Sharing a Lifesaving Message: Kraig’s Story

Kraig Kotter has a second lease on life, and it is something he does not take for granted.

Kraig is a heart transplant recipient; he had the procedure in September 2016. Blood products from numerous blood donors were necessary to complete the 10-hour surgery.

“I had 14 blood donors help get me through that procedure,” Kraig says. “It gives you a sense of responsibility to live a life deserving of all those gifts. Part of that responsibility is spreading the word to people who are not informed, about the importance of this.”

That sense of responsibility has led Kraig to take his message on the road. He travels and speaks with groups of all ages, including high school students, about the importance of blood donation.

“When I speak to people, I give them a little responsibility to give blood,” he says.

Some of Kraig’s first memories of blood donation came courtesy of his father. Kraig says, he remembers his father giving blood in his hometown, located in Schuyler County, Illinois.

Kraig realizes not everyone may understand the significance of giving blood, and how much it can make a difference when you are on the receiving end. That’s all part of his message for those he meets.

“People may not realize how important it is to give blood. If I can be a small part of changing their minds, it’s worth it to me to spend the time doing that.”
-Kraig Kotter

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. The American Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood, and we depend on the generosity of donors to help save lives. Thank you, Kraig for sharing your story and helping inspire others to give the gift of lifesaving blood!

If you would like to help others who need blood, you can make an appointment today. Visit, call 800-RED-CROSS or use the free Red Cross Blood Donor App to sign up at a location near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

A Passion for Volunteering: Dorothy’s Story

For nearly 30 years, Dorothy Yackley of Quincy, Illinois has volunteered her time and talents with the American Red Cross.

Dorothy got started in 1994, providing health services assistance following a flood along the Mississippi River near her hometown. But, that was just the beginning. Since then, she has served in many different capacities as a Red Cross volunteer.

Dorothy has been a part of the disaster action team in numerous roles. She has served as a Blood Donor Ambassador, helping at blood drives. Dorothy has been a caseworker for Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, as well as helping with meals for veterans and the Honor Flight program. On top of all of that, she has taught health and safety classes for the Red Cross during the past 29 years.

Recently, Dorothy joined fellow Red Cross volunteers in helping those affected by tornadoes at a resource fair in the Fulton County, Illinois.

Dorothy is a firm believer in the benefits of volunteering. She also has given her time to various other organizations, simply because she likes to help other people.

“I love volunteering. It is in helping others I find satisfaction and receive more than I can give.”
-Dorothy Yackley

Dorothy says, volunteering for the Red Cross has been particularly rewarding, and recommends it to anyone who might be interested.

“It is a highly recognized organization and one can gain many life skills volunteering for the Red Cross, as it provides many learning opportunities and information about the community and can give one a sense of purpose in helping others, either locally or nationally,” she said.

Dorothy, thank you very much for your decades of service to the Red Cross, and in turn, the community around you.

Visit to start your Red Cross volunteer journey.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteer Spotlight: Tony Halabi

“I love volunteering to give back to my community. It feels great when you get to help people in their worst life moments.”
-Tony Halabi

Tony Halabi of Peoria started volunteering with the American Red Cross in August 2013.

Tony is part of the Red Cross disaster action team, frequently responding to disasters such as home fires. During his time as a Red Cross volunteer, Tony has installed numerous smoke alarms during Sound the Alarm home fire safety events. You also might see him driving an Emergency Response Vehicle or handing out emergency supplies to individuals affected by tornadoes.

Tony encourages others to sign up as volunteers for the Red Cross. “It is the perfect organization to volunteer for,” he says. “As a volunteer, I see how the Red Cross uses all of its resources to help people in need during disasters. Also, the staff are very supportive during training and very appreciative of any volunteering work.”

Tony has a heart for serving others and says, it is very impactful when he has the opportunity to help people as a volunteer.

“What affects me the most is seeing people after a house fire or a tornado distraught, they have lost everything they owned, all their memories and not knowing what to do next and where to go. Some nights after a fire call I stay awake thinking about it, hoping I made a small difference by helping.”

