Rufus King grad earns inaugural scholarship in fight against sickle cell

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

To her friends, Alana Fisher is sometimes known as “the Milwaukee optimist.”

The incoming freshman at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee packs her schedule with community service and activities that promote the city she’s called home her whole life, all with her signature infectious positivity.

“I love to get involved, tell people about the interesting things to see. There is always something going on,” said Alana.

Fisher, left, can add another nickname from her burgeoning academic and service involvement: nationally recognized sickle cell fighter.

Fisher, 18, was recently announced as one of the inaugural recipients of a $5,000 scholarship established by the American Red Cross for student leadership in strengthening the blood supply through diverse donors. Fisher led numerous blood drives with the Red Cross at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, including the drives during the 2021-22 school year that brought in more than four-dozen units from diverse donors.

Upon hearing the news of the scholarship from the Red Cross and a teacher in mid-July, Fisher admitted she shed tears. It was a joyous recognition of her hard work to rally her fellow student donors – especially amid a pandemic – as well as cover the sometimes prohibitive costs of secondary education.

“When I called my mom, I was like ‘Oh my god, I’m so happy,’ and she said, ‘You should be proud of yourself,” said Alana, who had also earned a Red Cross Leaders Save Lives scholarship earlier in high school.

The Red Cross Sickle Cell Fighter High School Scholarship goes to students at the top 10 high schools in the U.S. for collecting blood from donors who are Black, supporting the goal of helping sickle cell patients by diversifying the blood supply. The $5,000 to students additionally promotes access to and diversity in higher education. The participating high school also receives $1,000.

Click here to find out more about our Sickle Cell Fighter Scholarships.

Fisher and Rufus King were one of two students/school from the Midwest who ranked in the top 10 for the inaugural scholarships that were announced in July, with other honorees coming from high schools in Ohio, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Fisher, center, with her Rufus King High School peers during a blood drive in 2021.

Among other public health benefits, more diversity in the blood supply from self-identified Black donors can aid people receiving transfusions to deal with excruciating pain caused by sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disproportionately affects people of color.

Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Executive Director, said the efforts at these blood drives by Alana will have a lasting, positive impact for people dealing with the pain of sickle cell disease. She’ll also stand as a role model for Milwaukee high school students who follow in her footsteps. 

“As a Milwaukee Public Schools graduate myself, I could not be prouder of Alana’s national leadership toward earning this important scholarship,” said Thomas. “Her upbeat spirit to bring in many first-time and diverse donors through these school drives shows the very best of our youth in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.”

Outside of college courses this summer, Alana has been plenty busy with weeknight river clean-ups and weekend festival participation, often inviting friends to join her. Although undecided in her college course of studies at the moment, she said she’s leaning toward public health. Along those lines, she’s expected to get involved in the Red Cross blood drives that also happen at her college campus.

For those in high school curious about hosting blood drives, Alana said the scholarship possibilities are part of a bigger return. 

“Getting connected with people you never would’ve known,” she said. “For my future endeavors … having school and Red Cross references, being able to come back to help out my school, it is all helping me figure out my future and my path.”

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Get to know … Sara Horein, Red Cross volunteer, board member & Tiffany Circle leader

Sara Horein is one of those people who exudes the mission of the American Red Cross. She’s a leader in the Madison area on the Chapter Board, and she’s a local and national leader as a member of the Tiffany Circle. She’s traveled the world on behalf of the Measles and Rubella Initiative and recently rolled up her sleeve as a first-time blood donor.

Sara Horein, left, with Gail McGovern, CEO and President of the American Red Cross

With so much involvement, we invited Sara to share her anecdotes and passion in this Q&A. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team and were edited for style and space.

How long have you been involved with the American Red Cross? And what first drew you in?

Sara Horein: I have been a Red Cross volunteer for 11 years. I wanted to pursue my passion of serving those most in need and thought there would be no better place than the American Red Cross. As a kid, I remember watching the news about Princess Diana in a Red Cross vest visiting landmine victims. Her kindness and continuous service with the Red Cross resonated with me.

You’ve volunteered in some impressive roles at the Red Cross. Can you share details and anecdotes on some of your volunteer service locally and internationally?

