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The First American Red Cross Youth Volunteers
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Mary Etta Boesl
April 26, 2006

Young volunteers supported the American Red Cross as early as 1884, when the organization itself was just in its infancy. The “Little Six,” as they called themselves, raised money to help with relief efforts caused by severe flooding along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

In 1884, heavy floods spread through the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. It was the worst flood experienced in years. The Ohio River rose to 70 feet at the City of Cincinnati, leaving more than 7,000 families homeless. As the water moved southward, people in communities from Cincinnati to New Orleans faced disaster. In some instances dams broke and the Mississippi spread to 50 feet across.

Red Cross founder Clara Barton traveled up and down the two rivers by steamer for nearly four months distributing coal, clothing, tea, coffee, sugar, rice and medicine for thousands who were hungry and homeless. As the floods subsided and people returned to their homes, Barton made another trip. This time she provided farm tools, furniture and kitchenware that would help people resume their lives.

Praise for the work of Clara Barton and the Red Cross from local newspapers and governments got the attention of six children living north of the flood area in Waterford, Pennsylvania. The group put on a play that raised more than $50, which they gave to the Red Cross. Clara Barton used the donation to aid a large family affected by the floods.

“Sometime again when you want money to help you in your good work, call on the Little Six,” they wrote to Barton.

Thus began the Red Cross tradition of youth volunteers. Today, 21 percent of Red Cross volunteers—nearly 200,000—are youth aged 18 and under. These young volunteers serve as trainers, board members and in other leadership positions. Like the original Little Six, today’s youth also raise money to help the Red Cross carry out its mission to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

Young people across the U.S. have raised thousands of dollars for the Red Cross to support programs and services from providing hurricane relief to vaccinating 200 million African children against measles. Children have collected donations, held bake sales and car washes, obtained matching donations from businesses, sold red hearts, honey, label pins and more.

Of course, some youth fundraisers never change. Some 121 years after the Little Six entertained people with their play to raise $50 for flood relief, students with Red Cross youth leadership groups in Rochester, N.Y., performed in a talent show, raising more than $2,000 for disaster relief. Yes, the American Red Cross has a proud history of commitment to youth and thankfully, youth are committed to the American Red Cross.

Mary Etta Boesl handles volunteer communications at the American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C. The American Red Cross has helped people mobilize to help their neighbors for 125 years. Last year, victims of a record 72,883 disasters, most of them fires, turned to the nearly 1 million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross for help and hope. Through more than 800 locally supported chapters, more than 15 million people each year gain the skills they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies in their homes, communities and world. Almost 4 million people give blood—the gift of life—through the Red Cross, making it the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The Red Cross helps thousands of U.S. service members separated from their families by military duty stay connected. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a global network of more than 180 national societies, the Red Cross helps restore hope and dignity to the world's most vulnerable people. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

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