Through the Heart of a Red Crosser – Blue Sky Efforts – February 2020

The Regional Sheltering Team recently conducted five classes with External Partners in Shelter Training. 

Three local organizations – Benedictine University, Hoffman Estates Emergency Management and the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – reached out to the Red Cross and requested Shelter Training for their people.

Five Red Cross Instructors over the last month – traveled out to their locations and instructed their people in both Shelter Fundamentals and Shelter Operations Simulation.  A total of 120 people were trained in these classes. 

Steve Wise and Lauren Zimmerman (RC Sheltering Instructors) – and Sarah Marcucci / Emergency Management Coordinator for the Village of Hoffman Estates

Such efforts help the Red Cross extend both our Partnerships and our reach in times of need.  If there ever was a local large-scale disaster – there easily could be the need to stand up numerous Shelters across the Greater Chicago and Northern IL Region.      

A big shout out goes to those Red Crossers who helped out with this instruction – Terri Cunningham, Lauren Zimmerman, Jackie Speciale, and Danny Portman.  Thru their efforts – we now have External Partners to call on for Sheltering Assistance.

If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, please go to to join us.

This picture was taken at the Shelter Training held at the Hoffman Estates Police Department last Saturday, February 1st. A total of 37 people attended this training.

Written By: Steve Wise, Disaster Volunteer

Marseilles Fire Department Celebrates 3,000th Smoke Alarm Installed with Red Cross Partnership

Representatives from the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley and the Marseilles Fire Department commemorate the installation of the 3,000 free smoke alarm through the Home Fire Campaign

Nestled along the Illinois River in LaSalle County, Illinois, Marseilles still has the many familiar elements of that small town charm often seen in rural parts of the state. Now this community of about 5,000 is well on their way to being better protected against home fire injuries and fatalities as the fire department confirms 3,000 smoke alarms recently installed in local homes!

Having a working smoke alarm in your home cuts your chances of dying in a home fire by 50% and a recent study by the American Red Cross showed that most people believe they would have 5 minutes or more to escape their home in the event of a fire when really, it is only 2 minutes or less. Having a working smoke alarm can help protect you and your family in the event of a fire.

Each year, the Red Cross responds to an average of more than 60,000 disasters, the vast majority of which are home fires. So we set a goal to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries in the US by 25%. Since it began in 2014, the Home Fire Campaign has saved 699 lives and 2,055,341 smoke alarms have been installed– 3,000 of them in Marseilles.

The partnership began nearly two years ago through the initiative of Red Cross volunteer Kent Terry and the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. When Marseilles Fire Department Chief Michael “Mick” Garrison was approached about partnering with the Red Cross for home fire safety, a new endeavor was launched.

Together, the Marseilles Fire Department and Red Cross were able to reach this installation milestone providing the free smoke alarms to local residents as well as fire safety education. During an installation, the fire department also performs a free home safety inspection.

The reach of the Home Fire Campaign continues to grow further, and Chief Garrison has also installed free Red Cross smoke alarms all throughout LaSalle County by partnering with neighboring fire departments and continuing to promote home fire safety.

“This is the best program ever for Home Safety. We get the opportunity to provide direct communication and protection to our residents,” Chief Garrison said.

The American Red Cross is thankful for this great partnership with the Marseilles Fire Department and the continued dedication to making our communities more resilient and safer through smoke alarm installation.

To get involved with the Home Fire Campaign or to volunteer with the Red Cross, join us as we Sound the Alarm this spring to install even more free smoke alarms!

Looking to volunteer with the Red Cross? Find an upcoming installation event here:

Do you need a working smoke alarm? Sign up for a free installation appointment at:

Illinois River Valley Chapter Volunteers Receive Special Awards from City of Kankakee

Congratulations to two local volunteers with the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley, Marty Knight and Darlene Cipcich, for being awarded special recognition by the City of Kankakee.

Marty Knight (L) and Darlene Cipcich (R) with their awards presented by Kankakee Fire Department Captain Michael Casagrande

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020 they were presented with the Kankakee Fire Department Community Partners Award of 2019 at the city council meeting. They were given these special awards for their dedication and commitment to service through the American Red Cross and continuing to partner so strongly with the Kankakee Fire Department through home fire responses and smoke alarm installations.

The awards were presented by Kankakee City Council and Captain Michael Casagrande, who was also recognized in 2018 by the Red Cross as the Firefighter Hero for his work with smoke alarm installations.

Marty has been volunteering for over 10 years and Darlene over 7. Together, along with other local volunteers the Red Cross is always at the ready to respond to disasters of all sizes.

Thank you Darlene and Marty for your great work as reliable and compassionate volunteers!

