Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Francisco Magaña

During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Red Cross of Illinois is highlighting Latino men and women who are committed to advancing the mission of the American Red Cross. Today, we celebrate Donor Services Team Supervisor, Francisco Magaña.

Over ten years ago, Francisco felt the calling to learn a new skill and take his career in a different direction. Inspired by his brother who lost his battle with leukemia, and the countless number of blood transfusions that allowed him to share more time with his family, Francisco decided phlebotomy would not only honor his brother, but serve as a fulfilling profession. It was this career change that led Francisco to the Red Cross.

Francisco at an American Red Cross Memorial Blood drive honoring R. Scott Falk. 

Over the course of ten years with the Red Cross, Francisco has worked his way up to Team Supervisor and now has the pleasure and satisfaction of coordinating mobile blood donor teams as they collect blood from generous donors across the state.

Regarding Hispanic Heritage Month, Francisco says, “There are so many things I cherish from my culture, but family and their unconditional support are right at the top. No matter what it is, and what time of day it is, I’ve had my family’s support which is what I now offer my daughter. This is the same principle I apply with my Red Cross team. No matter what and where, my sleeves are rolled up ready to work.”

Francisco, with his wife and daughter, like to explore Mexico to learn more about their history.

In addition to love of family and hard work, Francisco is making sure he celebrates his culture by traveling to Mexico with his family to explore places and traditions which have been celebrated by his family for centuries.

Visit redcrossblood.org to make an appointment at a blood drive or blood collection facility near you. 

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Making the Most of His Time: Kaleb Hall

“I feel like it’s good to always help people. If you help people, they’re going to end up helping someone else, and it’s just like a cycle of helping people.”
-Kaleb Hall

Kaleb Hall is a high school senior in Decatur, Illinois. He volunteers for the American Red Cross in the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region.

Having completed the necessary credits to graduate, Kaleb has extra time during this semester and wanted to devote it to doing something productive.

“I only have two classes and get out of school early, so I have more time. I wanted to volunteer my time, instead of just sitting at home watching TV,” Kaleb says. “I have a whole semester of free time, so I am going to be doing this a lot.”

Kaleb’s father, Xavier inspired him to get involved with the Red Cross. Xavier served on the disaster team, installing smoke alarms and performing other tasks as a volunteer.

Recently, Kaleb served as a blood donor ambassador at a Red Cross blood drive in Decatur. He helped sign blood donors in as they arrived for their appointments, provided them with helpful information and answered questions.

Kaleb enjoyed the assignment and is looking forward to getting involved even further, in the weeks and months ahead.

“Everybody is nice, it’s a good environment. There are a lot of options,” he says.

Thank you, Kaleb for choosing to give your time and serve as a Red Cross volunteer! To join Kaleb as a volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

A Sickle Cell Patient’s Plea to Her Community

A Sickle Cell Patient’s Plea to Her Community

Over 500 hospital stays and countless blood transfusions and exchanges in her lifetime that she’s lost count, Jasmine has one goal in mind these days—to make it one complete year without having to be hospitalized. A mother of a 4- and 11-year-old, both who are also sickle cell trait carriers, she has much to live for and motivation to raise awareness for sickle cell disease, a disease she has lived with since birth, and desire to encourage her family and friends to be donors.

“At birth, my mother was told I had the sickle cell trait. My mother didn’t think much of it, and all was well until my brother was born and he tested positive for sickle cell disease. That’s when she [mother] had me retested and I too came back positive for sickle cell disease. After that, my mother’s journey included constant trips to the emergency room. When it wasn’t my brother, it was me in one crisis or another, but always, the both of us needing treatment which included blood transfusions,” recalled Jasmine

Thirty-two years later, Jasmine continues to fall into crisis, especially during weather changes. The one constant has been her mother who has stood by her without complaining or tears. “My mother was a single mother and many times she had to choose her job over being there for me when I’ve been in crisis. While she came close many times to losing her job, my mother stood by me and made sure I received the care I needed no matter how long it took,” said Jasmine. And many times, recovery was prolonged because of the lack of blood on the shelves that Jasmine desperately needed to help alleviate her pain.

