Giving back through blood donations and time

Kelly Easton dedicates her time to the Illinois Red Cross through blood donations and helping organize blood drives. After a battle with cancer, she describes how she became motivated to give back to her community in any way that she could.

“Once I got the all clear, I began donating blood. Now every 56 days I’m donating,” Kelly proudly says.

Besides donating blood, Kelly is also raising awareness in her community about the importance of blood donation in Southern Illinois.

“I was emailing people in different communities trying to recruit people for blood donations. I was sending out emails to church leaders, village board members, presidents, anyone I could find really,” Kelly explains.

She also hopes that more people across Illinois will give some time to volunteering with the Red Cross, explaining that the time they give can be extremely valuable. “

Kelly’s reasoning for all her hard work is simple: “I guess I just like helping other people.”

To become a volunteer like Kelly, please visit redcross.org/volunteer. You can also make an appointment to donate blood at redcrossblood.org.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

New Volunteer Finds Her Place in the Red Cross

Britta McKenna considers herself to be a problem solver. The description makes complete sense. With a career focused on innovation, she launched a new company in March 2020. Yes, right as the coronavirus pandemic began. The timing was disappointing for a company launch, so with a background in consulting non-profits at various points in her career, Britta chose to put the company on hold and help others instead.

In April 2020, Britta joined the Red Cross, after Governor Pritzker urged people to roll up their sleeves to help others during the pandemic. She hopped on the website, filled out the application and joined the mission.

“With everything that’s going on, and with all the disasters going on, I figured I’d help,” Britta says.

That’s exactly what Britta did. In Chicago, she joined the Volunteer Services Team to help recruit more volunteers, a role she’s enjoyed.

“I’m not afraid to ask questions, to really help the organization grow in areas it never thought,” Britta says. “I’m glad I found somebody who was very open to that and able to bring my background and gave me that flexibility and a long leash.”

But Britta didn’t stop in Chicago. She wanted to help others impacted firsthand by the disasters happening around the country. In September, she deployed for the first time to Baton Rouge, Louisiana after Hurricane Laura struck the South. She was prepared to assist as a Shelter Supervisor.

“I was nervous because I didn’t know what the environment was going to be like. It was easy once I got there, observed, on-boarded quickly and led in the shelter space that I was in,” Britta says.

Britta assisted at a hotel in Baton Rouge, sheltering 78 people who had been displaced by Hurricane Laura.

“You learned by doing. You learned from the person before you. It was more like being an RA in a dorm,” Britta explains. “I focused on service to the clients and making a difference at a personal level. I talked to them. I asked them questions. ‘How do you feel about the food? How do you feel about this?’ I took those cues and I acted on them.”

She quickly learned that residents were looking for activities to keep entertained in the hotel. Britta teamed up with the East Baton Rouge Library to get books for families.

She even helped organize athletic balls, cleaned them, and kept them within COVID-safety requirements, to allow kids to play with something while they were in the hotel.

And finally, she organized the Box O’Fun, filled with items like coloring books, toys, etc. for kids to choose and keep.

“We were able to do those small things like helping a mom with her two little kids who were going stir crazy,” Britta says. “Imagine being in a hotel room for a month. It was a little lifeline.”

In just her six short months at the Red Cross, Britta says it’s been impactful already. The mission is truly making a difference.

“I have loved meeting other Red Cross volunteers, learning their theories and stories and their why,” Britta says. “Why they volunteer, which is all over the map, and just seeing that we’re all in with our sleeves up and hearts open. The common thread is helping another person. The Red Cross allows you to do that in so many ways.”

While her business took a backseat during the pandemic, Britta says she most likely wouldn’t have become a volunteer if not for COVID. She encourages others now to join the mission to volunteer.

“We’re all in search of purpose,” Britta says. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. When you move throughout your life, whether you’re going to college, finding a career, your kids leave home and you’re empty nesters, there is something for everybody at the Red Cross.”

To become a volunteer, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Deployment brings home memories for volunteer

For ten years, Dean Otta has volunteered with the Illinois Red Cross, and has deployed multiple times to respond to different disasters.

