Duluth woman awarded national Red Cross honor for youth leadership

Amy Leopold, a graduate student at the College of St. Scholastica, received the award at the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Three people pose on a stage with a plaque
Amy Leopold, center, receives the Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Leadership from Cliff Holtz, chief operating officer, and Gail McGovern, president and CEO, at the American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Contributed / Amy Leopold

DULUTH — A graduate student at the College of St. Scholastica was recognized by the American Red Cross for her efforts as a volunteer and leader. Amy Leopold was given the Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Leadership last month at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Leopold, who is finishing her first year in St. Scholastica’s physical therapy program, has been volunteering at the Red Cross of Northern Minnesota since her first year of undergraduate study at the college. Her commitments to the Red Cross have included being a youth advisory board member, chair of the mission committee, a disaster action team member and canvassing for smoke alarm installations.

“It’s just fun because you can fit anything in. It’s super, super easy, even in grad school, to find little things here or there that you can do once in a blue moon,” Leopold said.

Woman holds a framed certificate of the Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Leadership
Amy Leopold holds the American Red Cross's Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Leadership.
Contributed / Amy Leopold

The rest of Leopold’s colleagues on the Red Cross of Northern Minnesota’s advisory board nominated her for the national award, which honors one volunteer between ages 14-24 who has served in a Red Cross Leadership role and volunteered for at least two years.

“It was unbelievable. I mean, it’s a national award, and I never in a million years thought that I would win — little old me from Duluth, Minnesota — out of anyone in the nation,” Leopold said. “I didn’t even care if I had won, because to me the biggest honor was that the board recognized me for something like that.”


Woman stands at Red Cross building
Amy Leopold poses at the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she received the Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Leadership.
Contributed / Amy Leopold

Dan Williams, executive director of the Red Cross of Northern Minnesota, said the main reason the board decided to nominate Leopold was a speech she gave at the Regional Board Retreat last year. The retreat involved board members from across the Dakotas and Minnesota and focused on turning compassion into action, Williams said.

Leopold was invited to speak about the importance of volunteering while serving in a leadership role, and making time to find things that matter to you and dedicating your time to it.

“Someone once told me that you always have time for your priorities, and I think that is the truest thing anyone could say,” Leopold said. “You can make the excuse that you don’t have time, but if it really mattered to you, you would have time.”

Williams said for many board members, the focus on planning and big-picture impact can get in the way of contributing to communities in small, hands-on ways.

“She’s a pretty polished young adult, for being her age, but to come in with the free-spirited nature of a 21-year-old at the time and being like, ‘What are you all waiting around for? We can do something today!’ It was just great,” Williams said. “She just did a fantastic job and blew all these people out of the water. It really has made an impact.

"This is now a year later, and you still have board members from all across these three states that talk about, ‘Wow, that helped me decide that I’m going to do something today. I’m not going to wait for the perfect thing that might or might not come.’ How do you take that thing you care about and act on it, and that’s what Amy’s so great at doing.”

Leopold and her husband were flown to Washington, D.C., at the end of April to attend an awards ceremony, where she was presented with the award at the American Red Cross National Headquarters. There, Leopold got to meet Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern and other leaders with the organization.

Two women pose in front of an American Red Cross backdrop
Amy Leopold, right, with American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern.
Contributed / Amy Leopold

The Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Leadership is given to one young volunteer in the nation each year. It honors the former chair of the American Red Cross National Youth Council, who began volunteering with the organization at age 14. He became a national disaster relief volunteer and trainer, an international speaker on human rights and an advocate for youth involvement in the Red Cross. Narayan died of cancer in 2000 at age 23.


The award is given to one young volunteer in the nation each year who demonstrates a strong track record of leading and inspiring fellow Red Cross volunteers, creating a positive impact on their community, and exemplifying dedication to the Red Cross mission, according to the American Red Cross website.

“I just feel rather undeserving, to be honest, when you think about all of the people who are out doing hurricane efforts and things of that nature,” Leopold said. “I do what I can, but I just thought, in terms of that big of an award, it was a huge surprise, and I’m beyond honored.”

Leopold’s colleagues at the local chapter believe she’s more than deserving. Heather Maki, local board chair, said Leopold’s selflessness, enthusiasm and positivity go above and beyond.

“She has a busy schedule but always finds time to volunteer and write thank-you letters to other volunteers,” Maki said. “She is influential in recruiting her peers to volunteer or give blood. Even though public speaking is a bit outside of her comfort zone, she pushes through that in order to further the Red Cross mission whenever she can. She’s been a huge asset to our chapter.”

One example Williams gave of Leopold’s commitment to the mission of the Red Cross was her volunteering with the disaster action team, which dispatches and responds to area house fires and other disasters. Leopold took the online training to join the team after she finished her undergraduate degree in spring 2021, when the Red Cross was struggling to find volunteers amid the coronavirus pandemic. Williams said she wanted to be able to articulate to others why the program was worthwhile by being able to experience it herself.

“She chose to take it on, not because she was necessarily interested in doing it, but because she felt if she wasn’t willing to do it, why would someone else be willing to do it?” Williams said. “I think it’s really reflective of the commitment that Amy has made to the mission of the Red Cross and the impact that that mission has on the community. She’s really good at connecting the dots.”

A man speaks at a podium while a woman stands onstage
Cliff Holtz, American Red Cross chief operating officer, presents Amy Leopold with the Navin Narayan Award for Excellence in Youth Leadership.
Contributed / Amy Leopold

Leopold spent her childhood in Hermantown, and returned to the area for college after living in the Twin Cities area for most of her teens. One of her teammates on the college hockey cheer team recommended she take over the seat of youth advisory board member, which led Leopold to discover how many different aspects the Red Cross had to offer.

“I was exposed to everything the Red Cross does and was blown away, so every year I just kind of tick off another box on the things to do with the Red Cross,” Leopold said. “In the wintertime, closer to Christmas, we do about a billion and a half thank-you cards to the veterans and service members. It’s one of our favorite wintertime events and we partner with Bentleyville for that.”


Last summer, Leopold received the Marguerite Grams Memorial Leadership Award for women’s leadership from the Northern Minnesota chapter. She has been volunteering with the Red Cross for about four and a half years, and said she plans to continue dedicating time to the organization for as long as she’s in the area.

“With this award, I feel as though any volunteer in our region would be just as deserving of it,” Leopold said. “We have so many fantastically amazing volunteers that I feel as though I was just receiving it in honor of everyone, because I am nothing without everyone else supporting me in that effort, and we all work together as one big region taking care of each other.”

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Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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