By Noreen Walton, American Red Cross volunteer
During the 2003 wildfires in North County San Diego, Joe Zechman, November 2021 Volunteer of the Month for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter, responded to a call for help from the American Red Cross. “I showed up at a gymnasium and was assigned by the Red Cross to a shelter they were opening in Julian. Before the shelter could open, the fire changed course. I was disappointed. I was ready to work! But I learned something important that day. I learned I wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross.”
Inspired by the chance to volunteer with the Red Cross, Joe returned to his job with the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District and signed up for classes offered by San Diego County’s Shelter Team Training Program. Following his retirement in Summer 2018, Joe began his volunteer career with the Red Cross, bringing the same “can do” attitude he had back in 2003 to his work. “Whatever the Red Cross needs from me, I want to be ready to go. That’s what is so great about the Red Cross. You have the opportunity to use skills you already have and develop new skills.”
Joe’s skills have definitely increased since he joined the Red Cross in 2018. According to his supervisors and colleagues, Joe is a “mission first” volunteer. Since July 2021, he has served in 37 Red Cross disaster responses, including a multi-family fire in El Cajon, a plane crash in Santee, and a SWAT standoff in Spring Valley. “I am always learning,” Joe explains. “Always listening to others so that I can do the best job possible.”
When asked if there is a “Red Cross moment” that stands out in his mind, Joe responds quickly. “Every time I put that vest on is a special moment for me.” He credits his fellow Red Cross volunteers for making his work so enjoyable. “It’s a blessing to work with and connect with such outstanding volunteers. We volunteers depend on one another. If I don’t have the answer to a question, or don’t know how to do something, I can call our Lead and ask, 'What do I do here?’ I’m always learning.”
Joe Zechman believes in the mission of the Red Cross and the organization’s power to improve the lives of the people it serves and the lives of its volunteers. His message to those who may be considering volunteering with the Red Cross is direct and passionate. “If you are looking for work that gives you a feeling of satisfaction and a deep sense of pride, the Red Cross is for you.”
To become a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.