Dean recently deployed to Salem, Oregon where he was tasked with delivering food and supplies to communities impacted by the wildfires.

While in Oregon, Dean was sent as part of the first group of volunteers to Detroit Mountain to help with the devastation. He remembers speaking with one of the survivors, a veteran named Ed.

Dean recalls Ed sharing his story about sending his wife to evacuate their town first, and how he stayed back with another friend to gather as many personal belongings from his home into his pickup truck.

“They took off south down Route 22 and it was fire on both sides of the road. Trees burning, falling down on the road, the forest area was full of smoke,” Dean says.

Ed told Dean it was like a tunnel of nighttime and that he told his buddy, “We are either going to survive or we are going to perish in this fire.”

But Ed was later rescued by a military group who joined the Red Cross in assisting with relief.

Dean describes his deployment to Oregon to be his most impactful, and something he will never forget.

“We met a lot of the people that lived there, and I still get a little emotional,” Dean says. “To hear their stories of what they went through to survive that fire, I can’t imagine.”

Dean adds his motivation to become a volunteer comes from after he witnessed 9/11.

“When 9/11 happened, I knew I wanted to help people, to be a responder.”

As soon as he retired, Dean began to research ways he could get involved. He realized the Red Cross was the perfect opportunity for him to help others.

 “That’s how I got started with Red Cross. Disaster Relief, I love it. I love going to a place where I feel I can make a difference,” Dean says.

If you would like to volunteer with the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Red Cross volunteer deploys to make a difference after Hurricane Laura

Red Cross volunteers deploy to help with relief efforts, they come back with memories that last a lifetime.

South Central Illinois Chapter volunteer Tara Lund became involved with the Red Cross ten years ago, with previous deployments including Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Sandy.

Tara Lund with fellow volunteers

We caught up with Tara after her most recent deployment to Louisiana where she had traveled in early September.

Tara says she spent her time between Baton Rouge and New Orleans helping to provide a safe place to stay and meals to those displaced by Hurricane Laura.

She also helped distribute cleaning supplies so people could attempt to save what they have left.

“The people you meet and the experiences that’s what keep me going through some of those deployments,” Tara adds.

During her time in Louisiana, she did drive to Lake Charles and saw all the damage the hurricane brought to the area, which she described as devastating.

Tara tells us that talking with people who lived in those areas, filled with emotion based on what happened and knowing Hurricane Sally was coming next, is something that left an imprint on her.

But providing help to people in need while they are going through their toughest moments is important, she says.

If you would like to volunteer with the Red Cross visit redcross.org/volunteer

Driving to keep the Red Cross mission going

When people roll up their sleeves at American Red Cross blood drives, the journey to send it to patients in need continues once the drive is complete.

That is where Volunteer Transportation Specialists like John Fearis come in. Drivers like him, dedicate a few hours out of their day to deliver life-saving blood products from the Red Cross to hospitals.

John, who became a Red Cross volunteer 10 years ago, says that over the years he has known people living with illnesses who are in need of blood transfusions, so he understands the importance of getting blood to hospitals.

Based in Peoria, he drives to various cities including Dixon and Normal and appreciates the teamwork that makes carrying out the Red Cross mission possible.

“It’s rewarding to me that we get the blood to them on a timely basis, it’s there for them when they need it” adds John.

He says volunteering is something that can make a huge impact and serve others during their most critical moments in life.

The work of the Red Cross is made possible by volunteers like John, who contribute their time and talents and more volunteer transportation specialist are needed.

To become a Red Cross volunteer visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Drew Brown, Regional Communications and Marketing Manager

Ready Rating Program Helping Businesses Prepare for Disasters

Disasters do not stop and they can happen any day, from fires to strong wind storms and flooding.

Families prepare for the worst at home whether it is making a fire escape plan or gathering important documents for insurance purposes after a disaster. It is equally as important for businesses to have a plan in place for disasters.

The American Red Cross Ready Rating program’s goal is to help ensure businesses are prepared.

