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Red Cross youth volunteers bring lifesaving skills to Fleet Week

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There's the expectation that you'll lead, and so the youth step up and do their part.

By Eric French

Amid the teeming crowds gathered on the Marina Green in early October to see the Blue Angels enthrall with their aerial gymnastics during San Francisco's 2016 Fleet Week, a group of high-school Red Cross volunteers quietly but effectively ran 20-minute courses on Citizens CPR and Fire Preparedness.

Under the watchful eyes of people of all ages and walks of life, Heather Bootzin, a high school junior, demonstrated proper CPR technique on a fellow volunteer; nearby, Jonathan Ho distributed a tent-full of fire preparedness materials. And they were joined by several other Red Cross youth volunteers.

By the end of their two shifts during Fleet Week's signature weekend, hundreds of people walked away from the youth-run activities at the annual Bay Area event much more prepared for an emergency.

What made the group's trainings unique was that they were almost entirely conceived of and executed by high school students. In fact, the only significant adult influence in the high-schoolers' involvement in Fleet Week was to merely suggest that the youth volunteers participate at all, says Pamela Baze, Volunteer and Youth Services Manager for the Red Cross in San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.

Students like Bootzin and Ho are members of Red Cross clubs scattered throughout high schools in the Red Cross's Northern California Coastal Region. These clubs coordinate with the Red Cross through the organization's Volunteer and Youth Services Program. This program gives high school and college-age students vital community-building experience; in the process, the experience helps onboard the next generation of Red Cross leaders.

Those who show exceptional leadership skills may land a spot on one of the region's three Youth Executive Boards, in San Francisco/San Mateo, Silicon Valley, and Oakland. Members of these youth boards focus their attention on a particular Red Cross activity or "line of service." These boards also serve as a channel of communication between the individual Red Cross clubs and the Red Cross itself.

VYS staff members are there to provide guidance on everything from how to use branded Red Cross materials to how to run activities such as blood drives. A spot on a Youth Executive Board is a coveted role, and each one has a dedicated role to play, from "Preparedness" to "President."

As the chair of the San Francisco/San Mateo youth board, Ho was inspired to start a Red Cross club after attending the region's Leadership Development Center. Bootzin says she joined the same Red Cross club that Ho started three years ago, adding that the volunteer opportunities the Red Cross provides youth are unique.

"They give us so much responsibility," Bootzin says. "There's the expectation that you'll lead, and so the youth step up and do their part."

Yvonne Du, a youth board Preparedness Health and Safety Services coordinator, is another high schooler eager to "do her part."

"Yvonne was very instrumental in leading our involvement in Fleet Week," Baze says. "She created the training tools and organized several training days for youth before the event. It turned out to be a really great event for our youth volunteers, and we hope to participate in it each year."

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About the photo: High school students Heather Bootzin and Jonathan Ho were two of the Red Cross youth volunteers who ran CPR and preparedness exercises at the recent Fleet Week in San Francisco. (Photo: Eric French)

About the author: Eric French is a communications volunteer affiliated with San Francisco County for the American Red Cross of the Bay Area.