up the night with a little girl time, and what better way to spend time together than by going out and grabbing some ice cream? After we got the ice cream we went and sat on some benches, just talking and laughing together, and then some of the girls decided to do some dance moves and cheer routines. Since I’m a really terrible dancer and have no gymnastic ability whatsoever, I enjoyed just sitting on the bench and watching, but it wasn’t long before most of the group got up and joined in the fun. Before I knew it, whole routines were going on right there in front of me, and it was so great to see everybody laughing and having fun together. Although the group as a whole has grown incredibly close over the last week and a half, I think that the girls have formed a really special bond, and I hope that those relationships continue even after our time in D.C. has passed.

Day 11

Today was a strange day because it felt like it should be a Friday, not a Wednesday. It started out like every other, showing up to headquarters at 9:00, and for the first two hours we worked with our groups on our final projects. At 11:00 we reconvened for a catered luncheon, where we had the privilege of eating with and hearing from Dr. Allan Goldberg, Chair of Quality and Regulatory Compliance Subcommittee and member of the Audit and Risk Management Committee for the American Red Cross National Board of Governors. Dr. Goldberg is an incredibly genuine and soft-spoken man, and he shared with us some bits and pieces from his own experience not only as a board member, but also as a blood drive leader at Merck, an international pharmaceutical company.

After lunch we had the opportunity to tour the United States Capital building, which was a really neat experience. The architecture of the place is gorgeous, and the various sections of the building are filled with statues and paintings that take your breath away. My favorite part of the visit, though, was when we made it to the Senate Chamber. The senators were in the process of voting on something (I’m not sure what), and it was incredible to be in the same room with well-known political figures such as John Kerry!

When the tour was finished, we all headed out to the front of the capital building for some pictures, and I must say they were quite funny! We tried really hard to do some neat jumping ones, but from past experiences it wasn’t a surprise to find jumping in unison an extremely difficult task, so our attempts definitely made for some good laughs.

After the initial tour our group ended up splitting up: some went to the National Archives and dinner while those of us who were exhausted and tired of being in the heat chose instead to head back. We stopped at Union Station, grabbed some food, and hit up a few stores before heading back to the dorms for a nice nap and low-key rest of the evening.

Day 12

I can’t even begin to explain how much easier and more pleasant it is to wake up in the morning when you’re greeted by the sunshine! I love walking to work with a blue sky and the warm rays of sun seeping through my clothes… When you are blessed with such a beautiful morning, you just know it’s going to be a good day.

The first speaker we heard from was Nadia Mitchem, Senior Officer for Corporate Partnerships. One thing that I really appreciated about what she shared was her advice to remember that things don’t always turn out like we planned, and because of this it’s important to go through life with an open mind and willingness to take advantage of given situations and opportunities. As college students it’s so easy to try and box ourselves into one specific program and limit our options to a narrowed field of study, but sometimes life throws us curveballs that we don’t expect but that turn out to be better than anything we could have anticipated!

After Nadia we heard from Paula Boggs, Executive Vice President of Starbucks and a member of the American Red Cross Board of Governors, and it was really neat to get a leader’s perspective whose career is outside of the NAIA or the Red Cross and to hear her story, separate from the world of blood drives and sports. Like the other speakers we’ve had come in, Paula shared several valuable insights and pieces of advice. One thing that really stood out to me was the reminder that every day is a gift, and that it’s important not to get caught in the “woulda coulda shoulda” camp. Life presents so many new and exciting opportunities, and even though they can be uncomfortable at times, the rewards and insights gained after the fact are very much worth the risk.

Today was a really special day because we had some incredible visitors – triathlon competitor Brian Boyle and his mom and dad! At the age of 18, Brian was in a horrific car accident that altered his life forever. His heart shifted to the other side of his chest and was restarted several times, he remained in a chemical induced coma for two months, lost 100lbs while in the hospital, and it was thought that he would not walk or talk again. Five years later, Brian published the story of his accident, recovery, and how he came to compete in the incredible Ironman Triathlon.