It is a free web-based membership program designed to increase the level of preparedness among employees and encourage businesses to help their local communities create a plan for emergencies.

As part of the program, business and organizations can take an assessment test to find out their level of preparedness assessment and have access to tools, tips and best practices to make any needed improvements.

Regional Ready Rating Program Lead Pete Vogel, says many organizations are unprepared for potential disaster.

“40 percent of small businesses don’t recover from a disaster and yet two-thirds of them have no disaster preparedness plans,” says Vogel. “That’s true of small businesses and frankly non-profits as well.”

Vogel says the program has received positive feedback from local organizations.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from members of Ready Rating have been extremely high, something like 90 percent say it’s been a very positive experience and 70 percent said they made actionable steps as a result.”

Vogel remains optimistic about the program’s future and hopes to continue and expand the Ready Rating program across the state.

“We’ve partnered with the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, to help market the idea to the community and to identify organizations that could benefit,” says Vogel.

To learn more about the Ready Rating Program, visit readyrating.org.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Meet Team Red Cross Member, Stacey Wilson: She Runs to Make a Difference

Stacey Wilson, a two-time Team Red Cross runner, is counting the days to her 26.2 miles virtual race in October. This year, for the first time, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon will be held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Runners have from October 5 to 11 to complete their virtual race.

However, this is not the first virtual race for Stacey, who back in April ran a solo marathon. She believes that experience prepared her for the upcoming race. “It made a huge difference to know friends and family were tracking me and cheering me on from home,” says Stacey.

By running with Team Red Cross, Stacey wants to bring awareness about the lifesaving mission of the American Red Cross, and encourage others to support the work the organization does to help people in time of need.

Stacey’s support to the Red Cross goes beyond running the Chicago Marathon. She recently donated blood at a Red Cross blood drive. “Those staffing the blood drive were kind, helpful and knowledgeable. It made me feel better to know that I was able to help others during this time of need.”

Thank you, Stacey, for your support to the Red Cross. You are making a difference in the lives of so many people. We’ll be all cheering for you!

If you would like to help the Red Cross like Stacey, please visit redcross.org to make a donation.

Also, if you are health and feel well, please consider making an appointment to donate blood at redcrossblood.org.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Justin Wang.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Illinois Red Cross CEO, Celena Roldán, Helping Inspire the Next Generation of Leaders

As the CEO of the American Red Cross of Illinois, Celena Roldán oversees the operations of the Red Cross in 88 counties, including four counties in Iowa and four counties in Missouri. She plays an essential role in helping the Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day.

However, for Celena, this job comes with an even greater responsibility. As a woman and as Latina, she understands that she is also a role model to many young professional women, “I often work with young women just entering the workforce, and I believe it is part of my job to be their champion and to help them to see the many possibilities for growth that already exist in themselves,” says Celena.

She remembers an eye-opening interaction that she had with young Latinas, a few years ago, after speaking at a conference.  An experience that was a reaffirmation of the responsibility that she has a professional woman, as a Latina, and as a leader. “Several young Latina women came up to me teary-eyed and said, ‘You have no idea for what it means to us to see you in this position.’ At that moment, I realized how unbelievably powerful it is for women to have a mirror image of themselves to know they can also be a leader. This is a tremendous responsibility to help them envision and script the possibilities that lie within them,” explains Celena.

As a young Latina, Celena recalls the great impact and influence that mentors have had on her throughout her professional career, and how their advice and encouragement helped her grow and develop professionally. However, there are two very special people who have had the most influence in Celena’s life, her parents, Ida and Hipólito Roldán. “I remember seeing my parents, who both came from very humble beginnings, live their lives with servant hearts.”  Her dad was the first employee of what became one of the largest organizations in the Midwest providing housing to families in need of a home. Her mother, Ida, a bilingual psychotherapist has been a champion providing critical mental health support in diverse communities.

