A Volunteer Journey

By: Shelly Makrugin , Canadian Red Cross
Photos Courtesy: Joe Michielsen

“That’s just what I do. I am a long-term volunteer. I find it rewarding to get out there and help people. Somebody’s got to do it.”

Joe Michielsen is standing on rocks, in front of the sea
Joe Michielsen is entering his third decade as a volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross in southern Alberta. He first began volunteering with the Red Cross in 1993 as an organizer for registration sessions for the Bone Marrow Donor Registry, motivated by his then toddler-aged daughter’s successful, non-related bone marrow transplant to treat her cancer. Later, when Red Cross transitioned toward disaster management, Michielsen joined the emergency management team.


“Volunteering is the best job I’ve ever had because that’s where you learn, and people appreciate what you are doing, “says Michielsen. “It nice to see that you are helping somebody.”

Michielsen has worked on numerous emergency responses in Canada including floods and fires in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada. He has supported American Red Cross responses in New York City for 9/11 and for hurricanes in Alabama, and Puerto Rico and Superstorm Sandy in New York.
“One of my most memorable deployments was to Puerto Rico for the Hurricane Georges response. It was my first major deployment, and we were doing Outreach, going property to property, searching for people who needed help,” Michielsen says. “I learned early on during that deployment you can’t help everyone. You do what you can in the time you are there.”
Michielsen’s most recent deployment was to Sydney, Nova Scotia about a month into the Hurricane Fiona response, supporting registration and needs assessments.
“A lot of repairs had been made; the power was back. But I did see damage. A lot of siding ripped off, some trees blown down and still on houses,” Michielsen explains. “The affected people were very polite and accommodating. To ease the pressures, I would go for walks around Sydney, take photos.”
Red Cross isn’t the only organization lucky enough to have Michielsen as a volunteer. He also volunteers for at least six other organizations. And he is an avid photographer.
“One of my hobbies/obsessions is photography. Mainly wildlife and scenery which includes everything from birds, animals, and insects to wildflowers. During a disaster response, I have my camera and iPhone with me to capture the experience.”
Michielsen has worked with many Red Cross personnel over the years, including Penny Balfour, the manager of emergency management in Alberta and Northwest Territories.
“It has been my privilege to have worked directly with Joe for several years. He is not afraid to work hard. He not only volunteers with emergency management; he also supports the Health Equipment Loan Program, “ Balfour relates. “Joe is a leader within his teams and so generous sharing his knowledge and experiences.”
Michielsen says he is busier than ever since retiring several years ago and doesn’t see that changing any time soon.
You can find more information on volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross here.
Related articles:
Giving to a community that gives so much in return: Meet volunteers Diane Girard and Laura Isidean
Total strangers to true companions
New volunteer Ha Vu describes why she gives back to organizations like the Canadian Red Cross

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