Elizabeth Michalak, Peter Ocko and their five children have been volunteering at PAWS/LA for more than 10 years. They participate in our Super Saturdays and deliver pet food to homebound clients in their neighborhood. The OckoMichalak family has truly made volunteering with our agency a family affair.
When Oscar first joined his mother and father lending a hand to PAWS/LA’s homebound clients, he was older brother to only Jeremy, 17 and Avery, 14. Since then, the family has welcomed two more children, Emily, 7, and Eli, 4. All of the kids now take part in working with PAWS/LA. It has become part of the fabric that ties the family together.
Elizabeth credits her family’s commitment to helping others to the values that her own parents taught her. Her mother grew up in a farming community in Kansas, where she was raised to believe that a community must band its resources together. Elizabeth’s father’s family emigrated from Poland, survived the Great Depression, and never turned their backs on a neighbor in need.
“I was blessed to be born into a family that never had to struggle financially,” Elizabeth says. “Whenever I’ve needed help, they’ve always been my safety net. Not everyone has that same support. So, I also want to teach my children to help the most vulnerable.”
One such PAWS/LA client who needed a little extra help from the OckoMichalaks was an elderly woman from Santa Monica. She and her cat were receiving monthly food supplies and veterinary care thanks to PAWS/LA’s P.A.D. program. Through the years the family became very close to her and remain friends to this day.
“Our family has built close bonds with some of the clients we see every month.” Elizabeth says. “For the kids, especially the older ones, working with PAWS/LA is about more than just receiving volunteer hours for school. This experience has taught them a sense of responsibility.”
Bringing the whole family along for their food deliveries is definitely an icebreaker. Clients are always happy to have the family over. Sometimes the younger children draw pictures and the clients hang the drawings on the refrigerator the way a grandparent might do.
“Volunteering with PAWS/LA is time for us to strengthen our family and our community,” Elizabeth says. “Something as simple as checking up on your neighbor from time to time really makes a difference. We have a duty to look out for one another.”
And, after 10 years of service, the OckoMichalak family has been nominated for a very special award. On Saturday, February 27, they received the President Obama Volunteer Service Award at PAWS/LA’s Open House.
“We never expected to get anything out of serving other than the satisfaction of helping our fellow man,” Elizabeth said. “This award is absolutely amazing. It’s truly a once in a lifetime moment. It might be the coolest thing that’s ever happened to us.”