By Bethany Bray Patterson, American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager
Neel Mehra began volunteering with the Red Cross of the National Capital and Greater Chesapeake region in 2020, when he was 15 years old. This summer – just days after graduating high school – he stepped into a full-time position to fill in for a Red Crosser who took a temporary leave of absence.
What started as a way to volunteer and “do something constructive” during the COVID-19 pandemic grew into his first “real job,” and an experience he says he’ll always carry with him.
As part of the volunteer services team, Neel has been able to support and interact with some of the more than 5,200 individuals who volunteer with the Red Cross of the National Capital and Greater Chesapeake Region – people of all ages and backgrounds who have a rich diversity of life experiences, he says.
“Joining the Red Cross means you’re part of a bigger family,” says Mehra, who left his hometown of Vienna, Virginia this month to begin classes at Duke University. “It’s so unique, you won’t get that experience at other places. To be able to grow up in this atmosphere, not only as a volunteer but as an employee … it’s something I’m going to value for a long time. Whatever field I go into, I will remember my humanitarian background. That’s what the Red Cross has given me.”
This summer, Mehra helped manage the online platform the Red Cross uses to keep track of volunteer hours, registration for events, add or edit volunteer profiles and other tasks. He also did a lot of troubleshooting with employees and volunteers who came across challenges while using the platform.
The job was a natural extension of skills he learned and developed as a volunteer over the past three years, he says, combined with helpful support from the volunteer services team. The employee Mehra filled in for, Neal Hunter, trained Neel so he could easily jump in to his first day as an employee.
"Our robust youth program is something I’ll always be proud of, but to watch supportive employees like Neal Hunter invest in their team in this way is remarkable,” says Joe Miletti, volunteer and youth services officer for the Red Cross of the National Capital and Greater Chesapeake Region. “Neel and Neal are setting precedent for creative program management and professional development of our youth, who are the future of the American Red Cross.”
Mehra has also developed a passion to involve more young people in the Red Cross mission – and he’s started close to home, recruiting his younger brother, Akhil.
As the summer wound down, Mehra trained 15-year-old Akhil to step into the volunteer role he previously held with Red Cross volunteer services. He also transferred his own volunteer profile to the Red Cross chapter in North Carolina so he could stay involved with the Red Cross while at Duke.
“Everyone needs a passion project, a side thing that they’re contributing to community,” says Mehra, who plans to major in economics and computer science. “The Red Cross is a very unique organization, and for me, it’s something that gives me a purpose and sense of doing good. It makes me happy to contribute to the impact we’re making.”
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Red Cross. 90% of our workforce is volunteers.
Volunteering with the Red Cross can be an opportunity to learn new skills or use ones that you already have, from driving and loading vehicles to checking in blood donors to serving meals or offering spiritual care to people affected by disasters.
Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can support your community.