Youth Red Cross volunteer to be honored

Hightstown High School senior Haley Reimbold will be awarded the highest honor possible for a Red Cross youth volunteer next month.

By: Chris Karmiol
   When Haley Reimbold was 6 years old she became what she refers to as a "strict vegetarian." The reason? At that young age Haley — now 18 and a soon-to-be graduate of Hightstown High School — realized that the chicken she was eating was actually … well, a chicken.
   "Ever since I was little I was sentimental about people and animals," she explained.
   Her compassion guides her. But Haley’s abundant compassion extends beyond the rights of animals. She’s concerned with people suffering from AIDS in Africa, the continent which has the highest rate of AIDS victims in the world. She’s also concerned with people suffering in this community.
   Whether it is organizing holiday parties for underprivileged kids in the area — as she did last year — or volunteering with disaster relief services at a destructive apartment fire — as she did last week — Haley puts the needs of others ahead of her own.
   President of the Red Cross Mercer County Youth Council and co-president of the Hightstown High School Red Cross Club, Haley dedicates most of her waking hours to affecting positive change.
   "She really likes getting involved and doing things for others," said Jeannie Heikes, a Red Cross volunteer youth chairperson for central New Jersey. "I asked her when she slept, because there are more things she does than there are hours in the day."
   Next month Haley will be honored by the American Red Cross with its Woodrow Wilson Award for Exemplory Youth Volunteer Service — its highest youth honor. The Red Cross will fly her to its national convention in Phoenix for the event. She was chosen from the entire corps of nationwide Red Cross youth volunteers.
   Nominated by the local Red Cross chapter, Haley found out she won the honor at a Red Cross fund-raising gala held this year at the Princeton Hyatt. She was there, typically, as a volunteer.
   "I was really shocked," she said, "because I didn’t expect it at all."
   This will not be her first Red Cross honor, though. A Red Cross Club member for the past six years — two years at the Melvin H. Kreps Middle School, when it had a Red Cross Club, and four years at Hightstown High — Haley has previously taken home the organization’s Pace Setter Award and its Outstanding Youth Involvement Award.
   Receiving awards and honors, though, is not her goal.
   "She was quite pleased," her mother, Lorraine Reimbold, said of the national Red Cross honor, "but she said it’s what she does every day that she’s proud of. The award wasn’t a big deal."
   "I feel like it takes away the whole point of volunteering," Haley said, though she conceded, "It’s nice to be recognized."
   The world is full of leaders. But leadership, to many, is more concerned with the expression of power and ego than with the desire to help others along. Haley, it seems, does not embody that egocentric idea of leadership.
   Through volunteerism, according to her mom, Haley has helped her develop excellent leadership qualities, but those qualities have been apparent for many years.
   "She is a leader," Ms. Reimbold said. "Her first- and second-grade teachers noted her leadership qualities. She has that kind of nature."
   "Haley was the vice president of the county Red Cross Youth Council," Ms. Heikes said. "Last June she ran for president. Nobody ran against her — they wanted her."
   Through her work with the Red Cross and other volunteer groups, Haley is not only out to save the world — her charity begins at home. She has been involved with litter pickup in her hometown, Roosevelt, since childhood and, according to her mother, is a first-class mentor to her 13-year-old sister Kelsey.
   Her tenacity is also admirable. Haley set out to volunteer at the Princeton Medical Center at the age of 13. When she was told the minimum age to volunteer was 14 she left disappointed, only to return exactly one year later to offer her services.
   Haley has used her life as a vehicle for helping others. Two years ago she donated 12 inches of her hair to the charity organization Locks of Love, which creates custom hair pieces for girls who’ve lost their hair due to illness. This year, after growing her hair back to its original length, she cut it off and donated it again.
   "I don’t know what drives her," Ms. Heikes said. "If I did, I’d try to put it in other people."
   Ms. Heikes, who recognized Haley’s dedication to the cause early on, likens her motivation to some kind of magic.
   "We have a little bit of that magic in a lot of our kids," she said, "but not as much as Haley. If the Red Cross wants something done, Haley’s one of the first to say, ‘I’ll be there.’ "
   Haley will travel to Phoenix next month with her mother and Ms. Heikes. She will return the day after the awards dinner to attend her senior prom. In September she will attend Hamilton College in upstate New York and then hopes to serve a term in the Peace Corps.
   She said it would be really cool to be president of the American Red Cross one day.
   Kenneth Armwood, coordinator of youth service for the Red Cross of Central New Jersey, who nominated Haley for the honor, said that wouldn’t surprise him a bit.
   "Hands down," he said, "Haley is the best volunteer we have."