By Noreen Walton, American Red Cross volunteer
Helping others in their time of need is a lifelong commitment for April 2022 Volunteer of the Month, Octavio Gonzalez. Working first as a Deputy Probation Counselor, then as a substitute teacher in juvenile hall, Octavio switched careers and became an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles County, where he spent 25 years supporting students in kindergarten through third grade as they learned to speak English. “All of these experiences help me to understand the cultural nuances of our Spanish-speaking Red Cross clients,” Octavio said. “In my work with the Disaster Assistance Team (DAT), I interview Spanish-speaking clients who have lost their homes to fires, to landslides. My career experiences taught me how to talk to people in a way that gives them hope. That brings a little bit of light to a tough time in their lives.”
In addition to his work with DAT, Octavio is a member of the Latino Engagement Team and works as a Shelter Service Associate. He finds each of these assignments challenging and exciting. “That’s what’s great about volunteering with the Red Cross. You are never on your own. You are riding on the shoulders of a great organization that offers an abundance of classes to deepen your knowledge and increase your skills.”
When asked to describe a special Red Cross experience, Octavio is quick to respond. “The time I was sent to Dallas, to assist unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America. There were so many kids there, and at first it felt overwhelming, but by the end of the two weeks I spent there, I was grateful for the experience. “I have worked with juveniles all my life. You think you know everything about kids until you see 2,500 of them in this frightening situation being good to each other and being so good and grateful to us.”
Octavio describes his fellow Red Cross volunteers as heroes and emphasizes how he depends on their experience to do his job well. His message to prospective Red Cross volunteers is simple and direct. “Red Cross is a tremendous opportunity for goodness. There is always a need for people who can offer compassion, who can respond to other people in their time of need.”
To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.