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San Francisco School Clubs Provide Model for Intergenerational Service

It has been nearly four decades since 25 bilingual youth volunteers at San Francisco’s American Red Cross Bay Area chapter began reaching out to the city’s elderly Chinese residents to help them prevent, prepare for and cope with disasters.

The Chinese community responded, and asked for more. This holiday season roughly 550 members of special Red Cross high school clubs called Youth for Chinese Elderly are giving back to their community. Primarily students in nine San Francisco high schools, many Youth for Chinese Elderly are recent Chinese immigrants with flawless bilingual skills.

“Youth for Chinese Elderly is a really great way for teens, especially teens who are recent immigrants, to start out in the community in which they will soon take their places as young adults,” says Debbie Yee, Youth for Chinese Elderly project manager at the American Red Cross Bay Area chapter. “Through the project they develop confidence, build skills and meet a lot of people in the nonprofit and business communities.”

The students provide Chinese-language disaster preparedness education at community events. They become certified health and safety instructors so the Red Cross can offer first aid, CPR and disaster training in Chinese.

Also, each Youth for Chinese Elderly club is paired with its very own senior building. Adopt A Senior Building, as the project is known, allows the Red Cross to reach a most underserved and vulnerable population in the Bay Area—elderly Chinese who speak only their native language.

Disaster Preparedness for Seniors

Strong relationships develop between the generations as club members, in groups of five to 15, visit their senior building about once a month, year-round, teaching seniors about disaster preparedness, basic first aid and common English words needed in disasters. Lessons are interspersed with arts and crafts projects, games and exercises.

For many of the seniors the free program is the only opportunity they have to get out of their rooms and spend time with young people able to sit and talk with them in Chinese. In return, youth volunteers learn about the lives the seniors have lived, and practice their leadership and presentation skills.

Because of the time, vision and dedication Red Cross volunteers bring to Adopt A Senior Building, the project has had a profound and lasting impact on the San Francisco community. A whopping 14 senior buildings and 400 seniors are trained in disaster preparedness each month.

Resources for Supporting Red Cross High School Clubs

Teenage Youth for Chinese Elderly club members in San Francisco high schools have inspired many to participate in preparing everyone for future disasters.

What better New Year’s resolution than to start an Adopt A Senior Building project in your high school? The intergenerational program gives young volunteers a chance to learn leadership and training skills, as well as provide networking opportunities with local community agencies and businesses that partner with the American Red Cross.

The Adopt A Senior Building program is currently unique to the Bay Area chapter—however it is a model that can easily be adopted for any community and in any language. All you need is an active Red Cross high school club, such as clubs currently in nearly 1,200 high schools where student volunteers are delivering Red Cross services across the nation.

If no club exists at your school, you may want to start one. There are many free online School Club resources that provide all the information you need to get up and running.

Join the thousands of high school students already making a difference by serving as American Red Cross volunteers. For additional information about school clubs in your area, contact