By Joe Gutierrez, American Red Cross volunteer
Jeff Mikoleit joined the American Red Cross as a general volunteer and to do radio communications, but his hard work, determination and challenge to do more eventually led to him being named the American Red Cross of Orange County Volunteer of the Month for December 2023.
“I came with my amateur radio license in hand and thought that was a good thing to bring to table,” said Jeff, who began his service in 2016.
And though the Red Cross appreciated his skills, the organization prefers to use their business band radio. But that didn’t deter Jeff. One of the things he has learned about the Red Cross is there is something for everybody.
“Being able to contribute to the Red Cross and their goals has basically been a privilege, and it's been a very satisfying and fulfilling experience.”
Jeff’s desire to help began a few years before joining the Red Cross as he and his wife, Bonnie, volunteered in a community emergency response program for the city of Orange.
That experience “gave us the taste of being able to help and I think that’s what propelled us to look at doing things beyond that and that’s what drew us to the Red Cross. My wife went there first and I followed shortly thereafter.”
One of the things that has helped him as a Red Cross volunteer is his flexibility and determination to make a difference.
“You got to go in with the ability to take on whatever is thrown at you. And after joining the Red Cross by volunteering, you get to see all the different activities,” Jeff said. “Maybe not all of them are really what you would find engaging, but there is always something to be done no matter what.”
He gravitated to logistics, which keeps him busy. “There are always things to sort. There's always inventories to take. There's always expired stuff that needs to be disposed of.”
He also works in Disaster Services Technology to ensure Red Cross volunteers are prepared in the event of a disaster emergency where radio communications can be deployed.
Jeff has found a lot of fulfillment through Sound the Alarm events, through which the Red Cross and partners provide and install free smoke alarms in local communities to help prevent home fire deaths and injuries. Frequently the events are held in mobile home parks or in communities that typically have elderly residents or are at risk of experiencing home fires. “They come up and thank us for the service we are providing.”
But what really makes it worthwhile is when he hears about a home fire where the person survived “because we trained them on an evacuation plan or upgraded their smoke alarms so that they were able to get out as the smoke alarms saved them.”
His advice to fellow Red Cross volunteers is not to be afraid to try something different.
“We all come in with expectations,” Jeff said. “I think you have to try something new and you’ll find other avenues that are open to you.”
His advice to potential Red Cross volunteers: get involved.
“The one thing that I always fall back to is the mission statement, and one part of the mission statement says, mobilizing the power of volunteers. And again, the Red Cross lives and is thriving because of its volunteers,” Jeff said. “You can make a difference with the Red Cross.”