Tony has dedicated much of his life to volunteering and received The President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama, while he was in office.

Thank you, Tony for your hard work and dedication, and all you do to help the community as a Red Crosser! Visit to join Tony as a disaster volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Ready to Serve: Aaron’s Story

With nearly a dozen volunteers surrounding her on a Saturday morning, Mass Care Supervisor Jamie Winterbottom ran down the day’s feeding assignments for the American Red Cross response to Mississippi River flooding along the Illinois/Iowa border.

As the crews listened to her instructions, one face stood out among the rest. The face was that of 20-year-old Aaron McPherson. McPherson, a new Red Cross volunteer who was taking part in his first disaster response deployment, was likely at least 15 years younger than everyone in the room.

McPherson exudes the enthusiasm of a young responder anxious to help. As a “Red Crosser” he is a Disaster Assistance Team responder and member of a mission response/emergency response vehicle team. 

Being a public servant is a trait that’s apparently part of his DNA. When not serving the Red Cross, McPherson serves his community as a Corrections Officer at the Washington County Jail. He serves his state and his country as a member of the Iowa Army National Guard.

When asked what drives him to volunteer and to serve, McPherson said, “I just want to help out. I want to help whenever or wherever I’m needed.”

Visit to join Aaron as a Red Cross volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Volunteer Brian DeLoche

129 and Counting: Meet the Top Blood Donor in Illinois

Theresa Kallmbah from Mackinaw, Illinois has been donating blood since high school.

“I got started because one of the kids I hung out with had hemophilia and needed blood on a regular basis,” she said.

Theresa has faithfully donated blood and platelets ever since. In fact, she has donated so much that she currently is the top donor in the Illinois region. To date, Theresa has donated 129 gallons of blood. Yes, you read that correctly – 129 gallons.

The number even catches Theresa by surprise, when she hears it. “They tell me how much, and I’m looking at 55-gallon drums sitting side by side and thinking, ‘That much, really?'”

Theresa is an advocate for blood and platelet donation wherever she goes. She has started blood drives over the years, encourages everyone to donate and offers a simple explanation for why she continues to do so.

“I have something in my body that I have in abundance, and I don’t need all that I have. This person over here, whether I know them or not, may need that: an accident victim, a new baby, a surgical or cancer patient. Somebody who needs what I have. You can’t buy it. You can’t manufacture it. And, that person needs it to stay alive. I have too much, so why not give it to that person to help keep them alive? There’s no reason why not.”
-Theresa Kallmbah

Platelets are a big part of Theresa’s donation story. Platelets are eligible to be donated every seven days – up to 24 times a year. For perspective, whole blood donation is allowed six times per year.

Thank you for your dedication to giving blood and platelets, Theresa! Visit to join her and make an appointment at a location near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

American Red Cross Celebrates 2023 Local Heroes 

American Red Cross Celebrates 2023 Local Heroes 

Seventeen extraordinary individuals to be honored at the 2023 Red Cross Heroes Breakfast

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago announces the 2023 class of heroes to be honored at the annual Red Cross Heroes Breakfast. The class of Red Cross Heroes are an exemplary group of individuals who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to build better communities, and who have made a lasting impact on others in the process. 

The Heroes Breakfast was established to raise public awareness of local heroes who exemplify the values of the lifesaving mission of the Red Cross. Since 2002, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago has celebrated more than 200 extraordinary individuals who have made a personal commitment to creating safer and stronger communities and providing help when disaster strikes.  

This is the 21st year the Red Cross is honoring a class of heroes at our Heroes Breakfast, attended by hundreds of individuals from across Chicagoland. This year’s event is scheduled for Thursday, May 11 from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m. at the Hilton Chicago. Over the past 21 years, through the generosity of the corporate and individual donor community, the annual Chicago Heroes Breakfast has raised millions of dollars for the humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross.  

