Something of a human sponge, Katie Clark has an affinity for soaking up knowledge whenever she gets the chance.
A senior at Columbia River High School, Clark was recently selected to be a member of the 2022-23 FEMA Youth Preparedness Council — one of just 15 students across the country.
Not only that, she was also selected as one of 13 students to serve on the Red Cross National Youth Council.
The opportunities, she said, will allow her to share youth perspectives on disaster preparation and emergency response — two of her biggest passions — as well as learn first-hand about decision-making at the highest level.
“Many teens don’t have good access to this information,” Clark said. “I want to help bring youth voices to life.”
It won’t be Clark’s first brush with emergency preparedness, however. She currently serves as the president of the Southwest Washington Red Cross Youth Council and as a member of the Clark County Youth Commission.
As a part of both organizations, Clark was able to learn key leadership skills in professional settings, as well as about some of the potential issues presenting challenges to Southwest Washington and beyond. Clark worked to plan events, foster engagement on social media platforms like Instagram and distribute toolkits to Red Cross Clubs around the country.
Mark Johnson, the Southwest Washington Red Cross Youth Council adviser, recommended Clark for the FEMA position because of leadership she had shown locally.
“She has shown great flexibility and creativity during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has allowed the council to not just continue to function, but to thrive,” Johnson said. “She helped us by continuing to hold high school club meetings, host school blood drives, volunteer at veterans events and hold fundraisers, among other youth activities.”
A leader in the classroom
Clark’s passion for this work began when she joined Columbia River High’s Red Cross Club as a freshman in 2019 and then applied for the regional youth council. The groups, she said, opened her eyes to the world of international politics and humanitarian law that the Red Cross deals with on a far larger stage.
“There was so much fun and interactive activities,” she said. “Being on the council and seeing other driven youth from the region who are passionate about volunteering like I am was amazing.”
In the classroom, Clark’s teachers saw the same drive to get involved.
“She’s always looking for more,” said Lisa Cavola-Chilcote, a biology teacher in Columbia River High’s International Baccalaureate program, who taught Clark last year. “Having someone who takes on challenges with positivity is an asset in the classroom for teachers.”
Cavola-Chilcote recalls many instances in which Clark has gone beyond the necessary requirements on assignments out of sheer interest in the subject matter, putting together presentations for freshmen considering taking International Baccalaureate classes in the future.
“She’s definitely one that I’d always love to have come in and speak to younger students because she represents all those things that I want them to know are possible in this program.”
As Clark prepares for an action-packed senior year, she’s nothing but invigorated by the opportunity to lean into this newfound passion for policymaking. Once driven by an interest in science, this opportunity to peek behind the curtains of policymaking in relation to climate change and public health will hopefully provide her a platform for one day teaching and leading others, she said.
“I’m so excited for her,” Cavola-Chilcote said. “Hearing that she was invited (to join FEMA’s Youth Council), it all made sense.”