Writer, Motivational Speaker, and Red Cross Volunteer – Meet J.D. Slajchert

by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer

I immediately spotted J.D. as I approached the coffee shop for our meet up – he kind of sticks out from the crowd. I mean he’s literally a whole head taller than everybody else. I also noticed that he was looking down – just like everyone else sitting at the tables out in front of the shop – but he wasn’t staring at his phone. As I got closer, I could see that he was furiously writing on a pad of lined paper.

“Hey J.D.,” I said, interrupting his concentration.

“Hi Dave,” he said as he looked up with a broad smile. Even though we had worked together at the Red Cross Shelter of Hope event just a few weeks prior, he popped out of his seat and gave me a firm handshake.

“What’s with the pencil and paper?” I asked as I sat down across from him. “You’re a millennial. You’re supposed to be working on your cellphone or a laptop at the very least.”

J.D.’s smile continued to grow as he explained how he’s old school when it comes to his writing, and prefers a pencil and paper over any electronic device. He told me that he handwrites all his notes and first drafts. He even handwrote all 350 pages of the original draft of his novel MoonFlower.

“I think technology can be a distraction,” he mused. “There can be a lot of good to social media but if used incorrectly, it can inhibit the natural interaction between people.”

MoonFlower is his semi-autobiographical story of a college basketball player who must co-parent his chronically ill younger sister. The novel’s debut was interrupted by the Woolsey fire in 2018, and the destruction of J.D.’s family home in that fire.

“After evacuating, I was sitting there with my mom watching the news and we saw our actual house go up in flames.”

“After evacuating, I was sitting there with my mom watching the news and we saw our actual house go up in flames. My mom just kept shaking me, saying ‘J.D., that’s our house,’” J.D. recalls. “I tried to calm her down but it was extremely difficult for both of us. It was one of the lowest points of my life.”

Despite his personal tragedy, J.D. was impressed by the hard work he saw performed by Red Cross volunteers during the disaster. He knew firsthand how a disaster could impact a family and he saw how the Red Cross helped to alleviate that suffering. Even after seeing his own house go up in flames, he decided to donate the proceeds from the sale of the book to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief fund.

That charitable act did not go unnoticed. Tony Briggs, from the Red Cross Central California Region, met with J.D. and was inspired by the young man’s enthusiasm. Tony invited him to travel the region as a Red Cross Ambassador, imparting his motivational themes across the state. You might remember J.D. at one of the Volunteer Appreciation dinners last year, speaking about how the loss of his best friend inspired him to change his lifestyle and learn to appreciate how both love and loss shape our everyday lives.

A milestone from these speaking engagements occurred at the Bakersfield event last year. “An older gentleman got up to receive the Clara Barton Award,” J.D. related. “In a quiet, hoarse voice he accepted the award in the most humble of ways. He then proceeded to say how much he appreciated all the other Red Cross volunteers that he worked with, never once mentioning himself. I later learned that he had been diagnosed with cancer and given just two years to live. He had spent the next two years volunteering for the Red Cross – what an inspiring story that was for me!”

That inspiration was the motivation for his desire to become more active as a Red Cross volunteer. J.D. says that he would love to learn Mass Care or Disaster Assessment, and maybe even travel to the East Coast to help during the next hurricane season. But, at least for now, there are a lot of other projects that he is working on.

As a director for the LucStrong Foundation, J.D. handles outreach for families with children stricken with Sickle Cell Disease. The foundation is named for his young friend, Luc Bodden, who succumbed to the disease. J.D. has also just finished a screenplay based on the real-life drama of he and Luc.

J.D. tries to incorporate all of these life experiences into his Red Cross presentations. “Having known someone like Luc, who lost his life, and writing a story about it all, I try to put things into perspective for my audiences. Losing your home might feel like the worst thing possible, but if you’re healthy and can wake up every day and put a smile on your face, then maybe you’re really one of the lucky ones.”

So, whether you read his book, watch his movie or bump into him at the next Red Cross event, J.D. Slajchert is sure to make a big impression.

