DAT Duty Officer Nik Rochnik Answers the Call to Help and Encourages Others to Join the Line

By Lindsay R. Peak

Nik Rochnik helping those affected by Hurricane Ian at the Red Cross office in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Nick Rochnik

Rain or shine. Morning or night. From floods to fires, the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers answer the call for help 24 hours a day. And, for some, they discover their own calling. Meet Nik Rochnik.

Born in Ukraine, he immigrated to the United States for collegiate studies in Boston before making the Bay Area his home. This husband and father of two children and one dog felt the urge to connect with his neighbors by donating what little free time he could find to assist others in times of crisis despite having a full-time job in computer software.

“I joined Red Cross looking for opportunities to directly help people in the community,” says Rochnik. After researching various organizations, his search ended at the Red Cross website. “I was very impressed with Red Cross 100% disaster response coverage and the efficiency of how much donor’s funds are distributed to clients,” he relives.

Nik joined DAT as a trainee a little over six months ago. His hands-on involvement started almost immediately. With unprecedented rainstorms, his boots hit the ground post-training working in emergency shelters and traveling across state lines aiding those in need in their recovery. After four local DAT calls, Nik was deployed in December of 2022 to Hurricane Ian in Florida. He was tasked with registratio onsite as well as on mobile outreach at that Disaster Response Operation (DRO). The most satisfying days were processing high quantities of assistance cards for the people we serve.

“The reactions and interactions are very memorable. They say thank you in different ways. There are tears and hugs, but many times it’s just words that imprint volunteer’s minds and hearts,” he adds.

Learning of folks’s plans for utilizing funds also left a lasting impression on Nik. “I think of myself as a tough guy, but when I think of these things, I choke up a bit,” shares the volunteer. A grandmother shared her intent to use the assistance monies to buy bunkbeds so that her grandkids wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor any longer. A disabled veteran planned to purchase a new scooter to replace the one he lost in a fire allowing him to regain his mobility.

Red Cross’s high percentage of donor funds distributed to the people who needs it most and the opportunity to assist in times of need pulled Nik in. And, he plans to stay hoping to recruit others. Nik has plans to use vacation time to do at least one DRO per year until he retirement frees up his schedule. Future goals include assisting in potential improvements to Red Cross processes and technology, answering DAT calls and responding to DROs.

This mentor keeps motivating prospective and current volunteers. Through personal assessment of one’s own skillset and individual strengths, anyone can add to Red Cross’ functions. “I see it as continuous learning.” His wheels are always turning and finding ways to maximize value to the organization through volunteer work. Now, Nik has advanced to Duty Officer answering the calls from client’s in need and directing responders to the scene.

Every eight minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster. Whether it’s being an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a friendly face who aids in meeting immediate needs for shelter or supplies, volunteers ensure during times of crisis, someone will be on the other end of the call for help.

If you are bilingual, empathetic, goal oriented, or have availability or flexibility in your schedule, consider joining the DAT team. Training is online and in-person. The Red Cross can use your skills and compassion, either on the scene, or coordinating remotely.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer/disaster-action-team to find volunteer opportunities in your area and apply now.