“From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate all blood donors. Because of them, I’ve been able to pull through the worst of my crises—even those where I’ve coded, and my family thought I was not going to make it back. But donations are needed constantly. To my Black community—family and friends—your blood is needed for sickle cell patients like me. Your blood saves lives. Your blood has saved me,” stated Jasmine.

One in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease. To help ensure patients have the blood products they need, the American Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community to grow the number of blood donors who are Black. Foe sickle cell patients, regular blood transfusions are critical to manage extreme pain and life-threatening complications.

Please schedule a blood donation appointment today by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Blood Donor App or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Kayla Williams: A Sickle Cell Disease Warrior and Advocate

Kayla Williams: A Sickle Cell Disease Warrior and Advocate

As an infant, Kayla’s parents tell her she would cry incessantly and noticed her feet and ears were continually swollen. Doctors’ visits weren’t very helpful, and they usually ended with them prescribing pain medication and getting sent on their way. Finally, one doctor ordered extensive blood work and the cause was identified — Kayla had sickle cell disease traced to her parents who did not know they are sickle cell trait carriers. Her parents quickly familiarized themselves with what sickle disease is and how to advocate on behalf of their daughter to her doctors.

“I’ve managed my sickle cell disease with the help of my parents who have been my biggest advocates since my diagnosis and doctors who were kind and patient and taught me how to listen to my body and know how to read and manage my hemoglobin and fluid levels,” states Kayla.

Blood transfusions have been necessary for Kayla and it’s these transfusions that alleviate the pain that many sickle cell patients describe as glass chards being hammered repeatedly throughout their body.

“Know your body and be your biggest advocate.” Kayla Williams

“I work every day to avoid a crisis. Knowing my body and what triggers a crisis are always top of mind for me. Luckily, the root of my health problems was discovered early on, and my parents connected wth medical providers who were not only compassionate, but also, patient enough to teach me about a disease I would have to work to manage all of my life,” states Kayla.

Sickle cell awareness is a journey and one that Kayla wishes to impact through Kay’s Korner, a foundation she established during the pandemic. “While in college, I searched for a sickle cell organization where I could work to support pediatric patients and their families just like me and my parents had been when I was diagnosed,  and I just couldn’t find one. I realized that I could be that organization. I’m so grateful to family, friends, and hospital partners who work with Kay’s Korner an organization I established so that children with sickle cell disease learn about the disease they are living with and how they can transition to adulthood just like I and other sickle cell patients have done.”

Kayla credits her parents who quickly went into action to connect her with care and with medical facilities dedicated to pediatric sickle cell care which is so different from adult care. Because of this Kayla was able to grow and flourish in the company of other children living with sickle cell disease.

One in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease. To help ensure patients have the blood products they need, the American Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community to grow the number of blood donors who are Black.

To learn more, visit RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Diana Mojica

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Diana Mojica

During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Red Cross of Illinois is highlighting Latino men and women who are committed to advancing the mission of the American Red Cross. Today, we celebrate bilingual IT solutions manager and Red Cross volunteer, Diana Mojica.

When Diana’s community, Woodridge, was hit with a tornado, she arrived at a Red Cross shelter and asked, “How can I help?” Since then, Diana has been instrumental in vetting the translation to Spanish of critical Red Cross apps and has motivated her husband, Juan, to join her at local volunteer opportunities like Fiesta del Sol. Most recently, Diana brandished a power drill and installed free smoke alarms in Little Village. Born and raised in Little Village, it was especially important to Diana to be present in the neighborhood that holds so many memories for her.

Diana and her husband installing smoke alarms during a Sound the Alarm event.

Regarding Hispanic Heritage Month, Diana says, “Traditions and family play a big part of my life. It is important to me to pass down what I’ve learned from my parents and hope my daughters will continue to honor those traditions for years to come.”

Diana pictured with her family during her youngest daughter’s quinceañera.

To volunteer with the Red Cross like Diana, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Ready To Help When Help Is Needed: American Red Cross Home Fire Response

Greg Voyles was fishing one night, when he learned his apartment was on fire. He returned home and found the building uninhabitable. He also found South Central Illinois chapter volunteers, Keith Hertenstein and Terrence Cook, ready to help him with his immediate needs.