Written by American Red Cross communications manager Holly Baker

Volunteer Neal Levin Celebrates 50 Years with the Red Cross

The Red Cross of Chicago and Greater Northern Illinois is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers who have been working with us for years. We want to congratulate one of those volunteers on his 50 year anniversary, Neal Levin! 

Neal being recognized for his milestone of 50 years by American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois CEO Celena Roldan (L) and Chief Disaster Officer Adam Runkle (R)

Neal Levin is a retired nurse who currently supports the Disaster Health Services as a lead volunteer for the Greater Chicago chapter, especially focused on narcan training for our workforce and likes to volunteer when we open shelters locally. 

He also supports deployments by leading the Health Professional Direct Deployment program, taking health workers who are new to the organization and getting them ready to deploy within a week. 

Neal started with the Red Cross on New Year’s Day in 1970. At the time, he was a student at the University of Illinois studying to be a Registered Nurse. He walked into his first meeting at the Red Cross being greeted by one of the guys he went to high school with, and immediately felt comfortable. He would end up staying on to respond to home fires, work as a Driver, Driver Trainer, Disasters Health Services Lead, Disaster Health Services Responder, Regional Health Professional Deployment Coach, and Vice Chairman of Disaster Transportation. 

Through his experience with many different activities at the Red Cross, he was able to mentor other volunteers. One of them being, Tina Johnson, who is our current Regional Health Services Lead. When Tina first started volunteering, the chapter was not doing much in the health services department, so together Neal and some other volunteers worked to build out a client-focused program, which is still used today.

“I found Neal valuable because he was a part of the Disaster Response Team and was always willing to share his knowledge of the chapter structure and experiences on scene with the clients” Tina Johnson, Regional Health Services Lead said.

What has kept Neal volunteering with the Red Cross for so long has been the fact that he can make a difference. “You see people at their most vulnerable. You connect with them. I know I can give them a blanket or water or even a warm hug. It sounds selfish, but it helps me as much as it helps them,” he said.

There have been too many memorable moments for Neal in his 50 years with us. One of the most special moments was when he met his wife, Marcia, here at the Red Cross. Along with that moment, a few more of his most memorable moments have been working on the Flight 191 crash, Eddy Schwartz’s Toy Drives, the Plainfield Tornado, helping with the Earthquake in Mexico City, and the Robin Community Shelter. “Every year there was flooding in the Robin community, and we would open a shelter for the people there. It was usually the same people every year. It got to the point where the kids would run up to me yelling, “Neal! Neal!” 

Neal was also featured in several marketing materials to recruit Red Cross volunteers with his first wife, and even a United Way campaign.

One thing that Neal Levin would like everyone to know that the Red Cross is always there. “If there is a fire or disaster, they are not without shelter, food, or clothing. You won’t see it on the news, but the Red Cross is there.” 

Happy 50th Anniversary, Neal!

Written by Disaster volunteer Alysen Andrews

Diane Olejnik: 4 Decades with the Red Cross and an Unexpected Connection

In 1980, a young Diane Olejnik started her new job at the American Red Cross as an executive assistant. She saw thousands of volunteers and co-workers and a handful of executive directors and CEO’s, and she was there through it all for nearly 4 decades. At the end of 2019 she will retire after a lengthy and wonderful career at the Red Cross in a job she says she was proud to have.

“I come from a long family of loyalty; you die with the company,”- Diane

If there is a quality to describe Diane, it is loyal. Even as a child, her family impressed upon her the importance of loyalty and her longevity at both her jobs have proved she took that lesson to heart. She attended Moser Secretarial School, and Diane started her first job at the American Association of Hospital Accountants. It was February. After nearly 14 years there, that organization moved to Oak Brook and she found herself looking for her next job.

Through connections, she heard of openings at the Red Cross for an executive assistant and an accounting position. Diane interviewed and was able to start a new job in 1980 at the Red Cross as an executive assistant in Blood Services, and her friend Jan Sabaduquia came to work at the Red Cross as well. Once again, in the month of February- which is also Diane’s birthday month.

Upon receiving her new job with the Red Cross, Diane says her mother told her a story about how it was that with the help of the Red Cross in Germany after the war they located relatives that were living in America.  The first time they located someone with the same name in Ohio .. but through a letter exchange it was not a relative.  On a second attempt through the Red Cross, they located someone with the same name living in New Jersey and through a letter exchange.. it was the relative – an Aunt (sister of her mom’s father) who was willing to sponsor the family to come to America and make their future brighter after WWII Europe.

Diane pictured with current CEO Celena Roldan and past CEOs Fran Edwardson and Bill Braden

“I liked everything about it,” she said of her new role in Blood Services, though she says she knew “nothing about it.” Always a “worker bee” she was determined to learn as much as she could about the exciting things happening at the Red Cross. She loved interacting with the interesting people who filled the board, she loved seeing the volunteers, and she especially loved the fundraising events put on throughout the city including several black-tie fundraisers at the Drake Hotel.