Immediately following his accident, Brian received 36 blood transfusions from the American Red Cross, and because of this he is both a strong supporter of and advocate for the work of this national organization. Because of his story and connection with the Red Cross, it truly was an honor to have him and his family talk to us and eat lunch with us – we enjoyed their company very much, and it was so disappointing when they had to leave! They have such an incredible story to tell, and it was amazing to hear about where they’ve been and where they are now, the struggles and lessons learned, and the growth and joy that they’ve found in the midst of this trial.

One thing I will never forget about the Boyles was just how genuine and down-to-earth they were. I had the privilege of sitting with them during lunch, and when it was time to return to our sessions in the conference room I went up to shake their hands and thank them, and then they told me, “Hun, where we come from we do hugs,” and I can’t even begin to say how much a simple little hug meant to me! I had known them for all of an hour and a half, and yet they felt comfortable enough to go out of their way to show they truly do care about each and every one of us in the program. After having been in a professional environment for a week and a half, where interactions are formal and handshakes are as personable as it gets, it was a breath of fresh air to receive a hug.

After hearing from Brian and his family, we got to take part in a really neat session where we provided feedback regarding potential Red Cross t-shirt designs. Not only was it fun to get a preview of the shirts to come, but we also enjoyed being able to give constructive feedback regarding the appeal or lack thereof for each design and have those opinions be taken seriously. I can’t wait to see which designs they choose to use!

After work that day we all had a few hours of free time. Several people in the group chose to take a nap and grab dinner, but I ended up having an absolutely fabulous roomie date with Becky. We made our way over to Georgetown for some shopping, but it didn’t take long to discover that the stores along those streets are very expensive, so needless to say neither of us bought very much! Around 9:00 we met up with the rest of the group at the harbor to grab some ice cream, and this was really special because we were joined by Brian and his family, who had flown in earlier that day. We had all heard so much about them before, especially his son and daughter, so it was really neat to finally put faces with names – they’re all so sweet!

On our way back to the dorm, we had an epic piggy-back experience: three people stacked on top of each other! Hanna was on the bottom, Amber in the middle, and Patrick on top, and it was absolutely hilarious to watch! Props to Hanna who was able to walk the three of them a whole block!

Day 13

So the last day finally arrived. It’s kind of crazy to think that our two weeks in D.C. is coming to a close, but honestly it’s something that I think we’ve all been trying to avoid talking about all day, as though if we ignore it, we might be able to stay here longer.

I know for myself it’s been easy to not think about the end because I’ve just been running around like crazy. I don’t think I’ve gotten more than 4 ½ hours of sleep any night this week because of staying up late with friends. Also, we’ve all been working so hard to finish up our projects and get gifts for Brian, Jennifer, Lecia, Tori and Katie, so needless to say I’ve been pretty distracted.

This morning, however, everything started to hit as we all finally realized that today marked the last full day of our experience in our nation’s capital. We all woke up extra early and headed to headquarters by 7:30 to finish up the projects, and before we knew it 9:00 rolled around and it was time to begin. The presentations went very well! It was a lot of fun to be able to see the fruits of our labors, and it’s exciting to think that we now have the opportunity to return to our boards and present the same information to them!

Saying good bye to Brian and Jennifer and others at the Red Cross was really strange because it didn’t quite feel like we were actually departing – in a lot of ways I still felt as though I should wake up the next morning and head right back to headquarters like I’ve been doing for the past two weeks. Because of this, I can’t say that leaving was hard at that moment because it didn’t quite register – I knew I would actually have to be on the plane leaving D.C. before it all hit.

We finished up together after lunch, and after returning to the dorms to change we all headed out in a few smaller groups to do our own thing. Some went to Target, others stayed to nap, but I headed out with Becky, Jake, Patrick, Amber, Alex, and eventually Katie to the White House gift shop and then to the four-story mall in Virginia to do some shopping, which was so much fun! Although I didn’t buy a whole lot, I had a blast playing Ro-Sham-Bo with everybody – winner had to pick out an outfit for the loser to wear! Patrick got to sport an obnoxious neon yellow polo and Bermuda shorts; I wore a snazzy rainbow sequined jacket and strange flowered skirt; and Katie and Becky each picked out a crazy dress and one-piece outfit.

A few others from the group met up with us eventually, and we all ended up hanging out and grabbing dinner together. Shortly after eating, most of us decided to head back to the dorms, where reality began to sink in as we were forced to finish packing. I was leaving at 6:30 the next morning with Alex and Jessi, so it was crucial to get everything together tonight.