Hear what Greg has to say about his experience in this video, and visit redcross.org/volunteer if you’d like to join the team as a disaster volunteer.

Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Career counselor, radio personality, teacher, first aid and emergency preparedness trainer, volunteer, humanitarian — the list goes on, but for the past 35 years the one constant for Steve Swett has been his dedication to being a Red Cross Volunteer.

“I’ve been around a very long time,” laughed Steve. “But you know what? In my 35 years at the Red Cross, it’s always been something different – the learning is constant and with learning comes power and responsibility. For me, learning has given me the drive and power to help, and it makes me feel so good when I connect with people and hear how the Red Cross and volunteers like me have made a difference.”

Steve during a severe weather preparedness training.

In addition to his commitment to learning, Steve has dedicated time to teaching for decades at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, Illinois and for many years providing Red Cross training to youth groups, other non-profit agencies like The Salvation Army, and at Sheridan Correctional Center. Amongst his biggest accomplishments, Steve created and maintains a 30-minute segment on WCMY ‘Red Cross Minute’ which over the years has served to inform the public of resources, trainings, blood drives, safety preparedness, and other valuable information. Special recognition and much gratitude to Steve’s The Morning Mix on WCMY radio co-host, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Frost of LaSalle who passed away last month. Maggie, along with Steve, supported the Red Cross and over the years, both helped amplify the Red Cross message and what started as a 5-minute segment with special guest Red Cross representatives turned into a 30-minute program that LaSalle County residents have come to rely on.

When asked why he volunteers, Steve stated, “Volunteers like us have an important role and perform a lot of different tasks. We feed and shelter people, gather information, and coordinate with local government and community partners. We help clients and communities in the recovery process during and after a disaster. There is so much one can do. Bottom-line—we [Red Cross volunteers] are the line of hope for many and we have the responsibility to be there for each other when and where it’s most needed.”

Whatever your interests or abilities there’s a role for you as a volunteer at the Red Cross. What do you like to do? What gives you personal satisfaction?  There are many ways to be a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Join us! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can support your community.

Thank you, Steve for your dedication of time and talent over the past 35 years! We look forward to many more years! We couldn’t do it without you!

Steve finds time for a much-deserved break with his beloved Annie.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Service and Scholarships

“It’s a good way to let your school connect with your community, letting people come in and see what your school’s all about. Also, it teaches students how to reach out and be active in their community and give back; these are things everyone should know how to do, and it helps you know how to do that.”
-Lainey Campbell

The American Red Cross High School Scholarship Program gives high school students the opportunity to help others, while helping the students as they move on to higher education. The scholarship program is available for high schools that host at least one Red Cross blood drive during the year.

For 17 years, Marty Green has helped successfully run this program at East Peoria High School. The school coordinates five blood drives every year, primarily thanks to the efforts of the students who are involved in the program.

“My role is purely supplemental. If they need something, I get it for them, but other than that, it’s completely driven by students,” says Green. “They come to me, I don’t go to them.”

The larger number of units of blood a school collects, the larger the amount of scholarships are awarded to participating students.

Lainey Campbell played an integral role in the East Peoria High School program the past few years, and received a scholarship for her efforts after graduating earlier this year. She is now using that scholarship to help pay for college.

“It’s very helpful, because college is expensive, so it’s very nice,” she says.

Perhaps more than the financial benefit, Campbell says the life skills she learned while coordinating blood drives and interacting with the community were very helpful for her. She encourages other high school students to get involved at their schools.

“For people who want to work on community service but also want help with funding for college, it’s a great program for that and it really rewards you – it rewards you for doing something outside your comfort zone. A lot of schools like to push leadership, teaching students to give back to their community. If you’re looking for that, it’s a great way to do it.”
-Lainey Campbell

Green, who is retiring after this year, recalls how Campbell and other students have answered the call to take charge of this program during his time being involved with it.

“Each year, a different student steps up to be the leader. They’ll come to me and say, ‘Mr. Green, I’d really like to run this,'” he says. “At the beginning, it was some work to get things going – now, it runs itself. I am fully confident that when I leave, it’s going to keep the momentum.”