“Each year I am humbled to hear the stories of incredible people who selflessly and altruistically help others. This year we have assembled another incredible class of heroes who have made an extraordinary mark in their communities and beyond,” said Celena Roldán Sarillo, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Illinois.  

The 2023 Class of Heroes 

Heroes in 12 community service categories are being honored this year. Honorees were chosen by an independent committee of leaders in the business and civic community. The Red Cross pays tribute to the class of 2023 heroes through their stories of inspiration outlined below. 

Yvonne Blake of Chicago is the Blood Services Hero. This past November, Yvonne Blake’s 20-year-old son Jaden, a collegiate track and field athlete and student at Grand Valley State University, passed away after a terrible automobile accident. While fighting for his life in the hospital and in preparation for organ donation, Jaden required more than 60 units of blood. To keep her son’s legacy alive, she started a non-profit in his name, the Jaden Sebastian Blake Foundation, and a month after his death she led the Foundation to host a blood drive in his honor. Going forward, Blake and the Foundation have it as their mission to provide support and scholarships for African American youth who aspire to participate in non-traditional sports and to raise awareness of and participation in blood donation and organ donation for members of African American communities nationwide. 

Father Hernan Cuevas Contreras of Highland Park is theDisaster Relief Hero. During the 2022 Highland Park Independence Day Parade mass shooting, Father Hernan Cuevas Contreras, on his third day on the job as the pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, took immediate action and led his parishioners on their parade float and other parade onlookers in the area to run and take shelter in his church. He and the church sheltered more than 50 people for four hours while the shooter was at large. In the wake of the tragedy, Father Cuevas also dedicated himself to providing resources for the Spanish-speaking members of the community to support healing in Highland Park and Highwood. 

Shawn Harrington of Oak Park is the Education Hero. Shawn Harrington brings encouragement and inspiration every day to the students he teaches and coaches at Children of Peace Catholic School. A former Marshall High School stand-out basketball player and coach, Harrington was shot and paralyzed in 2014 in a mistaken identity shooting, while shielding his daughter from gunfire. Currently, Harrington is at Children of Peace Catholic School, where he prioritizes providing students a safe haven on the basketball court and serving as a mentor. He says, “The benefit of my experience is going to benefit these kids. Growing up in the inner city – about every adversity you can face, I’ve been through it.” Harrington works to help children face their own adversities and uses sports as a tool to broaden their horizons. He is known for teaching and coaching with genuine care and concern for the students’ overall well-being. 

Nicole Jackson of Richton Park is the Healthcare Hero. Nicole Jackson is an emergency room manager and nurse at Advocate Trinity Hospital on the south side of the city in Calumet Heights. On June 23, 2022, the emergency department was filled with patients and was experiencing limited nursing staff, when three gunshot victims needing care simultaneously arrived at the ER. Two of the victims required immediate transfer to a higher level of care for their injuries via critical care ambulance transport. Seeing the busy ER, the critical status of the gunshot victims, and the 90-minute wait before a critical care ambulance arrived, Jackson, already working beyond her shift to support her team, jumped into the ambulance to deliver lifesaving care in the fast-moving ambulance. Regularly going above and beyond as an ER nurse and patient advocate in a trauma setting is what Jackson is known for at Advocate Trinity Hospital.  

Captain Paul Burns, Firefighter Paramedic Michael Modjeski, Firefighter EMT Jeffrey Rich, of Chicago are theFirefighter Heroes. In April 2022, the three Chicago Fire Department firefighters responded to a major three-story apartment building fire in the Austin neighborhood. They arrived to find heavy fire emanating from the first-floor windows. Just inside the front door of an apartment on fire, they assisted a female victim who communicated that her ‘grand baby’ was inside. With zero visibility, heavy smoke conditions, and extreme heat, the interior search team entered the burning apartment. Within minutes, FF/PM Modjeski signaled to his partner, FF/EMT Rich, that he had discovered a female on the bed and needed assistance getting her out of the house. Subsequently, Capt. Burns entered the bedroom to complete the search. Under heavy debris from the closet, Capt. Burns discovered an unresponsive 3-year-old child and carried her out of the building. All three victims were quickly transported to the hospital. The search team of Capt. Burns, FF/PM Modjeski and FF/EMT Rich heroically ventured into a heavy fire situation to rescue individuals in a dire circumstance.  