J.D. Slajchert speaks with Channel 11’s Joe Buttitta about his involvement with the American Red Cross in the year following the Woolsey fire.

Life and Loss, One Volunteer’s Journey of Sharing Her Heart for Service

Sometimes, you’re simply at the right place at the right time. For American Red Cross volunteer Jeannie Wilson, it was the moment that she pulled into the parking lot of her local Red Cross chapter in January 2017. It wasn’t the trip she was expecting to make, but after more than 13 years of watching her son suffer from an incurable disease, it is the path that brought her here.


American Red Cross volunteer
Jeannie Wilson and her son.

“You never expect to bury your children before you,” Wilson shared softly. “It seems so long to me, but to retell it seems so short. It was a long 13 years of him being sick.”

Traveling to all the top medical institutions throughout California, Jeannie was sleeping in hospital rooms and her van to be alongside her son, all while running a successful church with her husband. Her life consisted of daily commutes that brought hours of travel to care for her son. Dropping everything she was doing to be with him, each of the 18 times he was placed on life support.

Jeannie recalls the last trip she took, “My son fought such a hard fight and those last days were beyond what any mother could do and our only hope was in God,” she said. “He let me know he was hurting. His heart was stopping. I began to tell him that it was okay for him to go.” Doctors once again rushed in to resuscitate him, but this time Jeannie told doctors to let him go. His time had finally come… he was at peace.

She spent the year following her son’s passing pushing through the pain and filling the emptiness. Jeannie’s priority was to stay busy. A few short months after losing her son, her brother passed away. Jeannie was defeated. She was done.

While running errands one day, she passed a sign for her local Red Cross chapter and all of the sudden without even thinking she was turning into the parking lot. She says it was akin to being on autopilot.  She parked her car without thinking, got out and walked right into the chapter where she was greeted by a friendly Red Cross smile. The question that came to her was simply, “Do you need volunteers?”

“That literally saved my life,” Wilson said. “I would have never thought of the Red Cross. I haven’t left and I’m not going anywhere. This is probably the best medicine that you can ever get. We’re all going to go through something at a certain time in our life. For me this was mine. It was worth every minute.”

Today, in her role at the Red Cross, Jeannie is a regional lead for Disaster Spiritual Care and a trainer for the Be Red Cross Ready program. As an advocate in the community, she is passionate for helping senior citizens. Whether it’s going to meetings at senior centers throughout her neighborhood or meeting with them at community events, Jeannie shares a warm smile and purposeful preparedness education. Growing up on a farm, Jeannie was always taught the importance of giving back to others.

“We all face emergencies and we have all been through something,” Wilson said. “Put yourself in the place of someone that is in need. What do you have or what can you help them with financially? We give financial assistance to help families get the resources they need, not the resources we think they need. We tend to think that people can use our hand me downs, but they need financial assistance, a comforting voice and someone to talk to about their emotions.”

After being called to assist as on-scene support for large home fires throughout Central California, Jeannie knows first-hand the devastation home fires can cause after watching her parent’s home burn. She often reflects on the Red Cross and how they came to help, not knowing that it was one of the primary roles of the Red Cross.

“This is my story and I’m never leaving.”

“You never know what tomorrow is going to bring,” Wilson said. “Even with obstacles, you can overcome. The Red Cross means a lot to me, it really does. A passion that might be hard for others to understand, but because of the life I have had, being a volunteer really gives you that power to feel, understand, and hear from those who are suffering.”

How you can help cancer patients: Give Blood to Give Time

FACT: Cancer patients use nearly one-quarter of the blood supply – more than patients fighting any other disease. And there simply aren’t enough people donating regularly to meet the need.

That’s why the American Red Cross and American Cancer Society have teamed up to encourage people across the country to Give Blood to Give Time. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you could help cancer patients receive vital treatment and access to programs and services they need.

Blood donations can give patients time.

In 2007, Arthur Bourget, then 40 years old, received a life-changing medical diagnosis: He had leukemia, a type of blood cancer. Between July 2007 and December 2009, Arthur was hospitalized for more than 150 days and received 28 blood transfusions and 34 platelet transfusions.

When loved ones would ask how they could help, Arthur’s reply was simple: “Give blood so that people like myself can have more time with their family and people that you don’t know will be allowed to spend time with their families.”

Those transfusions helped give Arthur strength to keep fighting. Today he is in remission and grateful for every precious moment with his wife and daughter.

“If it wasn’t for the generosity of volunteer blood donors, I would not be here today,” says Arthur. “Because of the blood supply, because of the American Red Cross, I’ve had 10 years with my daughter that I wouldn’t have had.”

Cancer takes so much, but you can help.

You might not be able to change a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but you can help those going through it. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you’re helping to give patients and their families time, resources and the hope they need to fight back. Visit Give Blood to Give Time to learn more.

How you can help cancer patients: Give Blood to Give Time

FACT: Cancer patients use nearly one-quarter of the blood supply – more than patients fighting any other disease. And there simply aren’t enough people donating regularly to meet the need.

That’s why the American Red Cross and American Cancer Society have teamed up to encourage people across the country to Give Blood to Give Time. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you could help cancer patients receive vital treatment and access to programs and services they need.

Blood donations can give patients time.

In 2007, Arthur Bourget, then 40 years old, received a life-changing medical diagnosis: He had leukemia, a type of blood cancer. Between July 2007 and December 2009, Arthur was hospitalized for more than 150 days and received 28 blood transfusions and 34 platelet transfusions.

When loved ones would ask how they could help, Arthur’s reply was simple: “Give blood so that people like myself can have more time with their family and people that you don’t know will be allowed to spend time with their families.”

Those transfusions helped give Arthur strength to keep fighting. Today he is in remission and grateful for every precious moment with his wife and daughter.

“If it wasn’t for the generosity of volunteer blood donors, I would not be here today,” says Arthur. “Because of the blood supply, because of the American Red Cross, I’ve had 10 years with my daughter that I wouldn’t have had.”

Cancer takes so much, but you can help.

You might not be able to change a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but you can help those going through it. When you donate blood or platelets, or make a financial gift, you’re helping to give patients and their families time, resources and the hope they need to fight back. Visit Give Blood to Give Time to learn more.

Celebrating Black History Month at the Red Cross

February is Black History Month and we are honoring the men and women who played  a pivotal role in shaping the American Red Cross. If it were not for these pioneers, the Red Cross would not be where it is today. 

undefined Frederick Douglass was a leading spokesman of African Americans in the 1800s and a friend of Clara Barton. He was there to support her in her efforts to gain U.S. acceptance as a member of the global Red Cross network. Most notably, as serving as Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia, Douglass signed the original Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross when they were submitted to municipal authorities. These articles legally documented the creation of the Red Cross. 

undefined Gwen T. Jackson was a dedicated volunteer leader throughout decades. Beginning as a volunteer in 1961, Jackson worked her way up to being the first African American to be appointed as the National Chairman of Volunteers for the American Red Cross in 1989. While serving with the Red Cross, Jackson provided assistance during major disasters, support during the Persian Gulf War, and provided a blueprint for future growth of volunteerism for the Red Cross. After serving on the American Red Cross Board of Governors in the 1990s, Jackson was awarded the Cynthia Wedel Award for her 50 years of dedication and volunteer leadership. This award is given to outstanding Red Cross volunteers. Jackson currently holds an appointment as Chair Emeritus of the American Red Cross Milwaukee Chapter. 

undefined Steve Bullock began his career with the Red Cross in 1962, working as a caseworker. His work took him throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Twenty years later he became the Chief Executive Officer and Chapter Manager of the Greater Cleveland Chapter. In 1999, Bullock was named acting president of the national agency in Washington D.C. after the recommendation of resigning president, Elizabeth Dole. As president, Bullock and his team brought 60,000 pounds of relief supplies to Macedonia to aid nearly 140,000 ethic Albanian refugees driven from their homes in Kosovo. 

Without these trailblazers, the Red Cross would not be the organization we know and love today. We want to recognize these pioneers and their efforts for the Red Cross and the communities they served.