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

by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer

            I immediately recognized 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. 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. Despite his personal tragedy, J.D. was so impressed by the hard work he saw performed by Red Cross volunteers during the disaster, that 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 the Director of Relationship Development for the LucStrong Foundation, J.D. is handling outreach and support 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. was also approached by a Hollywood producer who had read MoonFlower. He has just finished the first draft of a screenplay for the producer, based on the real-life drama of he and Luc.

            “This is something that I had only dreamed about for this story,” said J.D. “I’m convinced that the movie will reach the largest possible audience and I won’t stop until everyone knows the story of my best friend Luc.”

            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.

Your Local Red Cross Needs You

by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer

“The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 emergencies each year,” said the team leader standing at the front of the room.

‘Yeah,’ I thought, sitting in the classroom filled with new recruits, ‘I’ve responded to a few thousand emergencies myself.’

“The Disaster Action Team provides shelter for people displaced from their homes,” he continued.

‘Okay, I get that.’

“And we connect people with long term recovery services to help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”

‘Well, that’s something I didn’t know.’

“Our team is available 24/7, with most of our responses to home fires at night.”

‘Whoa! Structure fires at night?!? I don’t think so!’

After the presentation, I approached the DAT team leader and introduced myself. I recognized him from one of the local cycle clubs. “Maybe the Red Cross is not for me,” I told him. “I was a firefighter and spent 35 years getting up in the middle of the night. I just don’t want to do that anymore.”

A big grin appeared on his face. “I get it,” was his candid response. “We have volunteers from every profession imaginable, even a few firefighters like you. They want to use the skills they acquired during their careers but some prefer to apply them doing something a little different.”

“Yes, that’s it exactly.”

“Well, don’t give up so fast,” he replied. “Maybe DAT is not for you, but there are literally hundreds of different volunteer positions with the Red Cross. Let me set you up with a recruitment specialist so you can sort it all out. Your skill set is too important to the community to lose.”

“The emotion was raw and no one was immune”

Fast forward to a few months later – after a couple more meetings and a few hours of online classes – I was a full-fledged member of the Mass Care team. A text message woke me in the morning on November 8, 2018. Even after reading it a few times, I still couldn’t believe it. Our team was being called out to support the Sheriff’s Dept for a mass casualty incident. The Red Cross had set up a family reunification center at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center. There, we escorted groups of bewildered families through a throng of news reporters to the waiting teams of sheriffs and mental health professionals. “Our son didn’t come home last night,” was what I heard time and again. “We’re pretty sure he was at the Borderline.” The emotion was raw and no one was immune.

Heading home that afternoon, I emerged from the Teen Center and saw the smoke from the Hill Fire to the west in Camarillo. To the east, I could see smoke from the Woolsey Fire just beginning to show over the mountains on the San Fernando Valley side. I wanted to get some sleep because I had scheduled a morning shift at the evacuation shelter in Camarillo. Instead, I ended up fighting fire all night as the Woolsey Fire blew through my own neighborhood. Everyone at the Red Cross completely understood why I didn’t show up at the shelter for my shift –only with my home and family safe could I concentrate on my Red Cross assignment.

I did end up working some shifts at the evacuation shelters for the Woolsey Fire – spending just enough time to know that that was not what I wanted to do either. So, after a couple more meetings and another few hours of online classes, I was assigned as the Public Information Officer up in Ridgecrest for the earthquake. Now that was fun! I set up more than 30 local and national media interviews in the first two days. Since then I’ve refreshed my FEMA certifications and have worked in the Emergency Operation Center as the Red Cross representative for both the Easy Fire and the Maria Fire.

I missed an assignment flying out ahead of Hurricane Dorian because I was on vacation. But that’s the beauty of being a Red Cross volunteer – you work doing what you want, when you want to do it. Want to work with a disaster response team? You can train for that. Just want to spend a few quiet hours a month in the office, warehouse, or out in the community? There are dozens of positions that need to be filled.

The Red Cross says that its volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work they do. I think it is much more than that. There’s only a handful of employees that work alongside our more than 300 volunteers in Ventura County. At incidents, all I ever see are volunteers.

So, whether you want to work behind the scenes or be the boots on the ground, the Red Cross has a position waiting for someone just like you.

Questions about becoming a Red Cross volunteer? It’s easy to get started. Just visit RedCross.org/volunteer

Volunteers are needed to help support:

• Disaster services
• In-home smoke alarm installations
• Fire safety education visits
• Services to the Armed Forces
• Youth education programs
• Hands Only CPR training
• Procuring and delivering supplies
• Inspecting facilities
• Response vehicle maintenance
• And much more

Red Cross Executive Director Barry Falke Promoted to Division Leadership Team

The American Red Cross Central Valley & Kern County Executive Director Barry Falke has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the Pacific Division of the Red Cross. Falke will oversee the operations for Red Cross regions throughout the Pacific Coast of the United States, including California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and Saipan.