Pastor John Zayas of Chicago is theGlobal Citizenship Hero. In early 2022, Pastor Zayas of the Grace and Peace Community Church in the north Austin and Belmont Cragin neighborhoods of Chicago participated in a City of Chicago taskforce to understand and support the Central and South American migrants anticipated to come to Chicago in fall of 2022. Pastor Zayas recognized the migrant need would be substantial and immediately mobilized his congregation to stand ready to provide humanitarian support. As a result, he provided thousands of migrants with resources and supplies collected from many partners and his church provided temporary shelter for families to keep them together. The Grace and Peace Community Church housed over 100 families for 3-4 months. While staying in their facility, his church also assisted by resourcing them with city programs, employment opportunities, and permanent housing. 

Keith Wallace of Frankfort is the Community Impact Hero. Keith Wallace is the Executive Director of the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association (LWSRA). LWSRA’s mission is to provide recreation and leisure services for individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities while also promoting greater disability awareness in the community. Wallace has led and coached adaptive sports for more than 20 years and works tirelessly to get individuals with disabilities into college and the workforce. Wallace has grown the Lincolnway wheelchair basketball program from one to five teams, all of which compete in the North American Wheelchair Basketball League he founded and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. In 2022, LWRSA served 400 people. Wallace has also grown wheelchair softball opportunities, including bringing the Wheelchair Softball World Series to Chicagoland in 2022. 

Officers Alexander Lopez & Andrew Soderlundof Aurora and Yorkville respectively are theLaw Enforcement Heroes. The day before Thanksgiving 2022, Officer Alexander Lopez and Field Training Officer Andrew Soderlund of the Aurora Police Department were working in different patrol cars when a call came in that woman and a nine-year-old child had fallen through the ice on a nearby retention pond. The child had been playing with a football that landed on the ice and when he tried to retrieve it, he fell through. The woman saw the incident and tried to save him. The officers raced to the scene with Officer Lopez arriving first. He waded into the retention pond and began to chip away at the ice to rescue the individuals. Eventually the water became too deep for him to touch the bottom, so he swam out in the frigid waters, and proceeded to take hold of both the boy and the woman and tried to swim with both clinging to his back. This proved extremely difficult so Officer Soderlund ran into the water with a rope tied to himself so that their colleagues on shore could help pull them in and get the woman and the boy out of the water. After they were out of the water, Officers Lopez, Soderlund and those rescued were treated for hypothermia, but all made a full recovery. 

Nicole Collins of Sugar Grove is the Lifesaving Rescue Hero. On September 17, 2022, athletic trainer Nicole Collins was chaperoning the homecoming dance at Geneva High School when a senior collapsed. Collins recalls hearing the music stop and running into the gymnasium to see what was going on. Student Bridget Archbold had collapsed suddenly on the crowded dance floor and began to seize. Collins stepped in, placing Archbold onto her side. Once the seizure subsided, Collins rolled Archbold on her back and started chest compressions. Collins did two rounds of CPR and in the second round, Archbold started coughing and came to. She was taken to the hospital in Geneva and returned to school in good health that Monday. Collins says she learned CPR at a babysitting class when she was 10 years old and has maintained her certification since, though this was the first time she used her training to save a life. 

