by Amy Yen, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region
Pranay Gundam does not sound like he is 18 years old on the phone. He sounds poised and articulate and thoughtful. He has recently been selected as a Field Ambassador with the American Red Cross National Youth Council—just one of 17 people to be selected nationally—and he sounds the part.
“I feel like the community has done a lot for me,” he tells me. “I want to show what I can contribute to it.”
Although Pranay’s new role will report directly to the National Youth Council, who nationally represent and serve the youth volunteers of the Red Cross, his story started here in North Texas, with a single Red Cross Club.
“In 10th grade, two years ago, I was trying to find ways to give back to the community. It was right around the time of Hurricane Matthew, and I could see that, on an international level, the Red Cross was obviously doing a lot to help everybody. I wanted my service to be on that level,” he explained. “So I decided to become a Red Cross volunteer and see what I can do. I think that so far, I’ve been able to slowly increase the reach of my impact.”
The journey was not simple. The Red Cross’ North Texas youth program was relatively small, and Pranay initially had difficulty getting started. He wanted to start a Red Cross Club at his school, Plano West Senior High, but didn’t know what to do.
“Initially, it was kind of difficult, because in Dallas, there weren’t that many other clubs. Some regions have a lot of clubs and are very active, but not here. The biggest way we overcame this challenge was going out to the chapter in person and getting information about upcoming Red Cross events and materials about Red Cross services. Once I got to know the volunteer coordinators, it became much easier,” he explained.
Pranay’s Red Cross Club began to grow. They fundraised and worked to increase awareness of Red Cross activities and disaster preparedness in the community. Each year, they have a booth at the Plano International Fall Festival. There are games for kids to play and a fundraising jar for people to donate. While the kids are playing, Red Cross Club members talk to the parents about how to be prepared for different disasters.
With his club up and running, Pranay wanted to do more. He started working with Red Cross Volunteer Services to help other schools in the area start Red Cross Clubs, hoping to help them avoid some of the challenges he faced when he was getting started.
“All the other clubs that are just getting started now, I want to make it easier for them. I want new clubs to be able to piggyback off of what existing clubs have already done. It’s one of the most common things to happen—clubs will start, but then they’ll fizzle out after one or two years, because there’s not enough people joining or they just don’t know what to do.”
In just the past two years, Pranay has already helped fellow students start Red Cross Clubs in schools in Dallas, Plano, Frisco, Allen and Coppell. Then, over the summer, the Red Cross’ youth volunteer coordinator suggested that Pranay apply for the Field Ambassador position.
“It felt pretty good to be selected. But mostly, it feels good to be part of a group of people who are doing the same thing as me. It’s going to be good to have people to collaborate with and to get help for my region and be able to help other regions as well,” said Pranay.
He already has big ideas about what he wants to accomplish in his new position. He wants to establish a regional youth council to help different club presidents and members collaborate. He also wants to start a monthly newsletter to help share events and ideas between clubs in the region.
In the meantime, Pranay is spending his winter finishing his college applications. (“It will all be over after the 1st,” he told me.) His dream school is the University of Chicago, where he wants to study Economics. He plans to stay involved with the Red Cross.
“I have become a better leader,” he says about his volunteer work. “I feel like I’m making an impact. I feel like I’m helping others, by empowering them, whether that’s helping start Red Cross Clubs or just in the community. I want to see how far I can go.”
We bet it’ll be pretty far.
Want to become a Red Cross youth volunteer like Pranay? Visit RedCross.org/DFW to start your Red Cross story.