Author Archives: LindsayRPeakAuthor

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 to find volunteer opportunities in your area and apply now.

The “girl from high tech” finds renewed purpose with the Red Cross

Suzie Hall

The American Red Cross honored Suzie Hall with the Clara Barton Honor Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership in Sonoma County for her extensive volunteer efforts. Named after the founder of the American Red Cross, this award recognizes a volunteer for service in a series of leadership positions held over several years.

The top-honor recipient joined the Red Cross back in 2014 through San Jose’s local chapter. Following her departure from a career in Silicon Valley at Apple Inc., Suzie searched for a new community to call home. Hall sought a slower pace of life and desired to be closer to friends and family, so she put down new roots in Oakmont in Santa Rosa. She quickly dedicated her time and energy to a volunteer leadership position within the Red Cross using her IT and seasoned management experience to serve the needs of the organization.

Her current focus is on the Volunteer Connection Tech Team and she works with two other volunteers – Linnea Dunn and Ayman Baydoun. Hall’s expertise and strong leadership help manage and streamline the system. If volunteers have an issue or question, they can write in for support. “It’s a huge system that runs the lifeblood of how we communicate with everyone.” Volunteers update their availability and accept shifts, among other things.

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Red Crossers Pose with Battle of the Bulge Prisoner of War Dan McCabe

Mccabe 420x270The American Red Cross supports veterans and families all across the U.S., proudly serving those who serve our nation. A brief look at the reach our services have had this year includes 65,439 emergency communications to 117,580 military members and their families. 162,200 families were served this year to date. Volunteers provide home comforts and critical services on bases and in military hospitals around the world. We support military families during deployments and emergencies. We continue servicing our nation’s veterans after their service ends. We enjoy getting to know each and every individual’s personal story and look forward to participating in local events and parades aimed at honoring our nation’s heroes.

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Meet Gene Beck Memorial Volunteer of the Year Award Recipient Betsy Witthohn

Betsy Witthohn 420x279From the ashes of wildfires rise everyday heroes. Betsy Witthohn is one of them.

After reaching safety, the fire survivor recounts how time stood still two years ago until mandatory evacuation orders were lifted. Her mind was preoccupied with anxiety as she feared for the worst.

Returning to the area, she found the flames spared her residence. Many nearby were not as fortunate. That experience served as a catalyst to becoming a Red Cross volunteer. Her husband joined, as well.

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Recognizing Leadership in Dennis Burke

Dennis Burke 420x279

Dennis Burke pictured with Richard Goldfarb, Disaster Program Manager.

On March 16, 2019, the American Red Cross of the California Northwest Chapter honored three volunteers from Lake and Mendocino Counties at its annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon. Dennis Burke of Lake County was one of them.

When selected as the recipient of the 2018 New Volunteer Award for his contribution to the Red Cross in his first year of service, Burke went up to receive his award in shock.

“It did not register,” recalls Burke.

Burke felt humbled and proud of the unexpected honor even though he did not anticipate being the center of attention that day. After the award was in hand, a sense of accomplishment came over him.

“At first, I was embarrassed because there were so many other people who had been volunteering so much longer than I had,” says Burke. But when fellow Red Cross volunteers and staff clapped, the feeling of recognition kicked in. “It was a good feeling. It was nice to be recognized for a job you’ve been doing and learning along the way.”

Burke played a vital role during the Mendocino Complex Fire volunteer efforts. Familiar with the area, the Lake County resident helped “hotshot”, or returned to burned-out areas with supplies for the residents as they repopulated the area.

Burke is no stranger to public service. He joined the Hayward Police Department before taking over as the senior animal patrol officer. As a state humane officer, Burke investigated acts of cruelty against animals. In 1989, he became the Director of Lake County Animal Control. Burke found happiness later in life in the construction business. He is now semi-retired and spends his newfound free time wearing many hats with the American Red Cross.

“They keep you busy,” Burke says with a grin.

Burke organizes the volunteer calendar, detailing all events and helps communicate with the team to make sure everyone is informed and up-to-date about volunteer opportunities. He is supporting Sound the Alarm in Mendocino plus recruitment and engagement of new volunteers. The award winner has also taken on the leadership role of the preparedness team lead. From tabling events to DAT calls, Red Cross volunteers and the community are likely to cross paths with Burke at some point.

“Dennis has been an awesome team member and valuable part of driving the Red Cross Mission in Lake and Mendocino,” says Richard Goldfarb, Disaster Program Manager.

When Burke isn’t volunteering, he spends time with his three daughters, seven grandchildren, and three canine companions – Ruff, Rascal, and Reckless.

Burke looks forward to future opportunities with the Red Cross and aims to make a difference. On Father’s Day, he attended the first Red Cross event held in Comptche, a town with less than 200 people. He hopes to reach smaller communities like Comptche that have not been focused on in the past due to staffing shortages.

When asked what he would tell potential volunteers for the Red Cross, Burke replied, “It’s all about the people – working with those in need and working with others that are just as wonderful.”

For information about how you can become a volunteer with the American Red Cross, please click here.

Lindsay R. Peak is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.
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