Melvin Bridgmon of Chicago is theMilitary Hero. Melvin Bridgmon, a U.S. Navy Veteran, and his late sister Margaret, founded Outreach Chicago, a veteran-led, faith-based organization to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness including families and veterans in Chicago. A veteran who experienced homelessness himself, Bridgmon seeks to provide resources, information, guidance and hope to those experiencing homelessness, drawing from stories of his own life and his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Outreach Chicago’s programs include nutritional bag lunches, hygiene products for men, women, and babies, as well as winter clothing distribution. Outreach Chicago estimates it has helped 16,000 people since 2010. “I’ve had PTSD so I know what trauma is and what roads it will take you down, so that’s why I keep doing what I’m doing because people need to come home,” he says.  

Berto Aguayo of Chicago is the Social Justice Hero. Berto Aguayo is a law student at Northwestern and is the Executive Director of Increase the Peace, an organization that develops young leaders and promotes peace through leadership development, community organizing, and advocating for solutions that tackle the root causes of violence. Aguayo uses his experience as a former gang member to rally youth to stay off the streets by incentivizing them though community projects, employment access, and civic leader preparation. Additionally, Aguayo mentors Increase the Peace youth and has them shadow his Northwestern Law School classes. Aguayo has also worked hard to bring Black and Latino communities together in the Black and Brown Unity Car Parade which advocates for peace and racial healing.  

Nayomi Melton and Caleb Johnson of Chicago are the Youth Heroes. Siblings Nayomi Melton and Caleb Johnson are just nine and six-years-old but are already seasoned volunteers. In the past two years, the siblings have prepared more than a thousand lunches that they have donated to shelters and handed out to people experiencing homelessness, often using their own allowance money to buy the supplies. They got the idea after they saw a man on the side of the road with a sign and a cup and asked their mom what he was doing. Once she explained he was experiencing homelessness, Melton and Johnson wanted to help because they recognize the importance of helping others in their community. Both children were recently honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award for their work. 

2023 Heritage Award 
In addition to recognizing the exemplary 2023 Class of Heroes, the Red Cross of Illinois will present the prestigious Heritage Award. The Heritage Award is presented annually to a civic leader who exemplifies the spirit of heroism and humanitarianism at a distinguished level and demonstrates a long-term commitment to improving the lives of others. The awardee’s actions, deeds, and philanthropic works illustrate the spirit of humanitarianism and echo our mission: to help others prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.  
We are proud to honor Tom Wilson, Chair, President, and Chief Executive of The Allstate Corporation.  

Tom Wilson has been CEO of Allstate since 2007 and Chair of their Board of Directors since 2008. He is a fierce public advocate for business with a proven track-record of voluntary action for the public good and improving the health and welfare of vulnerable populations. Allstate’s mission is tied to helping people and communities recover from disaster events and under Wilson many programs have been implemented that both prepare individuals and communities prior to a disaster and support those communities impacted by disaster. Over the past 20 years, under Wilson’s leadership, Allstate has also implemented many youth initiatives, building, and encouraging future leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow. 

Thank you to the generous sponsors of the 2023 Illinois Red Cross Heroes Breakfast event, including: 

Presenting Sponsor: Gallagher; Champion Sponsors: William Blair, ITW, Kirkland & Ellis, KPMG LLP, and Wintrust; Inspiring Action Sponsor: Make It Better Foundation; Hero Award Sponsors: Aon, BMO, Fresenius Kabi, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Motorola Solutions Foundation, Nicor Gas, United Airlines, Walgreens; Interactive Technology Sponsor: JLL; Media Sponsors: Better and CBS 2 Chicago and numerous other organizations who have made this program possible. 


About the American Red Cross of Illinois 
The American Red Cross of Illinois serves 12.4 million people in 88 counties in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri including Adams, Bond, Boone, Brown, Bureau, Carroll, Cass, Champaign, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cook, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, DeKalb, De Witt, Douglas, DuPage, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Franklin, Fulton, Green, Grundy, Hamilton, Hancock, Henderson, Henry, Iroquois, Jasper, Jefferson, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Knox, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, Livingston, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Marion, Marshall, Mason, McDonough, McHenry, McLean, Menard, Mercer, Montgomery, Morgan, Moultrie, Ogle, Peoria, Perry, Piatt, Pike, Putnam, Richland, Rock Island, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott, Shelby, Stark, Stephenson, Tazewell, Vermillion, Warren, Washington, Whiteside, Will, Williamson Winnebago, Woodford. Iowa: Lee, Muscatine, Scott, and Van Buren. Missouri: Clark, Lewis, Marion, and Ralls. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at or visit us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @RedCrossIL. 