Campbell echoes those sentiments, saying other students helped her, even while she was leading the program. She received support from previous student leaders, her fellow school band members and her friends along the way. She says, “I had a lot of support from my friends. I would send them the (blood drive) flyer and ask if they would post it on their Snapchat story or Instagram, and they did.”

Campbell also recalls the positive interaction with Red Cross staff, the day of the first blood drive she hosted. In addition, seeing so many people come in to give blood that day left a lasting effect on her.

“Everyone from the Red Cross I worked with that day was wonderful, they were all so nice and they explained it all to me,” she says. “It was my first experience seeing a community come together for a good deed, giving back to the community.”

By participating in the American Red Cross High School Scholarship Program, your high school can help build a stronger community. Click here to learn more, and to find out how your school can get involved!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Latina Blood Donor Giving the Gift of Time and Life

Intrigued by blood donation when a mobile donation site came to her place of employment when she worked in downtown Chicago, Tina signed up to give blood and instantly became a loyal donor. Nine gallons and 10 years later, like clockwork, Tina takes time every 8 weeks or so to selflessly give the gift of life. “It costs absolutely nothing but a little bit of your time,” states Tina. “And it gives the gift of more time on earth for someone who needs blood to live.”

Tina hopes her daughters, Anahi and Gia, and generations to come, follow in her footsteps.

Tina has never had a close loved one who has needed blood and doesn’t look for praise or recognition, her reasoning, and decision to be a blood donor, is a simple one, “The more I learned about how blood and platelet donations help others, the more inspired I became to be a recurring donor. Blood saves lives – something money can’t buy. You really don’t know how your simple act of kindness will change someone’s life and it requires so very little of you.”

Tina’s selfless giving and impact is a widespread one. As a Hispanic blood donor, Tina is making a powerful contribution to many patients in need. African American and Latino populations have a higher frequency of type O blood than other ethnicities which can treat a broader cross-section of patients. Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease all count on blood donations to battle illness and injury.

Tina’s giving inspired her husband so much so that he is now a bone marrow donor.

After doing further research, Tina decided to be a platelet donor and drives almost an hour on the weekends to do a two-hour platelet donation. Platelets are a key clotting component which need to be transfused within just five days after a donation and are often needed by cancer patients. Tina’s wish is that her platelet donations allow a cancer patient to enjoy and share more time with their loved ones.

“Share your health, and maybe even your lunch hour, go that extra mile for someone you don’t know – you really don’t know how your simple act of kindness will change someone’s life.”

–Tina Rocha Diaz, North Riverside, IL

In the U.S., 62% of the population is eligible to give blood but only 3% do. Are you ready to give the gift of time — and life? Visit redcrossblood.org to find a blood donation appointment opening near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Red Cross Volunteer Nancy Luckenbill Celebrates 55 Years of Service

“I was inspired by a fellow freshman at college, and figured if she could donate blood, I could too.”

That was just the start for Nancy Luckenbill in the mid-1950s, who has dedicated a life of service to the Red Cross – no matter how you measure it. She just received Red Cross pins to commemorate 55 years of volunteering and for donating 18 gallons of blood.

Involvement with the Red Cross was a true partnership with her husband Fred, who spent a 40-year administrative and fundraising career with the organization nationally. After working for the Red Cross in Nebraska and Wisconsin, they settled in the Quad Cities in Illinois. Nancy’s background as a teacher was a perfect fit for volunteering to teach life-saving skills to high school home nursing classes, scouting groups, and Junior Red Cross clubs in local elementary schools.

Together Nancy and Fred attended Red Cross conventions and met fellow Red Crossers from all over the country, befriending many other volunteers and joining with a Red Cross retiree social group in St. Louis. The Red Cross mission has been a big part of their lives and made a difference for their children, one of whom has chosen a career in social work.

Nancy retired early from teaching and became a Red Cross volunteer receptionist in the Quad Cities office. She was there each week before COVID-19. Now she goes to the office to donate blood when she can, and to make calls for blood drives and other Red Cross events. “It’s a volunteer job where you feel like you’ve helped someone. It’s worthwhile and one of the best places to donate to, especially with all the recent disasters the Red Cross has responded to.”

Thank you, Nancy – we are honored by your 55 years of service!

To view Red Cross volunteer opportunities, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley