By Angie van Lingen, Red Cross Communications Volunteer
As an esteemed member of our Pacific Coast Board, Sabrina Ashjian’s accomplishments have given her a solid foundation to be successful in any role she has undertaken, but her greatest leadership vision is inspiring every community member to be a community leader.
Sabrina shared some words of wisdom on being a leader through nonprofit board leadership. “I don’t think of it as taking a leadership position, I think of it as taking responsibility to make the change that I would like to see in the world. There is a quote from one of my favorite television shows, the West Wing, that is ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’ That is true in every aspect of life, but it is especially applicable when serving on a non-profit board, commission or committee. True leadership doesn’t come from a title but from an act. In every organization that I am a member of, I show up with a clear vision of what I’d like to see happen and I show up with a willingness to put in the work to make it happen.”
Sabrina’s dedication to serve her community was initially inspired by her Armenian heritage. She is committed to honoring her close-knit community from which she came, who experienced generational trauma due to the Armenian Genocide. Sabrina understood the trauma was a significant factor in the fragility of the community because her grandparents came to the United States as orphans. The events of the Armenian Genocide devastated the community on multiple levels internationally. Sabrina realized she can strengthen the community with her contribution. Her family supported her awareness by instilling a strong sense of community service and civic engagement.
As she continued on to graduate school in journalism, she brought her determination to serve others in to newer communities with social justice reporting on poverty-related issues. During her work, she interviewed individuals living in Los Angeles’ Central City East or known as “Skid Row.” Sabrina felt it was difficult watching and reporting on the poverty she saw on the streets, mainly the hopelessness “was painful to bear witness to,” this experience had shifted her awareness to the common mindset that a single person would be responsible for a solution. This limiting belief is what she believes is preventing us from taking action and contributing to our community.
Sabrina’s public service journey continued after law school when she went on to work as a public defender and advocate for the people of California as a consumer fraud and environmental crimes prosecutor. She pursued cases for the most vulnerable communities; such as the recently immigrated population, non-English speakers, veterans, people with disabilities and the elderly. “Our communities are better when our most vulnerable are cared for and uplifted.”
Currently, Sabrina teaches environmental justice courses and supervises the environmental law clinic at UC Berkeley. Sabrina finds it a rewarding experience mentoring the next generation of advocates’ belief in themselves to make a change.
Sabrina will share her experiences through her role as the Regional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Chair for the Central California Region of the American Red Cross. In this role, Sabrina will be working with three chapter board DEI committees and with the region as a whole to help our region better reflect the communities we are honored to serve every day. Additionally, she serves as a media spokesperson during times of disaster to get vital information about Red Cross services to the affected communities. “It is so fulfilling to assist in a way that puts my journalism degree and training to good use,” she shared.
When asked what are some ways people can take action in their communities, Sabrina responded, “If there was one thing I wish I could have conveyed to a younger version of myself it’s that there’s no special secret to being part of an organization trying to make a change. All that is required is to show up, raise your hand, and say, ‘Can I help?’
With regard to the Red Cross specifically, people often aren’t aware of the organization and the great work being done until something unfortunate happens to them or someone they love. I want to spread the message of all the incredible work the organization is doing and the numerous ways people to volunteer to make a difference in their communities without them needing to have a personal interaction or incident. From blood collection to disaster relief services, there are so many ways to get involved. I want everyone reading this to know that your actions can, and will save lives. While you may never personally know the lives you save, it will have ripple effects that reach far and wide into the community. Your actions will have a direct impact on improving your community. I want to thank everyone in advance for doing all you can to help others and for creating stronger, more resilient, and more supportive communities.”