The Importance of Donated Blood Products: Ivy’s Story

“My son has received more products than I ever thought one person could take. That’s where my passion comes from, seeing him need it and where he would be without it – which would be, nowhere.”
-Ivy Ward

Ivy Ward has firsthand knowledge of the importance of donated blood products. Her nine-year-old son, Finn was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2021.

“I’ve always been a blood donor. And so that’s really when I realized what exactly it means to be a donor and where our donations go to, and how much each individual needs, especially when it comes to leukemia,” Ivy said. “My son has received platelets and blood consistently the past two years, so that is really my driving factor.”

Despite being a longtime blood donor, Ivy did not think about cancer patients needing so much blood before her son was diagnosed and started receiving treatments. It was an eye-opening experience for her to see how donated blood products can help people with cancer, and in many other situations as well.

“I didn’t think about the illnesses like cancer that would need blood, just because their hemoglobin is down or they need platelets or anything like that,” she said.

Platelets are a key clotting component of blood often needed by cancer patients. By giving platelets regularly, donors can help patients fight cancer and recover from other life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Platelets must be transfused within just five days after a donation is made, and that is why there is a constant need for new and current donors to give to keep up with hospital demand.

Ivy has made numerous trips from her hometown of Gibson City, Illinois to get her son treatments at a children’s hospital in Chicago – approximately a two-hour trip each way. It is a trip she is thankful to make, because of the critical help the treatments provide to her son. Ivy wants everyone to know the importance of donating blood, plasma and platelets.

“Without donated blood products, he wouldn’t be here today,” she says. “Just in the last two years, he received more than 25 blood products and he’s just one kid. The hospital floors are full of kids that need that blood and would otherwise not be able to survive without it. And that’s not even counting emergency services that use it.”

Visit to make an appointment to donate.

“We see so many kids who need blood products and he’s still a kid who needs them, and we just appreciate everything the Red Cross does.”
-Ivy Ward

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Cleveland man stops in Romeoville to donate platelets on his tour to donate in every state

86-year-old Al Whitney of Cleveland stopped by the Red Cross office of Illinois River Valley in Romeoville as a platelet donor on April 18th. It’s his 11th stop during his third trek across the U.S. His goal is to encourage more people to donate.

Whitney said he started donating blood in 1965 and hosted as many as 56 blood drives a year until 2000. Whitney is also an avid platelet donor, with his trip to Illinois marking his 1,143rd donation.

In 2007, Whitney decided to donate platelets in every state to raise awareness. He accomplished that in just under five years, and after successfully completing it a second time, he is now at the beginning of his journey for the third time.

Platelets can be given every seven days, up to 24 times a year. By giving platelets regularly, donors can help patients fight cancer and recover from other life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Platelets must be transfused within just five days after a donation is made. That’s why there’s a constant — and often critical — need for new and current donors to give to keep up with hospital demand.

“I realized this is what we’re donating, we’re donating life,” Whitney said. “What’s important about it is a father is going to be able to walk his daughter down the aisle, a mother is going to see her son graduate from college, and that young couple over there, they are going to take their baby home. That’s what the important part is that keeps me going.”

Written by Communications Manager Mara Thompson

Red Cross Club makes impact within first year at Naperville North

A group of students at Naperville North High School were inspired to make a difference in their community and wanted to do more than the extracurricular options that were available to them. After doing a little research about clubs that would check all the boxes of what they were hoping to accomplish, the Red Cross Club at Naperville North High School was founded in fall of 2022.  

