In 1884, six children put on a play that raised $50 that they donated to the then three-year-old American Red Cross. Red Cross founder Clara Barton used the money to aid a family affected by severe Midwestern floods.
Students became involved for the first time in a war effort in 1898, when they helped provide medical support and comfort to American soldiers and their families during and after the Spanish-American War.
World War I inspired an official organization for young people: the American Junior Red Cross. Students knit scarves, rolled bandages and built furniture for hospitals and convalescent homes. They prepared and sent Friendship Boxes containing school and personal items to students overseas. They worked in Victory Gardens (vegetable gardens that added to the nation's food supply) and raised funds. In fact, Junior Red Cross members contributed an amazing $3,677,380 to the Red Cross during the war.
After the war, members of the Junior Red Cross kept working to make children’s lives better, both overseas and here at home. Through the National Children's Fund, the Junior Red Cross aided war victims and refugees throughout Europe and helped fight against the influenza pandemic which struck both Europe and America. Funds were raised to help victims of fires, floods and tornados and to support Native American schools in the American Southwest. During the Great Depression Junior Red Cross members distributed surplus wheat and cotton, collected clothing and food and canned fruits and vegetables.
Junior Red Cross membership grew to almost 20 million during World War II. Activities ranged from the production of clothing, toys, furniture and art works to entertainment and recreational programs at military camps and hospitals.
Following World War II, the Junior Red Cross continued some traditional programs, such as assistance to war veterans and their families, disaster relief, and public health. The Red Cross introduced an International Student Work-Study Program, started a High School Chest Program which sent school supplies to students who had lost them in natural disasters and set up Leadership Development Centers for junior and senior high school and college students.
Thousands of civic-minded youth help us fulfill our humanitarian mission. Local community clubs and Red Cross School Clubs provide opportunities for leadership development, community service and training in life-saving skills.
Young Red Cross volunteers are as diverse as the U.S. population. We’re athletes organizing blood drives on college campuses. We’re nursing students training to serve in community disaster shelters. We’re high school students raising funds to vaccinate kids in third-world countries against measles.
At the American Red Cross, a 13-year-old from a small town and a 16-year-old from one of the biggest cities in the country come together and work for the same purpose. Everything they do helps their community—and echoes around the world.
Young professionals, college students and high school, middle school and elementary school students make a difference every day. Join our efforts.
To find out how you can become a young humanitarian in today’s Red Cross, contact your Local Red Cross.