Hailey Mathieu wasn’t even in college yet when she completed an internship over her summer break in her hometown of Naples, Fla. Through the Bank of America Student Leaders Program, Hailey was one of 225 high school juniors and seniors throughout the country awarded with paid summer internships at local nonprofits. The program provides community-focused students with leadership training, essential for success in the workforce. One of the highlights of the program was the Student Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. in July, an opportunity for the students to develop their skills and learn how to cultivate a civically engaged society.
This type of self-initiative and determination may not be typical for an average teenager, but Hailey is by no means average. After Hurricane Irma barreled through South Florida in 2017, Hailey noticed a need for disaster relief and emergency services in her community. Knowing she and her peers had the power to alleviate the gap in services, Hailey and the group moved quickly and submitted a proposal to the principal at her school, Gulf Coast High School, and the local Red Cross chapter in Naples. With the help and guidance of John Cain, a volunteer engagement specialist with the Red Cross, and teacher advisor, Patrick Diemert, Hailey and her peers formed a Red Cross Club and the rest is history. The club has been serving the community for two years.
“I think the most rewarding part was the impact we made on our school,” says Hailey. “If you think about it, we had nearly 75 members, some of whom hadn’t ever volunteered before. They were able to teach peers about volunteering, something that will pay for the rest of their lives – Red Cross volunteers for life.”
In the 2018-2019 school year, the club participated in 17 events ranging from fundraisers to beach cleanups. In the beginning of the year, the group put on a fire safety event in Immokalee, Fla., a rural area near Naples. About thirty families signed up for the event. Many of the club members are bilingual which provided a great opportunity for families to answer questions and speak one-on-one about any issues or concerns they had about the smoke alarms. The club also participated in the Holiday for Heroes campaign, where they donated and collected toiletries and gifts for military personnel overseas. They also regularly wrote cards for the elderly in senior centers and for the military.
Hailey recalls when the club first started, “I thought we would just do volunteer events that the Red Cross offers, but it turned out to be a mixture of their events and creating our own events. We were able to partner with a lot of people in the community.”
For example, at a big event called the “Great Naples Duck Race” they had a booth to teach children about the WHALE Tales initiative, a Red Cross program that raises awareness about lifeguarding and water safety. Hailey and the club created hands-on activities to teach children how to be safe in the water. The event’s popularity helped them to interact with hundreds of children in just one day.
At only 18, Hailey has accomplished more than most her age and shows no signs of slowing down or losing focus. She is now a student at the University of South Florida in Tampa and plans on studying biomedical sciences. She even arrived on campus a few weeks before the start of the semester to participate in research. Hailey has a heart for kids with special needs so in addition to her work with the Red Cross, she has been a volunteer at the local hospital and a camp in Bradenton, Fla. for children with special needs. She has her mind set on becoming a pediatrician so she can continue this work. And, of course, she plans on continuing her involvement with the Red Cross while in college.
Despite Hailey’s youth, she is conscious about the needs of her community and mindful of the impact of her work. “I feel really grateful to be a part of the Red Cross Club because I think I’ve become a better student in the last two years. It taught me the meaning of ‘service leadership’ and it taught me how to recognize a need in my community and gave me the resources to fill that gap.”
If you are interested in starting a Red Cross Club in your own school, please contact Jodie Boisvert at Jodie.firstname.lastname@example.org or (561) 383-1032.
Written by Eliza Villanueva
Photos courtesy of Hailey Mathieu