|Sandy Tesch Wilkins administers a vitamin A drop to a child in The Gambia as part of a campaign led by the American Red Cross and four other organizations to provide measles vaccinations and vitamins.(Photo credit: Daniel Cima)
By Katherine Tam
A volunteer stint to pass the time after school when Sandy Tesch Wilkins was 14 has turned into more than a decade-long commitment she cannot bear giving up.
She's the one in the American Red Cross jacket at the aftermath of a San Francisco house fire, making sure displaced residents have a warm place to stay and food to eat. She's the one meeting with young professionals, figuring out how to plug their specialized skills and busy schedules into the Red Cross network.
And she's the one at the decision-making table in Geneva, Switzerland at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies headquarters, shaping programs and policies to encourage more young people age 30 or younger around the world to get involved and ensure those that do have a fulfilling experience.
"The Red Cross invested in me when I was young," Tesch Wilkins, 29, said. "I had so many mentors who were interested in my personal development and helped guide me. I want to make sure other youth have the opportunities I did."
The first in her immediate family to attend college, the UC Berkeley graduate spends her days at her alma mater where she works as a fundraising officer in the university's Annual Giving Program. She plans and coordinates alumni donations, and trains others to be fundraising volunteers.
Beyond campus, Tesch Wilkins is helping build and maintain an environment at the Red Cross where youth not only engage in their communities but can also become leaders - locally, nationally and globally.
As chair of Youth Services at the Bay Area chapter, she helps strategize and plan programs for the 10-county region. She successfully lobbied senior leaders to create the National Young Professionals Council to focus on tapping young professionals and bringing them into the Red Cross fold.
At the global level, Tesch Wilkins serves as a Youth Commission member for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, helping develop programs and policies that affect 7 million youth volunteers in 187 countries.
"She is thoughtful, powerful and diplomatic," said Alissa May, director of Volunteer and Youth Services at the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter. "She's not usually the person who speaks first in a group. She listens to what everyone says, thinks about it, and finds a way to bring it all together."
Tesch Wilkins knows first hand the role youth volunteers can play at the Red Cross as well as how the skills they learn can help them grow as individuals and mature.
Tesch Wilkins first volunteered with the Red Cross when she was 14, filing, answering phones and doing other basic clerical work. The organization welcomed her with open arms, she said.
In college, she became an active Red Cross student recruiter, handing out fliers in Sproul Plaza and promoting the importance of giving blood. She founded the UC Berkeley Red Cross Club, set strategic goals, recruited more than 100 volunteers, and organized club meetings, events and blood drives.
Today, the club is one of the most effective college campus branches nationwide, May said. It raises more money, collects more blood donations and is more engaged in Red Cross activities than most college Red Cross clubs across the country, she added.
"Her path is one we'd want every one of our youth to take," May said. "She's been actively involved since high school through college and is now engaging on a higher strategic level. She's always willing to be there for us."
Tesch Wilkins spends about 10 hours a week volunteering with the Red Cross. Vacations are usually spent at Red Cross events and meetings.
"I know I'll be a volunteer for the rest of my life in some way," Tesch Wilkins said.
Katherine Tam is a communications coordinator in Internal Communications at UC's Office of the President.