“I am very proud of and happy for Barry to take on a larger leadership role within the American Red Cross,” said Hugh J. Quinn, interim Central California Region Chief Executive Officer. “His commitment to the Red Cross is incredible and he has served the Central Valley Chapter and the Kern County Chapter at a very high level during his tenure.”

As executive director, Falke was instrumental in leading the Central Valley’s ability to respond to and recover from natural and man-made disasters as well as promote the growth, quality and constituency of Red Cross programs and services throughout the community.

Barry Falke, American Red Cross

“During my time as executive director, it was most rewarding to see our volunteers provide comfort and hope for those who have been affected by disaster,” said Falke. “The Red Cross mission is empowering, and I look forward to serving staff and volunteers throughout the Pacific Division.”

Falke recently earned his Master of Business Administration from the Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick and is also an alumnus of Fresno State and Fresno Pacific University. He is a graduate of the Disney Institute and in 2009, was named one of Fresno’s Top 40 business professionals under 40. He serves on several community boards including the Whitney Foundation, is a past president of the Leadership Fresno Alumni Association, and was appointed in 2015 to the City of Fresno Housing and Community Development Commission. Prior to joining the Red Cross, Falke served as the Director of Corporate Giving & Mission Driven Business at United Cerebral Palsy of Central California.

In his new role, Falke will continue to be based out of the chapter headquarters in Fresno. In the coming weeks, an interim executive director will be named.

Those interested in joining the Red Cross can apply here.

Red Cross Volunteers Helping Their Neighbors Affected by California Wildfires

By Diane Concannon

The American Red Cross continues to provide relief to people affected by the Woolsey Fire in southern California with shelter, food and comfort. As evacuation orders are lifted and people are able to return to affected areas, the Red Cross is there with them.

Drew and Amanda Haver are two of the more than 900 Red Cross disaster workers helping with California Wildfire relief efforts. The couple, together with a team of volunteers with Disaster Mental Health Services and Health Services, are driving through affected neighborhoods offering emotional support, health services and relief items to help those affected by the Woolsey Fires. Their box truck contains gloves, masks, shovels, rakes and sifters to help people sort through the debris.

Red Cross volunteers discuss available resources with Westlake Village resident.
Red Cross disaster workers Drew and Amanda Haven discuss resources available to help those affected by the Woolsey Fire with a Westlake Village resident. Photo taken on November 16, 2018 in Westlake Village, CA. Art Remnet/American Red Cross.

The sifters are tools, hand-built by volunteers, that help people sift through the ashes to retrieve precious remains of personal property following wildfires. Piles of ash can be shoveled inside, sifting out the ash to help locate materials or belongings that may have survived the fire. The volunteer team communicates important safety considerations as they distribute the sifters.

“Be sure to wear the gloves and N95 mask we’ve provided and have proper coverage of your skin while using the sifter,” Amanda instructs as Drew hands the sifter and other supplies to a young man whose home was lost to the fire.

Sifters can provide a meaningful activity for people to focus on when going through the shock of the loss after a fire.

Red Cross volunteer deliver sifters during supplies distribution in Westlake Village.
Red Cross disaster worker Drew Haver provides a sifting box and breathing masks to a resident whose Westlake Village home burned during the Woolsey Fire. Photo taken on November 16, 2018, in Westlake Village, CA. Art Remnet/American Red Cross

Amanda and Drew, who live in Westlake Village and are both teachers at local schools, began volunteering with the Red Cross after last year’s Thomas Fire along Central California’s coast. They were moved by the work of the organization and wanted to join the efforts to assist their community.

The couple needed to evacuate their home as the Woolsey Fire raged toward their neighborhood early on. Grateful their home was spared, the couple has been volunteering with the Red Cross, visiting affected communities, distributing relief supplies and checking in on their neighbors.

“Our schools are closed while they’re being cleaned following the fire,” said Amanda. “We felt helping our community with the relief efforts would be the best use of our free time.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP Entire communities and families have been left reeling from these deadly wildfires. Help people affected by the California wildfires by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.

HELP IN TRYING TIMES Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved—especially when they cause such massive devastation so close to the holidays. This is a time for people to come together and support one another.

  • Mental health experts recommend finding a balance with regard to media coverage. It’s important to stay informed while also limiting exposure, especially for children.
  • Also, be patient with yourself and others. It’s common to have any number of temporary stress reactions such as anger, frustration and anxiety.
  • To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

 

Featured photo: Photo taken on November 16, 2018, in Westlake Village, CA. Diane Concannon/American Red Cross.