Celena says that both her parents encouraged her to find her own path and way to serve others. A social worker by trade, she tells us that her parents told her the road would often be challenging, and that seeing the vulnerability and suffering in humankind can be heartbreaking. But they also reminded her that we are put on this earth to help support a person, a child in need and do our part to build stronger communities.

Celena with her dad, Hipólito Roldán, during this year’s ABC 7 Great Chicago Blood Drive

During her first year at the Red Cross, Celena started the Latino Engagement Outreach team with her counterpart in Los Angeles, Jarrett Barrios. This team has been vital in reaching vulnerable communities with volunteers that speak their language. “Sometimes in these communities, people think the Red Cross is a government organization. It’s our goal to break down these barriers and misconceptions to reach people with humanitarian assistance,” adds Celena.

Since joining the Red Cross, Celena has deployed multiple times to bring relief to communities impacted by disasters. In 2017, she traveled to Puerto Rico with her mother, who volunteers with the Red Cross. Once there, she saw the devastation that Hurricane Maria has caused to her beloved Puerto Rico. While her mother provided disaster mental health counseling to many on the island, Celena worked with community partners to provide access to critical services. She also went through communities with a megaphone offering clean water. “This experience deeply impacted me and reinforced the love I have for my culture and my people…Seeing the island that I loved and grew up visiting, devastated, was very difficult.”

Celena and her mother, Ida Roldán, as they deployed to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017

For this Latina, serving others is her purpose in life, and helping form the new generation of women leaders, is a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly, “While I am proud to be a female leader of the Illinois Red Cross, I hope that my team views me as simply someone who can help them move beyond dreaming into doing. Someone who inspires them each day to find the right course, get to the best answer and do the right thing as a humanitarian. For me, setting a good example and not being afraid to get into the trenches and do myself, what I ask others to do, is the best way I know to empower and inspire the next generation of leaders.”

This is your time to join other humanitarians like Celena. Become a member of our amazing and dedicated team of volunteers today by visiting redcross.org/volunteer. You can make a different in the lives of so many impacted by disasters. You can also help by donating at redcross.org.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet AmeriCorps Team Member, Natalia Mora

While volunteering with the Mexican Red Cross to help with the 2017 Puebla earthquake relief, Natalia describes how she immediately realized that she wanted to become more involved in helping her community. Following her work with the Mexican Red Cross, Natalia wanted to gain more experience in nonprofit management and says that helping others gives her a sense of fulfillment.

After completing her college degree, Natalia joined the AmeriCorps team with the Illinois Red Cross. Recently, she deployed to Louisiana and Texas to assist with Hurricane Laura relief efforts. Soon after her arrival in Louisiana, she noticed the work that needed to be done was significant. “I went to Lake Charles and saw the damage. I knew that there was an opportunity for me here to make an impact,” says Natalia.

Natalia with her Illinois AmeriCorps Team

She began by assisting the Disaster and Emergency Services primarily with logistics including checking staff rosters, and helping to distribute food and supplies to impacted communities hardest hit by Hurricane Laura.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

In addition, Natalia also performed casework, which she said was particularly significant for her. “A big moment for me was when I performed casework in Spanish for the first time ever. It was rewarding to be able to help someone in my native language,” explains Natalia.

Natalia who wants to continue working with those in need, including the immigrant community is very proud of her culture and explains what  Hispanic Heritage Month means to her “ My culture and traditions are deeply rooted in who I am, and I am proud of how much my heritage has to offer to this country. This is a time to appreciate and embrace the beautiful culture, history, accomplishments, and traditions of many countries and to share that with our communities.”

If you would like to volunteer with the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/volunteer. To learn more about AmeriCorps click here!

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang.

Illinois Region Red Cross Volunteers Honored at Virtual Recognition Celebration

On August 19th, our region hosted the first ever Virtual Volunteer Recognition Celebration to honor the 3,225 dedicated volunteers in the Illinois Region! Our volunteers serve 12.4 million people in 88 counties across Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. They make the Red Cross mission possible!

