Remembering Jasper Swafford

Jasper Swafford was diagnosed with leukemia at five-months-old and received many blood transfusions which undergoing cancer treatment.

At 21-months-old, a few hours after receiving news from doctors that he was on the road to recovery and he was in remission, his parents were told that Jasper’s heart was failing.

Sadly, Jasper passed away shortly after on March 30, 2021. Patricia Swafford, Jasper’s mother described him as a very happy baby who loved the character Lorax, his family and everything related to the animated movie Toy Story.

The Swafford family hosted a blood drive in honor of baby Jasper on July 7, 2021 at the Whitmore Oreana Community in Oreana, Illinois.

His parents have made it their mission to help other families dealing with childhood cancer and share the importance of donating blood. When you donate blood or platelets you’re helping cancer patients receive the lifesaving care they need.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org to schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

A volunteer poem

Brian Kenney started volunteering with the American Red Cross in Texas in 1992. In his 15 years or so of active volunteering he has taken on many roles, but the one he has enjoyed the most is being a Disaster Services volunteer. 

He explains his favorite part of volunteering is to give people experiencing disasters comfort during difficult times and to stand with them to be the hope in their darkest moments. 

Brian shares that his most memorable volunteer moment with the Red Cross was in 2000 in Minooka, IL when a mother came to him after a flood asking for help with her daughter who would not stop crying. He calmed her down and engaged her imagination. With the help of ‘Mr. Fear’, he helped her by telling her to squeeze his hand and that Mr. Fear left her and now went to him, making her less scared during this time.

“Volunteering gives you a whole new perspective on the world around you—the more I volunteer, the more blessed I am.”

Brian wrote a poem about insight to his experience volunteering with the Red Cross:

In the Midst of the Storm by Brian Kenney, DSC, Illinois, Region 4

I really can’t imagine the disaster victim’s plight, 
How in such a very short time their day’s been turned to night.

The world as they knew it has suddenly been taken away, 
Now they look to you for answers but there is nothing you can say.

Your outstretched arms may just be the answer for right now, 
As on your shoulder a shattered life rests and to you their problems they endow.

You embrace them ever so gently as the tears begin to flow, 
Both yours and theirs fall to the ground in amounts we’ll never know.

Now the tears that they’ve been pouring out  have seemingly reach 
their peak, They raise their head ever so gently and prepare to try and speak. 
                                                      
So now you silently motion to them that what’s transpired is OK,
Because it’s been your privilege to be there for them this day.

You will never forget this meeting and what it’s meant to you, 
For rather than just helping one you discover it has helped two.

You wonder how the time flew by as you shared in another’s loss, 
Your life has made a difference through serving the Red Cross.

Thank you to all the men and women who give so tirelessly every day utilizing their time, energy, and talents to make a difference serving as American Red Cross Disaster Service volunteers. 

Brian Kenney, DSC

Thank you Brian for your amazing poem, continuous hard work and passion for working with the Red Cross and our mission. We are lucky to have you!

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Isis Chaverri and Sharing the Red Cross Story

Regional Marketing & Communications Manager for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Isis Chaverri has been with the organization for almost three years. Originally from Panama, she immigrated to the United States in 1995.

A Fulbright Scholar, her media and communications background is extensive including overseeing Univision Chicago with over 30 people reporting to her and receiving multiple Emmy awards for her work. Her and her husband are also entrepreneurs, running their own small business for 10 years following her career in news.

She feels Hispanic Heritage Month is a fun and exciting celebration because it emphasizes differences within our cultures while also bringing so many people together.

“It just makes me feel connected,” Isis said.

“It’s a way to honor the different cultures within the Hispanic community because even though we all speak Spanish, we have things that make us different from one another; even within the Hispanic community there are different cultures and think that’s important to highlight.”

Isis shared that seeing how the month is celebrated further emphasizes how the cultural differences between the Hispanic community are some of the things that make it so interesting.

