By Jonathan Sandstrom, American Red Cross
Mark Rozelle of Easton, Connecticut, began volunteering with the American Red Cross in the Bridgeport office back in 2009. He was an executive in the corporate world, but his company was bought out and his job eliminated.
Reflecting back, “It was scary at first, but in hindsight it turned out to be a great thing,” Mark said. “After some soul searching, I discovered I’d still be able to eat and pay my bills. So I decided to devote the rest of my life giving back to the community. I’m a huge believer in trying to give more than you take from life. I think if everyone tried to do that just a little bit, the world would be a much better place.”
When Mark first joined the Red Cross, he wasn’t sure where he’d fit in. “I wanted to be a grunt, to come in and help out where needed in the disaster services area. I needed a change of pace,” he said. “Somehow as I got more and more interested and involved in different areas, I ended up taking on more and more leadership responsibilities.”
Experiences from his career began paying off in different ways, helping make the team stronger.
Now, Mark is a Disaster Action Team (DAT) leader, and leads a Home Fire Campaign team in his area, installing up to three smoke alarms for free in anyone’s home and providing fire safety information and education. “I’d rather spend more time keeping people safe in their homes, than helping them after a fire strikes.”
He’s the shelter lead in his territory, and deploys nationally to help provide and secure shelter for those impacted by disaster. When deployed, Mark can spend two weeks or more on assignment.
He’s a Community ambassador, visiting various groups and agencies to talk about the Red Cross and its mission.
In addition to his other roles, Mark is the Volunteer Partner for the regional chief communications officer, helping to strategize and share his knowledge from his time in the corporate world.
One of Mark’s biggest satisfactions is knowing he’s helping people likely having the worst day of their lives. “I’m just trying to help alleviate some of the burden for them using the Red Cross and the resources they provide.”
During his time with the Red Cross, he’s learned “Everyone has the chance to come in on
the ground floor and go as high up in the organization as you want,” he said. “Whatever your interest or skill set, there’s a place for you. Whether you can volunteer a few hours a month or a day, the organization could really use the help.”
Mark added, there isn’t any other organization where 93% of the national workforce is volunteer. “This is not an I and Me organization, It’s Us and We and the only way it works is with strong team work.”
When deployed or throughout the region, Mark is pleased with the unity of the organization. “When on a disaster assignment, it’s like landing with a SWAT team which works cohesively even if we weren’t trained together. It’s one of the beautiful things about how the system was designed to work.”
He and his wife Susan also volunteer with a second grade class in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They read and create art projects with the kids. “Inner-city school teachers are underfunded and overworked. We bring in resources and work with the kids,” he said “One of the things I do at the end of every class is magic. At that age the kids truly believe. My payment is seeing the excitement on their faces when they are just mystified by it.”
He also spends lots of time with actor Paul Newman’s The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with life-threatening illnesses. Kids there aren’t accepted elsewhere because of the liability. “At camp the focus isn’t on being sick, it’s on helping them be kids,” he said. “I’m not a doctor. I deal with the fun stuff.”
“I do these things because I can. I like to be busy and I like to give back, it’s just that simple,” Mark said. “As we grow older, we come to the realization life is about making an impact, not an income.”
To learn more about you can make an impact with the Red Cross visit: http://www.redcross.org/local/connecticut/volunteer.