By Tyler Moyer, American Red Cross

Photography by Tyler Moyer, American Red Cross

This is the time of the year when college freshmen—excited, apprehensive and ready to launch the next phase of their academic lives—start attending university orientation programs. While the universities are all different, colleges across the nation are trying to achieve similar goals: Help freshmen develop a sense of loyalty and pride in their university while they learn school traditions, make new friends and understand what the school has to offer both academically and personally.

Julie Norton from UHD showing students the importance of community engagement
According to Julie Norton, Associate Director for Corporate and Foundation Relations for the University of Houston Downtown (UHD), orientation also offers a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of community engagement. “Academic achievement through community engagement is part of UHD’s blueprint,” she said.


This may be why she recently arranged for Kimberly Isola, American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) specialist, to speak to more than 200 freshmen at Gator Gateway, UHD’s orientation, about the SAF program and how it assists military families and veterans in need. One example is the Red Cross Totes of Hope program, in which volunteers gather hygiene products like hair combs, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other items for homeless veterans, place them in tote bags and deliver them to veterans in need.

Not only did incoming students learn about the needs of veterans, many participated in

 Kiran Billawala putting together care packages for veterans during Gator Gateway  
putting together their own Totes of Hope for distribution. More than 200 totes were created during Gator Gateway for distribution at a later date. One freshman, Kiran Billawala, said “I learned that a lot of veterans are homeless and I feel like I need to help out because they help out too.” It’s experiences like this that UHD leaders believe will leave an impression on students like Billawala, who plans to be a surgeon.


Norton noted UHD’s long-standing designation as a Military Friendly School, and exceptional Veterans Services program. “The Red Cross and UHD share a significant commitment to those who have served our country,” said Norton. “I’m really excited about how we were able to collaborate during Gator Gateway to make that commitment real for many incoming freshmen.”