“I’m so proud of my culture and being Panamanian. When you are identified as Hispanic/Latina- it just puts you together with other people who share the same values and cultural commonalities that you do… its just a way to not only celebrate Hispanics as a whole but also what makes us who we are and realize the differences culturally.”

Working at the American Red Cross, Isis is part of the team responsible for sharing the mission and message and activities with the rest of the community. It’s a role that she says has been fulfilling in multiple ways especially with her ability to connect with people of many different backgrounds in often some of their most difficult times.

“What attracted me was that I was going to be able to use my skills to help others. I learned about the many lines of service, and thought this is an organization that is not only well-known and respected, but I would be able to give back. What a better way to give back and use the skills I have than through the Red Cross?”

A meeting at the Chicago headquarters (pre-COVID-19)

In the midst of disasters, Isis says it feels good to be able to help people. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was still able to help share how Red Cross volunteers continued to meet the needs of people experiencing disasters of all kinds from home fires to hurricanes to flooding. When Freeport, IL experienced severe flooding a few years ago many people were forced to evacuate their homes, Isis met a woman living in that area who was originally from Puerto Rico and had relocated to Freeport after Hurricane Maria. Faced once again with disaster, Isis said it was nice to be able to bring even the slightest bit more comfort to the woman by not only providing Red Cross services while displaced from her home but also communicating with her in Spanish- something familiar and understandable among a confusing and complex time.

Though Isis goes back to Panama often to visit family and they often visit the US, Isis says the distance is great and she misses them deeply. When family is able to come and visit her here, she says it is a joyous reunion filled with great memories. But Isis says being a part of the Hispanic community within the Illinois community is a connection worth cherishing and sharing.

“We are here to contribute and we want to make our communities a better place…we have very strong family values. We are a very tight-knit community and we can be loud sometimes but we are a lot of fun.”

Written by Communications Manager Holly Baker

Hispanic Heritage Month: Red Crosser Brittany Reynoso Reflects on Cross-Cultural, Cross-Generational Connections

Brittany Reynoso joined the Illinois Red Cross staff as a Regional Philanthropy Officer earlier this year. In this role, she manages a portfolio of donors and works with them individually to understand their philanthropic goals; together they connect their giving interests with all that the Red Cross does. Prior to joining the development staff, Brittany was a virtual volunteer with the Red Cross in the western U.S.: “I wanted to learn more about the Red Cross, the breadth of the life-saving work that’s part of the mission, and the different lines of service”. When a position opened in Chicago, the fit was perfect!

Hispanic Heritage Month is a special time of year for Brittany to reflect on her own heritage. Her grandparents are from Jalisco, Mexico and she takes great pride in that culture. “It’s so vibrant and I’m very proud of it. It’s an important part of my identity every day, but this month is a reminder to share our cultures and heritage with friends and loved ones.” One of Brittany’s favorite ways to celebrate is listening to live mariachi music in Chicago, and sharing that unique musical experience with friends. Throughout the year, she enjoys the Mexican influences in the Pilsen neighborhood, including the National Museum of Mexican Art. Visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibit with her family this summer at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art (College of DuPage) brought the Mexican painter and history to the forefront and was amazing, says Brittany.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to appreciate other Latin cultures and recognize those communities. Brittany recently visited an Argentine market and restaurant with an Argentinian friend, to experience what makes their culture distinctive. A multi-cultural and ethnic city such as Chicago allows for that exposure.

“This month is also the perfect occasion to spark conversations among elders and hear what stories they lived, a time to connect to family and carry on those stories in the U.S.”, says Brittany. She plans to travel to Jalisco next year with her grandparents, and looks forward to reconnecting with her family’s history and heritage.

To become a Red Cross volunteer and make a difference in your community, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Blood Donor Wins Contest & Shares Story About Giving Back

Shannon Symonds has donated blood throughout the years for a decade, but recently she and her husband who is O negative, one of the most transfused blood types, have been making the conscious effort to donate regularly. Shannon says a blood drive held in honor of a teacher’s son years ago at a local high school inspired her to begin donating.

