Monday, April 20, 2020

My Red Cross Story: Will Chai

Written by: Sandy Habib, Communications Volunteer

Young people have so many choices when it comes to how they can spend their leisure time. There’s nothing more inspiring, though, than hearing stories about youth that spend countless hours giving back to their communities in profound ways.

Will Chai’s Red Cross story spans several U.S. states and numerous projects, groups and missions. Will spent his early childhood in Iowa and Kansas, where he grew up with a strong Red Cross presence, especially during tornado season. By the time he and his family moved to Maryland for Will’s high school years, he had a clear impression of the relief and comfort that the Red Cross is so famous for bringing to those affected by disasters.

In his freshman summer of high school, Will and his friend, Brendan Tan, started a Red Cross club at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland. Will served as Co-President and Founder for his remaining three years at the school. In his role, he recruited many members and facilitated countless activities.

During his tenure, Will was elected onto the National Capital Region’s Volunteer Appreciation Committee, where he helped create policies that improved volunteer engagement in the region. In 2017, he served as a Citizen CPR Leader and Blood Services Ambassador. Will hosted numerous fundraisers, conducted disaster preparedness education sessions, scheduled group speakers, assembled disaster preparedness kits and made house visits as part of the Sound the Alarm program, to name a few.

“The Red Cross experience is what you make of it.  We have so many activities, so many opportunities for youth to get involved, even if it’s just 1-2 hours a week.”

Will was recognized for his efforts by being awarded the 2015-2016 Youth Volunteer of the Year for the National Capital Region. He also received the 2015 and 2016 Presidential Volunteer Service Award and was selected to be the host and speaker for the 2016 National Capital Region’s Red Cross Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.

Will’s story continued as he headed off to Brown University, where he is currently in his sophomore year. In between his health, human biology, and pre-med studies, he has continued with his commitment to the Red Cross. Brown didn’t have a Red Cross presence on campus before Will arrived, but he reached out to the Red Cross in the Connecticut/Rhode Island region to change that.

The CT/RI chapter introduced him to people at Brown who were able to help Will submit the application to formalize a presence on campus. He now serves as the official Red Cross Club Chapter contact at Brown University and began recruiting members when COVID-19 hit and campus was evacuated. Although he is currently living with his family in Maryland, he is actively making plans for when Brown University reopens and students return: fundraisers, volunteer recruitment on campus, community engagement throughout the local region, connection with other Red Cross clubs in the area and partnerships with area high schools.

“If you help your neighbor, they are more likely to pay it forward and help someone else.  Sometimes you need to get the ball rolling to foster that kind of culture. This is what I want to do at Brown and in the local community. I want to build that kind of culture.”

The other inspirational part of Will’s story is that his experience with the Red Cross has influenced his studies and his future career aspirations. He ultimately wants to focus on health equity, health education, and health policy. His spirit of social activism as a young person has triggered a professional commitment to give back to society. Will was selected to participate in a fellowship and intern on Capitol Hill this summer. This will give him a great direct experience learning about health policy.

While Will adds more to his education and career development workloads, he continues to work with the Red Cross. He is currently the Peer Outreach Working Group Lead on the National Youth Council of the Red Cross. This Council consists of 13 youth members and two adult advisors who represent and support youth volunteers throughout the country. They are advocates for youth and young adults, and they’re a part of the National Youth Engagement Team in Red Cross Volunteer Services, working very closely with other National Headquarters departments to create programs and initiatives that benefit youth volunteers. Though their adult advisors offer guidance, it is the youth who are leading the group and its activities. 

Will and his fellow Council members regularly engage with thousands of Red Cross youth volunteers nationwide. They host social media campaigns, lead initiatives like National Youth Involvement Month in November, encourage and organize volunteer activities for youth, and offer leadership and scholarship opportunities to outstanding volunteers. Currently, the Council is working on educating the public about the misconceptions about the blood donation process. In fact, applications for the Council are opening very soon. You can find out more information about the incredible opportunities for volunteers below.

“Even now, when we’re all staying at home for COVID-19 social distancing, the Red Cross offers online programs that enable volunteers to help their local communities. There are also many online training courses covering all of the Red Cross lines of service.”  

To learn more about youth opportunities with the Red Cross, specifically with the National Youth Council, please check out the resources that Will has provided below. Youth is defined as someone aged 13-24. 
  • We run an official Red Cross website, with activity guides and other great resources for youth. I especially want to emphasize the volunteering from home guide on our website packed with flexible, virtual Red Cross activities. We'll also be posting information about the blood shortage on our website and official social media pages below. 
  • We also run a Facebook group called American Red Cross Youth Network and an Instagram @americanredcrossyouth, where youth can find the latest updates and announcements of our programs and initiatives. We run social media campaigns, scholarships for youth and offer lots of leadership opportunities like our Field Ambassador program. Also, applications for the National Youth Council itself are coming out, and the best way for youth to stay updated is through these platforms! You can also directly check the National Youth Council application page here.

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