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Ghouls on Elm Street

A stately Victorian has distinguished Elm Street in Morristown, New Jersey, for more than a century.

Every October, the landmark is overtaken with vampires, pyromaniacs and eerily-silent misshapen masked figures. For the rest of the year, the building is home to the Morristown chapter of the American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey.

The Haunted House is an annual fundraising project for the chapter’s 70-member Youth Council that brings together students from more than 20 different area high schools. Teen volunteers plan, decorate and staff the weekend event, providing young visitors a Halloween Party and lessons about Red Cross services and safety.

“This year, proceeds are going to the chapter’s local disaster fund,” said Red Cross youth coordinator Karen Winlund. That’s because area youth saw first-hand the truckloads of supplies needed to respond to flooding, downed trees and power outages in New Jersey caused by Hurricane Irene late this summer.

Haunted House Chair Yash Patel gets ready for opening day. Photo credit: Karen Winlund

Take a Tour

When the Haunted House opened this year, there was a line of people out the door anxiously waiting to take the tour. “It was really fun to have so many people waiting to get in,” says Winlund. She goes on to say all the volunteers were in their places ready for the event, each feeling like someone giving a party and wondering if anyone was going to come.

One group at a time, visitors crept from room to room. Teen actors continuously repeated a skit in each room highlighting one aspect of Red Cross service.

Go into the Blood Room and come face-to-face with vampires talking about the importance of donating lifesaving blood. In the Health and Safety Room, masked manikins used by the Red Cross during CPR and AED training encourage visitors to get trained.

There’s a simulated fire in the Fire Safety Room, blaring alarms and so much “smoke” you can’t see the walls. A costumed fireman teaches guests how to get down on the floor, crawl to the door, and to stop and feel the door for heat before opening it.

Last on the Haunted House Tour is the Red Cross Activity Room. Here teen volunteers provide snacks, paint faces and give every visitor a Ghoulie Bag with Halloween treats and information about how to prepare for an emergency by building a kit and making a plan.

Red Cross Youth Opportunities

Red Cross chapter youth coordinator Karen Winlund talks about the many values of becoming a Red Cross volunteer. “Volunteering puts high school students in a place where they are doing something for others rather than for their own gain,” she said. “Teens learn that feeling of unselfishness.”

Tens of thousands of American Red Cross volunteers are age 18 and under. Many chapters offer formal and informal activities for youth, including camps, youth clubs and training in skills such as leadership, swimming, lifeguarding, CPR, babysitting and wilderness and remote first aid.

Contact your local Red Cross to learn about opportunities for young volunteers in your community.