Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Calling of Your Soul: Kristen Cajka

One of the many reasons I love working with nonprofits and charities is the people I get to meet. Almost inevitably, they bring a passion to the job which is usually missing from their for-profit counterparts. On Friday, I had a chance to speak with Kristen Cajka (pronounced Chy'-ka -- the first syllable rhymes with "pie") of the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. She was no exception to that high level of enthusiasm.

Kristen started out working with the Family Health Plan HMO. In the course of working with the Red Cross as a volunteer, however, she discovered a position in the public relations department that was a perfect fit. As the communications manager for the greater Toledo area chapter, she gets the word out about all the great works that the Red Cross volunteers do. She has now been employed by the Red Cross for over five years and her excitement for the job still shows in her voice and her eyes when she describes the work she does.

Similar to me, her greatest joy is working with the people -- in this case, the many volunteers that serve the Red Cross. These volunteers cover positions from disaster relief, to organizing blood drives, to maintaining the vehicles that keep everything moving. She certainly gets a lot of opportunity to meet these giving people. The American Red Cross is very much a volunteer organization. Kristen shared with me that on June 21st of this year, the Toledo area suffered serious flooding, to the extent that the Red Cross mobilized it's national disaster relief forces. Of the 68 people who responded to the event, fully 80% were volunteer workers.

Of course, as with most of us, I knew about the Red Cross blood services, and I was reasonably familiar with their disaster relief activities (though I didn't realize that they respond to over 70,000 disasters each year). What I didn't know about were some of their community outreach programs. Kristen told me about their "When I'm in Charge" program. In this class, young kids get training on how to be safe when they are home alone. For kids from 11 to 15, the Red Cross holds babysitter training classes. Wouldn't you feel safer leaving your kids with someone who has Red Cross instruction?

Kristen also gives great credit to Tim Yenrick, the executive director of the Greater Toledo Area chapter for his efforts to serve the needs of the inner city better. Many families need the training that the Red Cross offers but cannot afford even the nominal fees to take the classes. Mr. Yenrick has instituted scholarship programs to help these disadvantaged families gain some of the skills they need to stand on their own.

I have to thank Kristen sincerely for taking time out of her schedule to help me better understand all that the American Red Cross has to offer. As I mentioned earlier, her passion for her work make her a superb representative for the whole Red Cross organization. I'm sure that the enthusiasm that she carries in her soul inspires all those around her.

Who has really inspired you lately?

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