Volunteer Spotlight: Mr. Fix-It


In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 21-27, 2013), each day, Direct Relief will highlight dedicated volunteers who help make the work possible. Learn about some of the wonderful people behind the scenes.

Among the screwdrivers, pliers, broken hospital beds, and eccentric sterilizers scattering a small corner of the Direct Relief warehouse, 70-year-old volunteer Al Sladek performs his best work.

“Fix it or throw it away,” states Al as his motto for handling the various electrical and engineering tasks that pop up in the warehouse – anything from mending dental chairs to controlling the sometimes out-of-control sterilizing machines.

With Al’s tender loving care, used medical equipment donated to Direct Relief is restored to like-new condition before being sent to health center partners caring for people in need in the U.S. and around the world.

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 1973 with a degree in electrical engineering, Al spent over 20 years working for the former Delco Defense Systems Operations in Goleta before retiring in 1997.  He now showcases his spirit of volunteerism through his active participation in the local community where he has lived for so long.

In addition to his past 13 years at Direct Relief, Al has also worked with the Santa Barbara Red Cross to distribute water, sandwiches, and aid to those whose homes burned down during the Santa Barbara wildfires.  He currently volunteers at Serenity House Counseling Services once a week “talking to patients that are in their declining days of life.”

And when he’s not running around volunteering all over Santa Barbara County, Al is adventuring around the mountains that border the region. He has been leading Friday night hikes for the Sierra Club every week for the past 39 years, having been a member for about 45 years now.

But as for his time at Direct Relief, it all began when Al was invited to a luncheon at the organization’s headquarters by a friend who had worked there for 35 years and from there, just “started showing up.”

“It’s quite interesting and rewarding,” comments Al. “It’s a nice place to spend one day a week coming out of retirement.”

Thank you for all the work you do, Al!

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