One of my favorite Red Cross memories is this first time I traveled with the Measles & Rubella Initiative to Kenya where the local government – supported by the American Red Cross and our partners – completed a successful, nine-day vaccination campaign in the East African country. Targeting 19 million children between nine-months and 14-years old, this effort was Kenya’s largest immunization campaign in the Measles & Rubella Initiative’s history.

As an Independent Monitor during the campaign one of my duties was to visit hard-to-reach communities to ensure that we have 100% vaccination coverage. Most of the communities I visited are extremely rural or are on country borders because that’s where it’s most difficult to get vaccines distributed.

Horein in Indonesia with the Measles and Rubella Initiative, which is credited with the prevention of more than 31 million measles-related deaths since 2001.

When a child is vaccinated during the Campaign their left pinkie is marked with indelible ink which lasts about 3 to 5 days. I was in an extremely rural part of Kenyan, with my Red Cross translator, looking for mothers and children when I came upon a woman that stopped me in my tracks. There in front of me was woman working harder than I ever had. Approaching her with my Red Cross translator, we had our vaccine-related question ready, but uncovered so much more.

She willingly informed us that her four daughters had just been vaccinated because of the country-wide vaccination campaign. She called for her daughters to come outside. Proudly, this mother showed us that indelible ink on each of their left little fingers.

It was only then that Chimwala told us her extraordinary story. We learned her husband recently passed away, leaving Chimwala the sole financial provider for her four daughters. Without hesitation, she took on his manual labor job of making bricks out of mud to build homes. As she told us about her life, she stood ankle deep in mud, with the harsh African sun beating down on her weathered skin. Behind her were hundreds of bricks – some in stacks and others in rows drying. I will never forget Chimwala or her story. She reinforced my awesome responsibility and purpose as a Red Cross volunteer.

As an Independent Monitor for the Measles and Rubella Initiative, I have travelled to underserved countries like Kenya, Malawi and Indonesia to ensure the most vulnerable populations are being reached with life-saving vaccines. With the Measles & Rubella Initiative, we provide a lifeline to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The Measles & Rubella Initiative is important because the virus is one of the most infectious diseases known to humans. Eliminating measles outside our borders is critical to ensuring domestic outbreaks in the U.S. are stopped.

To someone who may be unfamiliar with the Tiffany Circle, of which you are a member, can you share how you’d describe this impressive group?

Since our founding by Clara Barton over 140 years ago, the Red Cross has been fortunate to count on women leaders among our volunteers, team members and financial donors.

The Tiffany Circle in Wisconsin during a meeting in August 2022.

The Tiffany Circle is a group of women leaders who combine a passion for the Red Cross mission with the power of their philanthropy to alleviate human suffering. More than 1,200 women across the country are members of Tiffany Circles in various cities, investing their resources, leadership and compassion to support Red Cross programs.

In 16 years, members have raised more than $146 million and volunteered countless hours in support of the Red Cross mission.

Along with your local Tiffany Circle leadership, you’ve stepped up in a national role as well. Can you explain what that entails?
As Co-Chair I lead the implementation of the Tiffany Circle strategic plan while inspiring members to support the mission work of the Red Cross.

Let me share a story with you on one way that I’ve inspired women to give: Before the pandemic, I travelled internationally as Red Cross volunteer. Because of my frequent travel to Asia and Africa I was unable to donate blood. Then with the pandemic my international volunteer role and travel was put on hold. The pandemic forced me to think creatively about how I could continue to safely touch the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross.

Guess what!? I rolled up my sleeve and donated blood for the first time. In two years, I’ve donated blood more than eight times. This makes me feel good because I know blood donations save lives.

I tell this story because I believe through service we learn to lead by our heart and to influence others. And, this is a big part of my role at the Red Cross.

As volunteer leader at the Red Cross, I am proud to be following in the footsteps of a long line of women leaders, from our founder, Clara Barton, to our present-day CEO and President Gail McGovern. Gail inspires me to have the courage to lead with my heart.

What would you say to someone looking to take their first steps toward getting involved at the American Red Cross?

My best advice is to follow your passion and lead with your heart – everything else will fall in place.