A Lasting Impact: Nightingale's First Blood Drive

FEBRUARY 12, 2022

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way we live our lives every single day. And yet, as life slowly begins to find its way into the “new normal,” there is a lasting, often unseen, impact of the pandemic that desperately needs to be addressed: the national blood shortage.

According to the Red Cross, there has been a 10% overall blood donation decline since March 2020 and a 62% drop in college and high school blood drives during the pandemic. This is due to a number of factors, the most obvious being that when the pandemic began, drives were canceled due to health and safety concerns surrounding social distancing at a time when there were no vaccines. In addition, businesses and schools that had previously been reliable sources of drives have not resumed their pre-pandemic levels of participation. Many states try to keep an ideal inventory of five to seven days worth of blood, but today’s amount is closer to one to two days worth. These statistics present dire circumstances for hospitals who see accident victims, cancer patients, and individuals who are seriously ill who continue to need blood transfusions in order to live.

Moved by this startling and life-threatening reality last spring, Class XI students Julia D. ’23 and Genny F. ’23 began to research and plan holding a blood drive at Nightingale to help contribute to this important cause. What inspired them to take on the project in the first place? The Riley’s Way Foundation’s Call for Kindness.

The Riley’s Way Foundation was created to honor the life of Riley Hannah Sandler, member of the Class of 2023 at Nightingale, who passed away in 2014. Riley is remembered as a kind and loving friend to all and the foundation seeks to embrace those qualities in others to create a better world. As stated in their mission, Riley’s Way empowers young leaders to use kindness and empathy to create meaningful connections and positive change. Julia and Genny both serve on one of the Riley’s Way councils. These councils connect public and private high schools to inspire teens to lead with empathy and kindness, and create programs that drive positive change in their communities. Nightingale is connected with The Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem.

In addition to the councils, one of Riley’s Way’s signature programs is known as the Call for Kindness. Young people nationwide, ages 13-22, are invited to answer the Call for Kindness—a dynamic leadership development fellowship that includes up to $3,000 in funding for a project of their own that inspires kindness and strengthens their local, national, or global communities. Each project must be focused on equity and social justice issues with the goal of building meaningful connections within their school or community.

In their leadership roles on the council, Julia and Genny serve as Call for Kindness judges— reviewing the proposals and giving their feedback as to who they believe should receive the grant. After the selection process in the spring of 2021, they were feeling so inspired by the project proposals they had read, they knew they wanted to find a cause to champion at Nightingale and a way to give back to the local community.

After researching public health crises in New York City, it became clear to them that holding a blood drive at Nightingale would be a tangible way to make a positive contribution to the city community, especially one that had been hit so hard by COVID in the beginning of the pandemic.

Their work began with googling the simple phrase, “How to hold a high school blood drive?” and the answer initially proved to be much harder than they were expecting. They first compiled a list of blood organizations in New York City and bravely began cold calling and emailing anyone they could find—at first, not hearing back from anyone.

After several weeks of silence, they finally made a connection with an individual at the New York Blood Center who was able to put them in touch with the right person to get the ball rolling. Next came selecting the date—February 12, 2022—and securing 60 pledges—names of individuals who agreed to participate in order to make the blood drive happen at Nightingale. Their first email announcing the drive went out to Upper School students and the professional community just before the end of school in June 2021. They continued to push for signatures throughout the fall and winter, advertising the drive in the Upper School Week Ahead and Next at Nightingale.

From the beginning, Director of Upper School Student Life Abby Balafas served as their advisor and mentor and Julia and Genny could not have been more grateful. She attended their meetings with the NY Blood Center, reviewed strategies for encouraging people to sign up, helped to organize a sign-up table in front Nightingale, and of course, saw the drive through to the very end in February.

Ms. Balafas shared, “Genny and Julia were truly a dream team. They had an amazing idea and went above and beyond to see it through to the end. They brought the perfect combination of optimistic energy and attention to detail to the project. From the day we began, I knew the blood drive would be a success because Julia and Genny were so passionate about the cause and committed to the event itself.”

Finally, February 12 arrived and, despite a few minor logistical hiccups in the morning, the day proved to be a great success. Approximately 50 donors, made up of parents, students, and professional community members, participated and made a lasting difference in the lives of their fellow New Yorkers.

Genny and Julia reflected, “The day of the blood drive was so gratifying because when we started planning the drive in April of 2021, we had no idea what it would actually look like, especially because of COVID. It was so exciting to look around the gym and see students, teachers, and parents donating and volunteering. We were filled with appreciation for everyone who supported us on the day of the drive and in the months leading up to it.”

Ms. Balafas was exceptionally proud. “Julia and Genny never gave up, never wavered in their commitment to the project. They proposed the blood drive over one year in advance, and they persevered through multiple COVID surges, and Julia's semester-away program, to make it a reality for our community.”

Genny and Julia both agreed that patience, flexibility, and perseverance proved to be essential throughout the process. The relief of finally getting a response from the NY Blood Center, to ensuring that enough people signed up to hold the drive, to managing expectations on the day of the event when not everything went according to plan, all added up to a valuable learning experience.

“Because this was the first blood drive at Nightingale, there weren’t any steps for us to follow while planning. We are definitely most grateful for all the support from the Nightingale community. It means so much to us that so many parents, students, and professional community members took the time out of their day to donate or volunteer at the drive. Also throughout the process of planning the drive, we received so much encouragement and support from the professional community and the Upper School,” Genny and Julia shared.

Moving forward, Genny and Julia would love to see the blood drive become an annual event at Nightingale. “As our donor base grows annually, so will the impact of the drive. We were thrilled to have had many first-time donors at the drive, and we hope this number can grow, the blood drive can leave a lasting impact, and future students can be as excited about the project as we are now.”