By Jane Harriman, Red Cross volunteer
To 18-year-old Ali Hassania the word "prom" may not conjure up the usual images of the festive rite of passage that blooms on the road to high school graduation.
Rather, Ali is apt to think first of the "prom" he and fellow members of the Red Cross Club at South River High School in Edgewater, MD gave in recent months at a veterans' senior center.
"It was really good," he says, his voice warming at the memory of the happy elderly dancers. That ‘prom’ was just one of the missions the 30 students in the Red Cross club ran this year under Ali's leadership.
Other missions involved raising money within the ranks of the almost 2,200-student school as well as in the surrounding communities. Ali says some of the money collected was given back to the club which was used to buy and distribute badly needed goods and supplies to needy veterans and victims of disaster in the region. The club also worked to install fire alarms in homes that needed them.
But in between such missions the club devoted major efforts to planning, promoting and conducting 14 blood drives at the school, each drawing as many as 40 young donors. Under Ali's leadership South River was the first high school in the region to hold a summer blood drive.
During the past year, Ali says club membership increased from 10 to 30 students. He's proud to add that his younger sister, a South River high school freshman, is among the new recruits.
"Participating in the club is a really good way to give back to the local and national community," Ali says. "You can help change hundreds of thousands of lives every day."
This year, Ali has given the Red Cross at least 15 hours of volunteer time each month -- well over 100 hours. For his efforts, he has been named the Greater Chesapeake Region of the Red Cross’ September Volunteer of the Month. He was recently elected chairman of its youth advisory committee and also received a national Presidential Volunteer Service Award with fellow club member Charmi Patel.
"Ali is passionate about the Red Cross and has been very active since joining," said Gloria Coliton, Red Cross volunteer specialist. "He has been very active with the various mission related activities. He has been a true asset to youth programming in the Greater Chesapeake Region as well as to his club.”
Ali's interest in the Red Cross stems from the time when his family lived in California. Wildfire devastated his grandparents’ home. But as the small boy witnessed, the Red Cross was there to help restore their lives.
Settling into his senior year, Ali finds time on top of his busy Red Cross schedule to throw on South River High's track team uniform and to study hard. Math and science are his favorite subjects and next year he hopes to go away to college and pursue a career in engineering.
Safe to bet, his passion for the Red Cross will enroll beside him.