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.