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.