“I wanted to make a club that would help others and was focused on humanitarian aid because I do a lot of volunteer work that centers around that and I’m passionate about it,” Isabel Yu, president of the Red Cross Club at Naperville North High School said. “I found out that the Red Cross had a ton of really good club resources that we could use to get started so those were really helpful.” 

She said these resources made it a smooth process to start the club, allowing them to get underway with impactful work immediately. In its first year, the club has about 25 students that regularly attend their monthly meetings. Their goal is to host events that highlight all five of the Red Cross Lines of Service, which includes: Disaster Cycle Services, Biomedical Services, International Services, Training Services and Service to the Armed Forces. 

“One thing that we did was write cards to veterans and drop them off at our local veteran center,” Yu said. “We also recently had a fundraiser for the Measles and Rubella Initiative where we were able to fundraise and donate all of those proceeds to the American Red Cross to vaccinate kids against Measles and Rubella.” 

“I think it’s really cool to see the impact that we’re making because that was a big thing for me that I wanted to do so,” Aali Khan, the club’s vice president said. “Since it’s organized by the Red Cross, they give us a lot of access to materials that we can use, so it helps out a lot.” 

Members of the club also volunteer at Red Cross of Illinois events, including most recently the Sound the Alarm event in Joliet where they helped install smoke alarms in homes. The club also hosted a hygiene kit drive, both securing all the items needed and assembling the kits themselves before delivering the kits to Church World Service. 

Beyond the impact the club is making in their community, members say it is helping them learn important skills they’ll bring with them to college and beyond. 

“This club has helped my leadership skills and my communication skills,” Khan said. “Especially because this is my first leadership position in a club.” 

“It’s definitely a really rewarding experience that not only we’re able to help those around the world, but also the students and our community,” Yu added. “We’re able to get volunteer experience and even some leadership opportunities, so it’s amazing that we get the best of both worlds.”  

The Red Cross currently has 30 active clubs in Illinois. If you want to become more involved in your community and gain leadership skills, please consider starting a Red Cross Club at your high school or college.   

Written by Illinois Regional Communications Manager Mara Thompson

In Memoriam – Jaylene Adams

The American Red Cross is a family, and we are deeply saddened that recently we lost a beloved member of our family. Jaylene Adams, affectionately known as “Jay” passed away suddenly last week.

Jay, a long-time phlebotomist in Peoria and a recently promoted Red Cross Biomed supervisor in Quincy, has led blood collections in that area. She was ‘one-of-a-kind’ with a big, sparkly personality. Most importantly, Jay was known for her positivity, kindness and compassion with both donors and her staff. Many donors looked for Jay when arriving at a blood drive, as she was fun and always was able to put a donor at ease.

Having a Red Cross career that spanned seven years, Jay was proud to be part of the mission of the Red Cross. She believed in not only the organization, but also in showing compassion and in ‘doing good’ for others. Jay took her role seriously, had a high level of integrity and was proud that each day she was helping to save lives. Always wanting her team to be the best, Jay was a kind coach and mentor.

While many describe Jay as a beautiful soul, all who knew her also describe her as always fun. A year-round lover of Halloween, Jay had a skeleton named “Bone Daddy” sitting upright in her car, causing other drivers to take a second look.

“I was always proud that Jaylene was a member of my team. She was dedicated to blood collection and to the larger mission of the Red Cross,” said Sonja Juric, Regional Donor Services Executive for the Illinois Region of the Red Cross. “No matter the day or time, Jaylene sparkled and evoked positivity. She executed her role with a smile and sense of fun. Donors and staff alike had significant respect for her.”

The Red Cross is a better place because of Jay’s contributions. Over the past seven years, Jay’s kind influence impacted thousands of blood donations, helping thousands of patients receive lifesaving treatments. Gone too soon, Jay will be missed by all who knew her, and we know that her influence made each of us a bit more sparkly. More can be read about Jaylene’s light in her obituary.

Written by Joy Squier