“It was fancy, it was schmancy- it was everything you could have dreamed of!” she said. A stand-out favorite of hers was the “Chicago At Its Best” fundraiser; an event held for 10 years featuring jazz music, local celebrities and dignitaries like Mayor Jane Byrne and Walter Payton to name a few.

“I was in charge of watching the mink coats,” she said with a laugh.

The Red Cross is accustomed to changes and over the years Diane saw multiple down-sizings, office relocations, chapter reorganizations, closings, a steady stream of volunteers coming in and leadership changes. It was with the Red Cross she got to see parts of the country she may never would have seen otherwise. Trips to Colorado, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City and Richmond, Virginia were memorable.

Though she says knew nothing about the Red Cross when she started, soon Diane was learning more and more about the organization and loving all of it. “There was always a focus on meeting the needs of Chicago and we were always cognizant of diversity.”

Diane looked at life in “buckets.” One for your career, one for your family and so- forth. And in her case, this “Red Cross bucket” was being filled from many sources.

“I was really ‘rah-rah’ Red Cross,” she said punching the air. Diane was quickly homing in on her specific skills in the work place, and noticed she loved writing. She even submitted a script to “Bonanza” once upon a time. She was doing more writing and soon also doing board orientations and found herself speaking most compassionately about disaster response. “I was really good,” she said.

Diane with a bobble-head version of herself

A Polish-speaker, Diane also found herself occasionally helping the Services to the Armed Forces volunteers with a Restoring Family Links case, and even accompanied some Disaster volunteers visiting a Polish-speaking family who had just experienced a fire to help with translating. “I understood from the beginning these are wonderful volunteers, they are giving their professional time and money to us. I was just so happy to see them!”

Diane was loyal. She rarely took a day off and faithfully filled her desk’s multiple candy bowls, ensuring a regular stream of sugar-hunting co-workers passing through. She worked closely with everyone who held the CEO position of recent years from Margaret James, Bob Gilbert, Elizabeth Curtis, Bill Braden and more, all the way to Fran Edwardson and current CEO Celena Roldan. She says she dreamt of being the Della Street to Perry Mason and get to know her bosses well enough to anticipate what they were thinking or needing before they could say it.

Now Diane plans on resting and giving her home some TLC, but she says she’ll remain loyal to the Red Cross, “I have always said this, Red Cross is a great steward of your money.”

Looking back on her career, Diane said she hopes we don’t lose the personal touch of face-to-face communication as technology continues to advance. She says she feels like now is a good time for her to leave, though it will be the “end of an era.” She plans on picking up her other interests and hobbies and getting more involved in her church and choir, and maybe even learning another language. Possibly Spanish. And though she is closing the book on this chapter of her life, and says her buckets are filled and she is leaving nothing behind.

“I cannot give anything more…yes, I gave all that I had.”

Thank you for your 4 decades of service, and your loyalty to the Red Cross. We will miss you Diane!

Diane’s last day in the office will be December 31, 2019. Send your well wishes her way at before then!

Written by Communications Manager, Holly Baker

In Memoriam: Yvette Alexander-Maxie

The staff and volunteers of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois are deeply saddened to share the loss of a dear friend and valued colleague. Yvette Alexander-Maxie, Regional External Relations Manager for Chicago & Northern Illinois, passed away this morning following a prolonged illness. She leaves behind an incredible legacy. Yvette joined the American Red Cross as a volunteer in 1992 and as an employee in 1999. For the next 20 years, she provided leadership throughout the Red Cross which included roles in Disaster Cycle Services, International Services, Services to Armed Forces, Youth Services, and Volunteer Services. 

Since 2013, Yvette directed our work with external partners and led many aspects of disaster relief including numerous large-scale operations and multi-agency resource centers. Yvette was widely recognized for her leadership in mobilizing partners to support our clients and was also the current Chair of the Northeast Illinois COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster). Yvette was proud to be a member of the Red Cross family. Her work in the disaster community was much more than a job to her. It was where her purpose and passion collided into action. Today is a sad day, not just for the Red Cross, but for the entire disaster community. Yvette was an icon who advocated passionately for our clients and volunteers. In the emergency management and non-profit community, Yvette was a respected leader due to her expertise, strength of character, and ability to unify others. Numerous leaders followed her because they believed in her. Her integrity, vision, and compassion were extraordinary and inspire all who knew her.

To know Yvette was an honor, and to work with her a privilege. Her presence would light up a room. Her glow, smile and charisma were special. When she spoke, people listened. Yvette had a wonderfully mischievous sense of humor that brought levity to even the most challenging moments. Yvette was also incredibly generous with her time and philanthropy. In addition to her work with the Red Cross, she was a frequent donor to Save the Children, UNICEF, the United Way, ASPCA, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, veteran groups, and many local charities. Take a step inside her home and you would be surrounded by pictures of children she sponsored and letters from organizations thanking her for her generosity.

Yvette’s unwillingness to compromise our standards and refusal to be mediocre, drove us to excellence. Even in her final months, she gave her all to the mission of the Red Cross. Yvette’s time with us was cut tragically short.  Yet, Yvette would want all to carry on the noble mission that she dedicated her life to. 

Yvette was a mentor, an advocate, and a source of strength to so many of us when we needed it most. Her sharp wit and pearls of wisdom have made us all laugh and gave us many insights for both our professional and personal lives. Yvette’s spirit is intertwined in all we do, and when we install a smoke alarm, respond to a fire, or support a major disaster, we will continue to honor her legacy and she’ll be there – celebrating our work and reminding us to do our very best for our clients, partners, and each other. If we listen closely, we may even hear her say ‘I’m with you on that.’

Thank you for the many years of service. We will miss you, Yvette!

Memorial Service:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, 1460 W 78th St, Chicago


Internment immediately following Services

Mt Olive Cemetery 

115th St & Fairfield Ave, Chicago


A. A. Raynor Funeral Home 

318 E 71st St, Chicago, IL 60619

Celebration of Life Information

Date: Thursday, December 12, 2019

Location: Rauner Center; 2200 W Harrison, Chicago

Time: 6:00pm – 7:30pm

Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Regional Disaster Officer Adam Runkle

Susan Noyes: Helping Hands in Action

Red Cross Board Member Susan Noyes

It was “the coldest night of the year in November in Chicago,” American Red Cross board member, Susan Noyes explained, when she first witnessed the organization in operation. She had “signed up to respond to a fire… [and noticed] how well trained and professional the volunteers were and… how they interacted with the police, and the fire… and the families.” After Susan’s experience that night, she decided she wanted to do more, and so she joined the Tiffany Circle, a group of women leaders who contribute $10,000 or more per year to the Red Cross, as well as pitch in on various Red Cross missions. She also went on to become a Red Cross board member and co-chair of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, an annual event that spotlights local heroes for their service to the community. Susan said “the more I learned about the Red Cross, the more I wanted to help.”

Susan gives the credit for her initial interest in the Red Cross to the organization’s former CEO and her close friend, Fran Edwardson. It was Fran who helped Susan discover the details of her connection to the Red Cross. In conversation, Susan mentioned that her husband’s family had some sort of tie to the organization. Fran then went and researched and uncovered that, indeed, there was a connection – and what a connection it was. The ancestors of Susan’s husband, Nick Noyes, were in the inner circle of American Red Cross founder, Clara Barton! In addition, in 1949, the Noyes family donated a home to be used as the Red Cross Chapter House in Danville, New York, the same town in which Clara Barton had founded the first Red Cross chapter in the late 1800s. That Chapter House is used as a Red Cross museum and office today, displaying a collection of antiques donated by the Noyes family, as well as other memorabilia pertaining to the history of the Red Cross.

In addition to her work with the Red Cross, Susan is an avid seeker of ways to have a positive influence on the world in which we live. To that end, she founded Make It Better Media Group, a print and digital publishing company that extends to several platforms, including “Better” “Marin” and “Spaces” magazines. The motto of the media group is “Live, Love, Work, and Play with Greater Purpose” and as Susan explained, it means to live one’s life in a way that promotes “greater social impact.” A quick visit to the “Better” website and you can see the immense range of topics that the company covers. There’s everything from ways to get involved in your community to advice on travel, arts, museums, restaurants, and investing.

The Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois presented the 2019 Media Partner Wesbury Award to BETTER for understanding that content sharing of the Red Cross story and mission are important for their audience to learn about.

During the past year, Susan and BETTER took direct action to tell the catastrophic disaster story and to promote public contributions for Red Cross Hurricane Michael disaster relief. 

A consortium of Chicago-area donors was formed by BETTER to offer a $90,000 matching gift challenge to anyone who donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.  A couple of months later, another BETTER anonymous donor provided a $10,000 challenge grant to support relief operations for the devastating California Wildfires – again promoted through the BETTER digital platform. Both challenge grants were fully utilized, providing much needed support for people who lost everything.

Susan and her BETTER team accepted the 2019 Wesbury Media Award.

When thinking about the work of the Red Cross, Susan said that she has “never seen an organization make a donated dollar go further.” Thanks to great board members like her and our fantastic volunteers, the Red Cross continues to serve and thrive. Thank you, Susan, for all you do for your community and for all your hard work at the Red Cross!

Written by Red Cross Communications Volunteer Vicky Arias