Over the summer, while donating at the Northwoods Mall in Peoria, Illinois she was automatically entered in the Red Cross Gas for a Year Giveaway for $5,000 and was named the winner of the contest.

Shannon says she was quite surprised when she received the phone call and was unaware of the contest. Shannon adds it’s all about the patients and helping them when it comes to donating blood.

“It’s a nice reward and I will continue to give,” she says.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Hispanic Heritage Month: Red Cross Volunteer Martha García Barragán Shares Highlights of her Mexican Culture

Martha is a new volunteer with the Illinois Red Cross, and she didn’t hesitate to jump right on to the front lines at the United Center and Truman College COVID vaccination sites. For several months she assisted step-by-step with the vaccination process, from client registration, temperature checks, and translating English and Spanish. This was an extraordinary experience for Martha: “I love how a group of strangers can come together for the good of others; this was heart-strengthening during the COVID pandemic.” As a member of the Disaster Cycle Services team, she plans to continue promoting the American Red Cross in Chicago’s Hispanic communities.

Also important to Martha is her Hispanic heritage. Originally from Mexico City, Martha has called Chicago home for many years. Almost anything you want from Mexico is here, including parades and block festivals in Pilsen and La Villita to celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, explains Martha.

Preparing traditional food is one way Martha celebrates this month with her family, starting with Chiles en nogada. These are poblano peppers stuffed with ground meat served with a walnut sauce and adorned with pomegranate seeds. Some of Martha’s favorites foods when she visits Mexico include tacos al pastor, which is marinated pork served in a taco with pineapple on top. The food in Veracruz, on the Golf Coast of Mexico, is absolutely unique, mainly seafood with a variety of chili sauces – primarily chipotle.

Martha relishes other parts of her Mexican heritage. The art and muralist movement because they use strong colors and images that are publicly accessible to tell important histories; her favorite muralist is Rufino Tamayo. Music wise, her favorite composer is José Pablo Moncayo and her favorite piece is the Huapango. If you plan to visit Mexico, Martha recommends the artisan city of Oaxaca, the traditions of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, and the turquoise Caribbean Sea in Cancún.

For Martha, Hispanic Heritage Month “is an acknowledgment of the contribution of my community to the success of this country.” Thank you for sharing some of your rich culture with us!      

To become a Red Cross volunteer and make a difference in your community like Martha, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Erika Ochoa Serves Others Through AmeriCorps, Reflects on her Cultural Heritage

Erika is an AmeriCorps/Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) member with the American Red Cross, and completes her 11-month term this September.

Before joining the Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) in Chicago, Erika always connected to a community of people helping out, whether locally, nationally, or globally. She found a perfect fit for humanitarian work with the Red Cross.

As an IDC member, Erika experienced firsthand much of what our organization does on the ground: providing disaster relief for home fires in Illinois, teaching preparedness classes virtually, staffing COVID-19 vaccination sites with the City of Chicago’s Department of Public Health earlier this year, and assisting with client recovery casework. The most eye-opening experience for Erika was working with residents affected by floods in Tennessee. While deployed there, she went door-to-door with other Red Crossers to offer immediate assistance to those in need. “It was great to see how the Red Cross organizes and mobilizes on-site so quickly, while also working toward a bigger goal,” says Erika.

Erika (left) during her deployment to Tennessee

In addition to celebrating the completion of her AmeriCorps service, Erika will also celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month over the next several weeks. Erika’s father is from Huatabampo, Mexico, and that cultural heritage is important for her family to observe in the U.S. Some of her favorite traditions include Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in November, which commemorates the life and death of family members and loved ones and making tamales in Mexico for various holidays.

Thank you, Erika, for all of your impactful work as an Illinois Disaster Corps member this year. We are also grateful that you will continue as a volunteer with the Red Cross!

Click here to find out about how to serve your community through AmeriCorps.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Blood Drive in Honor of River Helmuth

River Helmuth was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. She was born at full-term and shortly after her family found out about her condition.

When River was two and a half months old, she developed a cold and spent 73 days in the hospital where she underwent open heart surgery and multiple blood transfusions. About six months later, River returned for another heart surgery.

Today, River is doing amazing and started kindergarten this year. Her mother Stephanie says she may need another surgery in the future.

Now her family is hosting a blood drive in honor of River. The family realizes the importance of blood donations because of River and other members in their family that have received blood transfusions, including River’s grandfather who received blood after a traumatic car accident years ago.

“Our hope for the blood drive is continue to raise awareness for the need, that’s always there, it’s not just today or tomorrow,” Stephanie adds.

River’s blood drive will be held on Saturday, September 18 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sullivan American Legion, 8 E. Strain Street in Sullivan, Illinois.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Illinois & New York Volunteer Reflects on 9/11

Tell Sheil has been a a Red Cross volunteer for nearly 50 years. In that time she has helped countless people as a registered nurse and health services volunteer and as a disaster mental health volunteer.

Of all her time with the Red Cross, responding to 9/11 stands out most prominently. Tess calls both Illinois and New York home and was working in a school in New York the day the Twin Towers were hit. She recalls the day in the video below.

In the years that followed, Tess has carefully preserved items from that response and reflects on them often.

Tess has kept this poster for 20 years; a memento of the morale that pulsed through the city as people banded together.

A pin to commemorate the date.

A certificate of appreciation from the American Red cross for her work serving on that day.

Magnets and regular cards from the Health Registry Staff

For Every Henry, There is a Chuck: Stories from Louisiana

Written by Brian McDaniel, Executive Director of the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley

As the people of Louisiana recover from Hurricane Ida, thousands of humanitarians are working to help people recover over this Labor Day in 2021.

Without a doubt, hundreds of great things happened today; I want to tell you about one of them.

Fuel here is scarce right now.  There is no power to pump gas; and in areas where there is power, gas stations quickly run dry.  Late last week, the State of Louisiana set up fuel depots so ambulances, linemen, and other essential vehicles (such as Red Cross food trucks) keep running.

Chuck Massaro, Dannette DePando, and I were on our way back from distributing 400 meals when we decided to stop at one of the fuel depots.  This particular location also has a shelter where people displaced by Hurricane Ida can find a safe place to stay.  Our team delivers breakfast to this shelter every morning, so we know it well.

As we drove towards the site, down the narrow, two lane road, we noticed a man pumping his wheelchair in the middle of the street.  Large trucks were passing on both sides, and he was doing is best not to get hurt.  Danette asked to check on the man, and we stopped.

Looking scared and a bit upset, the man said that he was trying to get to the shelter.  Could we give him a ride?  Quickly assessing the back of our vehicle, we knew he and his wheel chair would not fit.  The vehicle was built for the distribution of food, not this situation.

What happened next was one of the most amazing examples of human kindness I have witnessed.  Chuck Massaro, a Red Cross volunteer on his very first deployment, jumped out of our vehicle and started pushing the man and his wheelchair towards the shelter.  Danette, a Red Crossers from Utah, joined, and I put our large Mercedes Sprinter Van right behind them to block traffic.  Together, we all moved towards the shelter for nearly two miles.

As Chuck pushed the wheelchair, Dannette talked with the man.  His name was Henry.  He escaped Belle Rose but not after Ida had destroyed his home.  Once we reached the shelter, Dannette made sure the staff was aware of Henry’s situation.  Chuck took Henry to a truck serving snow cones.  We said our goodbyes and left to load up on diesel.

There are so many stories like Henry’s that take place after a disaster.  There are many Chucks and many Dannettes; ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  They keep the human in humanitarian; and bring hope to those who are dealing with the worst day of their lives.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Red Cross, sign up at redcross.org/volunteertoday