The rest of the night was pretty chill – we all hung out in the hall, and after a little bit some went to bed while the rest of us moved into Becky’s and my room, where we actually stayed up until almost 4:00am! While I was doing it I knew that trying to run on 2 hours sleep probably wasn’t the best decision for traveling, but I knew that it would be the last time seeing everybody together like that, so I considered it worthwhile to sacrifice sleep for time with friends.

Day 14

All I have to say is 6:00 came a whole lot earlier that I ever would have wanted. Thankfully my body was able to function on adrenaline, so it wasn’t impossible for me to get up and lug my obnoxiously heavy suitcase to the metro. I was also very grateful for clear skies and a sunny morning – definitely makes life seem so much better and me so much happier!

The trek to the metro was quite a sight: Jessi, Alex and I rolling our heavy suitcases down the street, hitting bumps and divots here and there that would tip them over, sweat started to seep down our faces and backs, we had to pause and rest at the end of every block… it was pretty obvious that we were struggling, and it was almost funny how many taxis pulled over or slowed down when they passed us to see if we needed a ride. I almost wonder if paying the extra couple dollars for an easier trip to the metro would have been worth it.

When we got to the metro, the humor only continued. We made it down the initial escalator, but when we went to go down the second one, we found that it wasn’t running! Because of this, we were forced to try and lug our suitcases down the stairs, which was quite a sight. Every step made a loud “thunk” noise, and it didn’t take much for the suitcases to tip over. Needless to say, we clogged up the stairway and struggled to fix it, when finally a nice young man asked if we needed help, and I told him “YES PLEASE!” After that he carried my suitcase to the bottom of the stairs so I could help Alex with hers – I was so grateful for his help!

Jessi, Alex and I eventually got on the train and made it safe and sound to the airport, where we unfortunately had to split up and each go to our different terminals – so sad! I checked my luggage in and went through security just fine, and since I had some time to kill before my flight I went and grabbed some breakfast and just hung out in the food area. Everything seemed to be running smoothly, but little did I know I was in for a big surprise.

I showed up to my gate a little bit before boarding, and as I was watching the flight screen I noticed that my 9:40 flight to Rochester began to flash, saying that it was “cancelled.” My stomach literally jumped into my throat, and I just stared at it in disbelief. Once I finally pulled myself together I made my way over to the counter to get redirected, where I was put on a 10:10 flight to Syracuse – a city about an hour and a half away from home. As I was waiting for this new flight, though, another curveball hit, and the flight kept getting pushed farther and farther back because of “maintenance.” We didn’t end up boarding until almost 12, and although I finally made it to the airport and met up with my parents, the roller coaster wasn’t over. We went to pick up my luggage, and to our horror it wasn’t there. Apparently half of the people on my flight didn’t have theirs, which was just the cherry on top of a wonderful morning.

In all honesty, though, this morning was filled with lots of excitement, and I’m pretty positive that if I had actually gotten a decent night’s sleep that it wouldn’t have all seemed so dramatic. I was absolutely exhausted the whole day, and I slept on the plane and in the car, and then yet again when I made it home.

The luggage situation ended up working out – I wasn’t expecting to get it for a day or two, but I was presently surprised to find that it was delivered to my door later that afternoon! That was definitely a bright spot to my day.

Aside from the craziness of the trip home, for most of the day my thoughts were occupied with memories of my time in D.C. The experience definitely exceeded all expectations, and I can’t say how grateful I am for Brian, Jennifer, and everyone else who put in countless hours to make such a success – thank you! You guys are amazing!

As I reflect on the last two weeks, I can’t even begin to sum up how much I have learned and how much I am taking away with me. I think it’s safe to say that the whole group’s experience in D.C. has sparked a new passion for the work of the Red Cross, one that is critical for us to have in order to run successful blood drives and make an impact on our campuses. We have all found a new support system, a new team, and a new group of friends who will be there for one another, to encourage each other and to whom we’ll keep accountable in the years to come, and it’s so exciting to think about everything that we will accomplish as Red Cross/NAIA Collegiate Leadership Program participants in the years to come.