Passionate Volunteer Finds Career Fulfillment with the Red Cross

Harriet Vanderbilt/Red Cross Cascades Region

Michael Mawdsley fell in love with the Red Cross at the tender age of 13. After volunteering at a local blood drive, he became enamored with the Red Cross mission. Michael’s love affair became a lifelong obsession of 36 years and counting. In 2001, he became a full-time employee.

In 1987, a fellow Boy Scout pursuing his Eagle Scout rank asked Michael to work a blood drive with him. “I was an eighth grader and I got hooked on the Red Cross – organizing lots of blood drives in the years to come both at my church and as a student at Jesuit High School.!”

Michael saw in the Red Cross countless opportunities for young people – both as volunteers for the organization and early career and skill development. Michael organized a Portland-area Red Cross youth council including young people from a dozen high schools as a way to increase engagement with the Red Cross and create new opportunities for youth and young adults .  “We planned informational sessions to discuss health and safety, emergency preparedness, Red Cross volunteer opportunities, and of course, give back to the organization in a variety of ways.”

While in high school, Michael became involved in efforts to re-start the National Youth Council and while a student at the University of Portland, joined the council which was comprised of students from around the country, all of whom were engaged volunteers with the Red Cross.  “In 1991, Elizabeth Dole, then President of the National Red Cross, appointed me as Chair the National Youth Council,” recalled Michael.  “I was the first youth volunteer to hold this position”.   There were 12 members on the council including two members of the Board of Governors. .  “My Vice-Chair was Navin Narayan who later became the Chair and for whom the Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Involvement was later named.”

As a liaison to the Board of Governors on matters of youth involvement, Michael sat on Board of Governors’ committees and later was appointed to the Board in 1998 where he served until 2001. Committee work at the national level expanded his knowledge and deepened his love for Red Cross.  “I continued to volunteer with National headquarters post-college and in the early years of my career.”

Michael had the opportunity to work with many wonderful youth and young adult volunteers, promoting their work even after he “grew up”. The legacy of the National Youth Council is kept alive today by hard-working, passionate young people who lead this group, engage youth across the country, and serve the organization in a myriad of ways. One cannot mention legacies without recalling the contribution of Michael’s successor on the council – Navin Narayan. “Navin was a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard student when we met.  Over the period of two and a half years, working side by side, we became close friends.  He was an extremely innovative, dedicated and compassionate Red Cross volunteer.”  Tragically, Navin succumbed to cancer at the age of 23.

To honor his life and continue his legacy, the National Youth Council set up a scholarship to award a high school senior a one-time award of $1,000.  “Students must show proof of graduation and intent to attend a 4-year college or university,” Michael explained. “They must have been a Red Cross volunteer for two years to apply.”

Michael continues to be an active  Red Crosser.  As an employee since 2001, Michael worked for Blood Services throughout the Pacific Northwest and is currently the  Senior Director of Digital Solutions for the organization’s award-winning Innovation Team.  “This innovative team tasks itself with problem solving in diverse areas.  We endeavor to develop solutions to challenges in biomed, disaster cycle services, supply chain,  transportation, training services, and logistic to name a few.”

“It is our goal to provide fresh thinking to old problems and, where appropriate, deliver new tools in the form of data science models, smart-phone and computer apps, and even virtual reality games all to help modernize how Red Cross works.  I visit blood drives and disaster shelters all over the country to  talk to volunteers and staff, donors, and clients.  I want feedback.  I encourage ideas.  What’s working well?  What’s inefficient?”

Michael is especially interested in two current projects – his team is building apps for paid and volunteer blood transport drivers.  “The Red Cross has more than 3,000 drivers nationally.  Our new app will give the driver step-by-step instructions to deliver and pick-up blood products to and from hospital customers and blood drives, making available last minute volunteer opportunities for emergency deliveries to those who can help”

“Service is a lifelong passion for me whether it’s volunteering for a favorite organization or working to improve the lives and experiences of others.  Michael urges youth and young adults who want to get involved to “find something that is really important to you and commit to pursuing it. You never know where it may lead!”