High School freshman Emily Stith wanted to be a Red Cross volunteer at the Yokosuka Navy Base hospital. When she went to the Red Cross to register as a volunteer, she was recruited to become the youth leader for the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces Station at Yokosuka Navy Base, Japan.
Initially not many of Stith’s friends were Red Cross volunteers, so, as the new youth leader, Stith set a goal to increase volunteer opportunities for young people. She hoped to do this by creating a variety of service projects and encouraging her friends to participate and to become Red Cross volunteers.
The next two summers, Stith and other young Red Cross volunteers met at the Red Cross office. The group wanted to continue meeting during the school year, but realized how difficult it would be for everyone to attend after-school activities.
Then Stith had an idea—to form a Red Cross high school club so the volunteerism could go forward as an official school function. The Kinnick High School Red Cross Club was chartered on Dec. 15, 2010.
It turns out the Kinnick High School Red Cross Club is the first in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Pacific branch, a network of primary and secondary schools for military dependents in Japan, Korea and Okinawa.
Kids Serve Too
April is the Month of the Military Child. It is a reminder that every member of a military family—the adults and the children—serve. “Growing up in a military environment has really taught me valuable things about freedom and sacrifice,” Stith says.
She says the Red Cross club is a good way to get teenagers involved in the Yokosuka Navy Base community.
Club members build furniture for the Storks Nest, a part of the hospital reserved for pregnant women and their children. They sponsor book drives for injured active duty and military dependents.
“What better way for military dependents to help their community than as Red Cross volunteers?” says Cecil Goodman, Yokosuka Service to the Armed Forces station manager. “These teens know firsthand what military members and their families need, and, through the Red Cross, they can help meet those needs.”
Goodman says club members gathered during their lunch break on Friday, March 11, just hours before the earthquake and tsunami, to assist with the Red Cross information booth and recruit students to become volunteers.
In spite of the chaos and the school closing the following Tuesday, Club president Emily Stith did get out the information about texting for donations to support the earthquake survivors. And after the Stith family self-evacuated to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in southern Japan, she shared her experiences with fellow Red Crossers on the Red Cross Blog and encouraged everyone to Be Red Cross Ready.
Ironically, earlier in the year the club adopted the Great Kanto Earthquake Memorial on Yokosuka Navy Base and agreed to maintain it. That 1923 quake killed more than 100,000 people.
Priceless Service; Priceless Memories
Yokosuka Navy Base is home port to the U.S. Seventh Fleet. Located at the entrance to Tokyo Bay, 43 miles south of Tokyo, Yokosuka is the largest and one of the most strategically important overseas U.S. Naval Installations.
At Yokosuka, thousands of sailors serve their country day-in and day-out, weekdays, weekends and holidays. Sailors were on duty during the winter holidays a few months ago, and Kinnick club members, away from home themselves, could relate.
So when the Red Cross received large moving boxes full of holiday cards, club members knew just what to do. They took piles of cards on board several ships, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, that alone accommodates more than 6,000 sailors. The teens handed out cards for hours, until they ran out.
Emily Stith says getting holiday cards to sailors is the club activity of which she is most proud. She writes:
It was very rewarding to see the happy faces of the men and women who were working over the winter holidays half-a-world away from their families and loved ones. Some said the cards were the first pieces of mail they had received while stationed in Japan. Others thought of them as cards from their little brothers and sisters.
Another reason Stith is proud of the card project is because a group of teenagers from the local Japanese Red Cross Society also participated. The holiday card project was the first in which young volunteers from the American Red Cross and its Japanese counterpart worked together.
Club member Kara Matteson says she really enjoys being able to help out the community while being with her friends.
Matteson talks about creating care packages for Red Cross staff working in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We were given a budget, but we decided what to purchase with that money,” she says. Red Cross Club members sent some personal hygiene items, Japanese and American food and hand-made cards thanking staff members for their service.
“Everyone had fun making the care packages,” Matteson adds, “Especially since we were able to pick the items sent.”
Start Your Own Red Cross Club
Red Cross clubs have been formed in nearly 1,200 high schools. Student volunteers are helping the Red Cross shelter, feed and provide emotional support to victims of disasters; supply nearly half of the nation's blood; teach lifesaving skills; provide international humanitarian aid; and support military members and their families.
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 YouthInvolvement@usa.redcross.org.