The best part about Whitney Cross’ job is her job.
Even after more than one hour of phone conversation with the 2014 Loyola graduate, who was in her Chicago office while I laid in my bed drinking apple cinnamon tea, her excitement — unlike my tea — never ran out.
The 24-year-old said at least three different aspects of her job were “the best,” and she was hard pressed to pick one area of humanitarian aid that she’s most passionate about. At the very least, it’s safe to say Cross loves kids, her United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) fellowship and her Bernese Mountain dog, Yogi.
Cross works for the UNICEF United States Fund as the Chicago Engagement Community Fellow.
“It’s one of those jobs that you feel good going to every day because you know that you’re working for an organization that’s doing such important and necessary work,” Cross said.
Her three main responsibilities are to educate, advocate and raise funds for UNICEF, which was created in 1946 to provide food, clothing and health care to European children after World War II, according to UNICEF.com. In 1953, UNICEF expanded its efforts to help children around the world when it became a permanent part of the United Nations, an international intergovernmental organization created to prevent another world war.
Cross travels around Chicagoland to speak to different groups about the ways UNICEF helps children in more than 190 countries.
“The idea is to get [everyone] to think of themselves as citizens of the world rather than just a citizen in [a] school or a citizen of Chicago or a citizen of the United States,” Cross said.
Although she makes presentations to a wide range of people and organizations about anything from human trafficking to clean water accessibility, Cross said she frequently presents to students who range from kindergarten to graduate school.
Cross said she especially loves presenting to kids.
“It’s so sweet to see these little kids excited to raise money and awareness for other kids around the world,” she said.
Cross not only educates listeners about the needs of children around the world, but she also teaches ways to help those children.
When she presents to older children, Cross has them call their representatives. Although they read from a script, she said it’s important to show students how to participate in government while also helping others.
Around Halloween, younger students are asked to participate in Trick-Or-Treat for UNICEF. Kids are given boxes to collect change while they trick-or-treat. Trick-Or-Treat for UNICEF turned 60 this year and has raised more than $175 million since its inception.
October is packed with programs and events for UNICEF, according to Cross. Cross estimated she spoke to at least 1,000 people during that one-month period. She recalled the best question she’s ever gotten: when a third-grader asked if UNICEF had an office in the North Pole.
Cross laughed and told the third-grader not to worry — even though UNICEF doesn’t have an office in the North Pole, Santa has it covered up there.
Cross said she was amazed that she’s seen four children at different schools offer their allowances to help other children.
“It’s so awesome to see the amount of empathy [children] have,” Cross said. “It almost makes me think people lose empathy as they get older, which is so sad because even just looking at everything happening right now around the world, adults just have so many opinions about what’s in the news and on your Facebook feed, and really everywhere you see such a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding for other people’s situations, but kids just automatically are like, ‘How can I help?’”
Although she never gave her allowance to UNICEF, it sounds like Cross might have been the type of child who would have.
Cross was 12 years old when she first became passionate about humanitarian aid. She went on a Royal Caribbean cruise with her family and made a stop at the Haitian port of Labadee, which is owned by the cruise line.
As she looked around at the merchants selling their handmade goods, Cross said she wondered why she was able to vacation while they could not.
The scene stuck with her as she majored in political science and international studies with a minor in Spanish while at Loyola.
Her favorite political science classes touched on terrorism, international health and genocide.
Cross didn’t wait until after college to begin helping people. During her four years at Loyola, she volunteered with Habitat for Humanity International’s Greeks For A Good Cause, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She continues to volunteer with organizations such as PAWS Chicago and recently adopted a needy 5-month-old puppy who already weighs 60 pounds.
Cross thought graduation would give her more free time, but between her 40-hour work week and Yogi, the needy puppy, she said she feels busier than she did in college. However, she doesn’t regret keeping busy and advises current students to be a sponge and soak up as many experiences as possible.
She said students who want to go into a similar field should volunteer strategically by getting involved with two or three causes they are passionate about. Her volunteer work, undergraduate internship with the UNICEF US Fund and experience with public speaking all contributed to her getting a fellowship with her dream organization.
Thankfully, her fellowship, which is stipended, doesn’t have to end after 13 months. Cross said she can apply to extend the experience to 26 months, but no matter what, she has to figure out her next move. Graduate school is an option she said she wants to pursue, but leaving UNICEF isn’t a path she’ll readily take.
“It’s always hard to leave a job and an organization you love so much,” Cross said. “There’s always that fear that if you do leave and you don’t enjoy your next job as much as you enjoy this one, then what do you do? I don’t really want to ruin a good thing if I don’t have to.”