The celebration was a way to share positive stories happening across our region, but also to honor those who have gone above and beyond. We were proud to hand out our Volunteer 5C Awards and the Clara Barton Award. The 5Cs stand for Compassion, Collaboration, Creativity Credibility and Commitment. Two winners in each of these categories were nominated by their fellow volunteers!

Compassion: This is awarded to a volunteer who has demonstrated extraordinary dedication to improving the lives of those we serve and to treating each other with care and respect.

Winners: Angela Marinelli and Jim Maloney

Angela Marinelli has been described as thoughtful, committed and genuine. Her fellow volunteers say she shows compassion in every role she has taken on with the Red Cross. On the Service to the Armed Forces team, she works with veteran clients with the greatest and most urgent needs. She always goes above and beyond to assist these clients with understanding and warmth.Angela routinely navigates difficult subjects with veterans and their families in our communities.Her compassion extends to her colleagues, as well.She is the first one to show concern for her teammates during difficult times.

Jim Maloney has been described as strong, inspirational and kindhearted. Jim is wheelchair bound from a disability but doesn’t let that limit his dedication to the Red Cross mission. He works countless hours as the duty officer on weekends and holidays. He signed up for three four-hour shifts for the Sound the Alarm telethon and continually beat the other operators to answer the call. He is gentle and kind with those calling in for assistance and takes special care to ensure he is never late to any meetings. Even in a blizzard, Jim will make sure he has the transportation to get to meetings and trainings. Jim is an inspiration to all of us on how to live your best life.

Collaboration: This is awarded to a volunteer who has gone above and beyond to work together as One Red Cross family, in partnership with other organizations, and always embraces diversity and inclusiveness.

Winners: Sherri Parker and Scott Clarke

Sherri Parker has been described as dedicated and loyal. She has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than eight years. She is a retired nurse who began her volunteer journey as a Disaster Action Team member for Region Area One, however a few years into her role, she experienced some medical issues prohibiting her from taking part in DAT responses. This did not turn Sherri away from the Red Cross mission, as she then got involved with Biomed, supporting a long-standing bi-monthly blood drive in Princeton. She oversees the drives, schedules appointments, ensures that canteen supplies are provided, and performs the donor ambassador responsibilities on the day of the blood drive. Sherri shows exactly what One Red Cross truly means!

Scott Clarke has been described as dedicated and a champion. He serves as the primary American Red Cross liaison to the State of Illinois. He has spent countless hours in the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Emergency Operation Center and even more hours in meetings developing and improving response plans. What matters most to Scott is speaking up for and on behalf of those without a voice at the table. He views every policy and plan through the lens of what is in the best interest of the most vulnerable among us.

Creativity: This is awarded to a volunteer who demonstrated excellence in seeking news ideas, being open to change and always looking for better ways to serve those in need.

Winners: Mary O’Brien and Helen Blank

Mary O’Brien has been described as inventive, perceptive and steadfast. Mary primarily serves as the Onboarding and Engagement Lead in SAF but is also an exception volunteer for Development. She is a coach and mentor to staff and fellow volunteers. Her calm nature and creative spirit have been an irreplaceable asset to the team and when challenges arise, the team breathes a sigh of relief knowing that Mary is on our side and will find a solution. Mary leads the way during SAF’s Brew Crew coffee dates with volunteers, our Volunteer Engagement Incentive Program, revamping MEPS recruitment strategies, hosting fun and festive volunteer meetings, and adapting onboarding and training techniques to our new COVID-19 environment. Mary’s innovative and clever approach to empowering and equipping volunteers has undoubtedly led to a happier team and improved services provided by SAF to our clients.

Helen Blank has been described as adaptable, considerate and diligent. Helen assists with EDGE and is very technologically savvy. She is also a DPM volunteer partner, a member of the DAT team, an ERV driver and shows her creativity in so many ways. When a wrench gets thrown in her day, Helen forges ahead to tackle that problem. She is very imaginative, flexible and collaborates well with teammates and staff members. She is always looking for a solution and that requires her talent in creativity.

Credibility: This is awarded to a volunteer who made significant strides in ensuring we as Red Crossers act with integrity, are transparent guardians of the public trust and honor our promises.

Winners: Charlie Sharp and Dorean Stephens

Charlie Sharp is described as passionate, determined and reliable. Charlie became a volunteer during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Over his 14+ years of service to the Red Cross he has taken on many different roles and responsibilities. He is a volunteer that other volunteers look up to and respect. He has pride in his work and a deep passion for the Red Cross mission which he enjoys sharing with others in his community. Charlie is an integral part of the team, maintaining and strengthening our partnerships in the Dekalb and Sycamore areas. This was illustrated by his ability to forge a partnership with the Family Assistance Center in Dekalb county during the multi-unit fires in Dekalb and Sycamore in 2019. Charlie continues to thrive as a volunteer leader who we can count on when needed.

Dorean Stephens is described as having integrity, being honorable and dependable. Since Covid-19, she is only a phone call away. She is determined and committed to the Red Cross mission of serving people in a time of need or during a disaster. She is seen as someone that people can always count on to help out and carry out the Red Cross mission.

Commitment: This is awarded to a volunteer who demonstrates what it truly means to hold ourselves accountable for defining and meeting objectives, delivering on our mission and carefully stewarding our donor funds.

Winners: Sean and Kristen Flanagan and Susan Kuehl

Sean and Kristen Flanagan are described as committed, caring and concerned about their community. They both go above and beyond for their community! Sean has spent countless hours preparing himself as a leader and volunteer. Not only does he train for disasters through the American Red Cross of Illinois and other regions Red Cross training, he also recently took coursework to be certified in disaster preparedness and response through FEMA, all to be a better Red Cross volunteer. He aims to be the best prepared he can be to provide the best service to those affected by disaster. In May, Sean was part of DR that responded to flooding in Northeast Illinois. During this time, he handled the weather briefings for the whole Illinois Region. He continues to provide briefings now and trains others in what to look for. In May, Sean was asked to aid in a mass care feeding operation that took place during the same DR. His commitment went so far as refusing to find a substitute when he got a call telling him his father had died a couple hours before the feeding was to take place. Kristen was part of that effort as well. Her combined support and care for the Red Cross mission makes her a team player always. If there is a void, Sean and Kristen fill it and take ownership of duties with great care. Sean is the volunteer that can be counted on and strives to be a jack of all trades. He is forever checking and double checking his work to ensure nothing goes amiss. Above all, the Flanagans do all these things with impartiality, neutrality, and all other values under our American Red Cross umbrella.

Susan Kuehl is described as organized, driven and passionate. As the logistics lead for the region, Sue is constantly working to improve systems and set-up. She works non-stop often putting in 40+ hours weekly. She is quick to mentor new volunteers and has a vast understanding of systems and organization which she is always willing to helps understand. She spends significant time organizing Sound the Alarm events and is always ready to jump in when there is a need.

To end the evening, we presented the Clara Barton Award, one of the highest awards the American Red Cross bestows on volunteers. It recognizes service in volunteer leadership positions held over a period of years.

Winners: Claudia Blackman and Dave Boyles

Claudia Blackman has been described as steadfast, committed and caring. Claudia has served as a dedicated volunteer for more than 50 years. She has remained focused on and committed to the mission of the American Red Cross through countless changes. Claudia’s positive and solution-focused perspective has helped team members navigate through changes. Claudia’s commitment to our clients, our volunteers, and our partners have made Southern Illinois stronger and more resilient.

Dave Boyles has been described as dedicated, innovative and persistent. When presented with a challenge, Dave brings forth his professional experience and education to find a solution or to improve a process. When Remote Response Teams were created, Dave was the first one to sign up for what was to be a new, ground-breaking way of responding. He applied his skills to develop a decision flow chart for the remote teams to use, bringing together information and instructions. Dave takes pride in everything he does and does not rest at the initial effort. Dave’s knowledge, experience, patience, and dedication are sought after at the National level. He is a true asset to the American Red Cross as a whole.

We hope, more than anything, that next year we can celebrate our volunteers in person!

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager