Walsh Elementary Paraprofessional Jen Kerrigan Saves Kindergartener from Choking, Receives Red Cross Lifesaving Award

The American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley was proud to present Jennifer Kerrigan with a Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action and a Red Cross Lifesaving pin for her heroic actions in the face of an emergency.

Executive Director Brian McDaniel presenting the award to Jennifer Kerrigan at Walsh Elementary

Jen Kerrigan has been a special education paraprofessional at Walsh Elementary School in Lockport, IL for over 7 years and easily develops close bonds with many of the children who attend. She oversees them in the classroom environment and also during non-classroom times like lunch in the school gym.

On January 18, 2022 Jen was watching students finish eating and encouraging them to line up to get ready for the next part of their day when she noticed a kindergartener in distress. In his rush to finish eating a bagel, he started choking on a piece of the bread.

Jen says she could see the fear in his eyes and immediately knew what to do. She was by his side in a moment and asked if he was OK, to which he shook his head “no,” and Jen gently picked him up and started doing back blows to dislodge what was in his throat.

It took several back blows and at least three abdominal thrusts but Jen was able to save the child from choking. Everyone was relieved to see the boy calming down and breathing thanks to Jen’s quick actions in both seeing him in trouble and doing something about it.

This was not the first time Jen stepped in to help a student choking. In 2018, she also saved a different young boy with special needs who had been choking on a taco. Again, even without any verbal cues she knew something was wrong and immediately took action.

In both instances, it took a combination of Jen knowing what to do and first recognizing what was happening even in challenging circumstances involving small children and a student with special needs. Jen says even when there is no verbal communication, sometimes you just know something is wrong and know you need to do something.

As someone who is surrounded by kids all day, she says its important to have those skills whether you’re around kids or not. She remembers taking the courses but its become more of an instinct she’s developed from years of supervising kids and having her own special needs son who passed away 18 years ago. She took trainings and learned skills from CPR to knowing what to do when someone is choking and more. Now, she’s the one you’d want to have around no matter what happens.

In the surprise presentation, both boys she saved were there to see her receive the award and be reunited with Jen who shed a few tears. For her, it’s just part of the job.

“I’m grateful that I can be calm about it,” Jen said. “To me, it’s all in a day’s work. If I can help you I’m all about it.”

Since the incident in January, bagels have been removed from the school’s lunch menu.

Jen truly embodies the mission and values of the American Red Cross, which has awarded over 1,800 individuals with Lifesaving Awards.

Learn how to save a life with Red Cross Training Classes: www.redcross.org/takeaclass

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Holly Baker

Mississippi Mud: A flavor that unites a community during disaster

When a catastrophe hit the Mississippi River in 1933, the Quad Cities suffered great loss to their community. With extensive damage to the area, the community came together to help those in need during this tragic event. 


Whitey’s Ice Cream shop has been a part of the Quad Cities community since 1933. With locations in Moline, Rock Island, and Davenport, people from all around come to eat the delicious flavors it has to offer. Becoming a true fan favorite in the community, Whitey’s strives to create and sustain an endless bond by caring for the needs of the Quad City area.           

Whitey’s decided to take action during The Great Flood of 1933 to help ease the burden of damages that were created by making a new ice cream flavor and donating the proceeds to the Red Cross.

Aptly named, the “Mississippi Mud” ice cream flavor was born: a coffee flavored ice cream base swirled with Oreo cookies and a fudge rumble. Even in the midst of disaster, people came together for something good that ultimately benefitted those affected by a disaster.

Decades later in 2019, when the Mississippi River flooded the Quad Cities area again, the Mississippi Mud ice cream fundraiser was back in full force. With endless damages to the city of Davenport, Whitey’s and the Red Cross were able to support those in need.

“Being able to have something that everyone can get behind while enjoying a dip of ice cream is a good thing,” Annika Tunberg, vice president of Whitey’s Ice Cream said. “It’s just a way that people can do something or feel connected to the situation and give back even in the slightest way.”

The Red Cross is grateful to Whitey’s for uniting the community and contributing to disaster relief. When disasters hit the area, it is so powerful to see the help that comes and the impactful way people want to help. And Whitey’s provides another opportunity to help in times of need.

“Being a part of this fundraiser has been so special, it has given both of us the opportunity to help the community in a creative way,” said Trish Burnett, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois.

This fundraiser raised awareness and money for the American Red Cross while allowing the public to get behind something greater. 

“Over a few weeks’ time we were able to donate all profits from the sale of the flavor to the Red Cross,” Tunberg said, “We were able to raise $45,000.”

As the amazing relationship between The Red Cross and Whitey’s Ice Cream continues, so will the Mississippi Mud flavor. This fundraiser has made such a positive impact on the Quad Cities community and will continue for disaster relief when needed. Though this is a fundraiser for disasters and those in need, it will continue to be a way for the community to come together as one. Read more about the flavor’s origins here.

Written by Communications Intern Julie Piz

Volunteers and Partners Sound the Alarm in Richton Park

The Sound the Alarm program is part of the Red Cross home fire campaign, which has helped saved 1,275 lives since launching in October 2014.

Spring for many of us signifies renewal by way of home improvements projects, gardening, spring cleaning, and maybe even a fresh haircut! May at the Red Cross is dedicated to the annual campaign, Sound the Alarm, and with it a renewed commitment to fire safety awareness, a community-based campaign to install free smoke alarms to our most vulnerable communities.

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, we were excited and honored to kickoff Sound the Alarm in Cook County alongside Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, 38th District State Representative of Illinois, Debbie Meyers-Martin, Cook County Commissioner, Donna Miller, County Board Commissioner, 6th District, and dozens of volunteers who dedicated their Saturday to Sound the Alarm in Richton Park. Smiles and dedication were palpable as the event was kicked off with a short address by Red Cross of Greater Chicago, Chief Executive Officer, Celena Roldán.

“Nationally, seven people are killed and 36 more are injured every single day due to home fires,” explained Roldán. “Our Home Fire Campaign has helped save over 1,200 lives nationally and in Illinois, we have saved 33 people because of this program. We couldn’t be prouder of our amazing partners, volunteers, and donors who make our work possible.”

In addition to smoke alarm installations, Red Cross volunteers worked on fire escape plans with Richton Park residents.

Richton Park and neighboring residents excitedly welcomed Red Cross partners and volunteers into their home who installed free smoke alarms and outlined fire escape plans. When asked why installing smoke alarms was important for her, Richton Park resident Carolyn Wright stated, “My granddaughter and great-grandchildren live with me, and it is very important for me to keep all of my little ones safe.”

In total, 136 homes, 171 people, were made safer in Richton Park and neighboring communities. Since launching the Sound the Alarm campaign in 2014, our volunteers have helped save lives by installing more than 2 million smoke alarms. We encourage Chicagoland community members to volunteer or register to have free smoke alarms installed during an upcoming event.

#EndHomeFires

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Red Cross and Partners Team Up to Sound the Alarm in Peoria

American Red Cross volunteers and community partners gathered in Peoria Thursday, May 5 to install free smoke alarms in dozens of homes and share home fire safety information with residents.

The event kicked off the 2022 Sound the Alarm campaign in the Illinois region. Volunteers will be installing smoke alarms in numerous communities in the region in coming weeks – 50,000 in total, throughout the U.S.

Volunteers gathered at the Red Cross chapter office in Peoria, where Peoria Fire Department officials instructed them on how to properly install the smoke alarms. Teams of two or three went out into the community from there, to educate homeowners on fire escape plans and complete the installations. Volunteers installed 74 smoke alarms in homes of Peoria residents.

“It is important that we partner with other community leaders to promote fire safety,” said Jesse Getz, CEO of Getz Fire Equipment. “It was very rewarding. Any time you can volunteer to help others in your community, it’s just a great experience.”

Click here to see more photos of the Peoria event.

Thank you to the following community partners for helping make this possible:

Ameren
ATS
Caterpillar
Commerce Bank
Getz Fire Equipment
Maxim Healthcare Services
Peoria Fire Department
Salvation Army

The Sound the Alarm program is part of the Red Cross home fire campaign, which has helped saved 1,275 lives since launching in October 2014.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteer Spotlight: Amy Kinsinger

Amy Kinsinger of Washington, Illinois started volunteering for the American Red Cross of Illinois earlier this year, after making a New Year’s resolution to give more of her time as a volunteer.

Amy retired from a career in advertising and sales, along with substitute teaching. She has volunteered for other agencies, but has a special interest in the Red Cross. Amy decided to get involved in the footsteps of her father, Owen Ackerman. Owen has given more than 26 gallons of blood in his lifetime, and his commitment to our mission inspired Amy to join Team Red Cross.

Amy has participated at numerous events as a blood donor ambassador, welcoming and directing blood donors and making them feel at home when they come to blood drives.

“I’ve always believed in the Red Cross, so I wanted to do whatever I could. I determined this was a good fit for me, because I’m social and welcoming. I like being able to greet people and make them feel comfortable, and I am an advocate for the donors.”
-Amy Kinsinger

Amy has another personal reason for getting involved with the Red Cross. She remembers the impact the organization made in the aftermath of the EF-4 tornado that destroyed hundreds of homes in Washington in November 2013.

“I saw what they did when the tornado came through my hometown. I see what they do nationally, and I know blood donation is very important. I really believe in the Red Cross and I love the mission,” she said.

Thank you, Amy for all you do as a volunteer! If you would like to get involved, please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Jackie & Manooch: Former News Photographers Now a Driving Force Behind Biomedical Delivery

“I can’t think of any place in the city where we haven’t done a live shot.”

Manooch Shadnia points to the familiar places among the city streets of Chicago as friend and colleague Jackie Denn navigates the Red Cross car through traffic.

“I may not remember the stories….” He laughs and trails off his thought. After nearly 40 years each as news photographers, the people behind the camera at Chicago’s ABC-7 station, they’ve both covered nearly every type of story imaginable in the Windy City including many late-nights covering various elections over the years. Between assignments and deadlines, they also struck up a life-long friendship along the way.

Jackie started working at a small TV station at Michigan State as a studio camera person before coming to ABC-7 in 1980. Born in Iran, Manooch came to America in 1977 and joined the staff at ABC-7 in 1982. For decades they were reliable and creative members of the well-known news team bringing coverage of current events and moments of history to local news viewers. Then in 2019, they both decided it was time to hang up the microphone and put the camera away one last time.

After a fond farewell from their team, they are fully embracing their lives in retirement. Even with their days now filled with hobbies, family time and fun, Jackie and Manooch still managed to find just enough space in their new lives to give a little bit back.

Jackie got started right away volunteering with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Lakeview Food Pantry,  and even as an election judge. But after many years at ABC-7 she couldn’t ignore the partnership and incredible event created through the ABC-7 Great Chicago Blood Drive with the Red Cross. In its 8 years, thousands of units of blood have been collected. So it seemed like the perfect place to start as a Red Cross volunteer; helping with the blood drive and bringing Manooch along as well.

“I thought the Red Cross seemed like a great organization to volunteer for,” Jackie said.

Manooch stepped out of the news van and onto a bicycle for his retirement riding many miles a day as a “long hauler,” and enjoying other sports like snow shoeing- thanks to a new set of snowshoes gifted by Jackie. He also has a goal of running a marathon in a different state each month. Manooch has already crossed Louisiana, Illinois and Indiana off the list among others.

Volunteering at the Great Chicago Blood Drive wasn’t enough though, and soon Jackie realized there was more that needed to be done. She started volunteering as a Red Cross Biomedical Transportation Specialist, basically the drivers who take the blood products from the Red Cross to the hospitals that need them. After covering many health and medical stories over the years and getting familiar with the area hospitals, it sounded like the ideal fit.

It was.

Jackie quickly picked up the responsibilities of the volunteer role and was hitting the road each week. The shifts start in the morning picking up the blood in big, insulated boxes from the Greater Chicago headquarters, determining the route to the hospitals and hand delivering the boxes to the blood banks within them. Her role as a volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialist plays a critical role in the process of getting donated blood to the people who need it.

“It’s a meaningful thing to do with my time,” she said.

Enjoying the experience and interactions with the other volunteers and hospital staff, she thought, “I think Manooch might like this.” She recruited her old work buddy to join her in the job, and they were reunited on the road once again. After Jackie showed Manooch the ropes a few times, they’re now covering the routes several days a week for the Greater Chicago chapter, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city and staying connected to the downtown area in the process.

“I’m proud to do this,” Manooch said. “When we arrive at the blood banks sometimes someone is waiting for that blood which means someone’s life depends on it.”

Even with separate scheduled days, occasionally they’ll tag along on each other’s routes and reminisce about the news days behind them, and the open road ahead of them.

Find your fit at the American Red Cross. Take a look at open volunteer positions here.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Holly Baker

Help Can’t Wait: Home Fire Response

Fire destroyed Debbie Barger’s Benton, Illinois home earlier this year. Jane Perr was there to help.

Take a look at this video to learn more about why Jane loves what she does as a disaster volunteer, and to hear why her efforts made a big impact on Debbie.

Volunteers like Jane make up 90 percent of our workforce. Please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a volunteer and to learn more about what we do to help people after a disaster. Thank you for supporting the American Red Cross!

Knit Together for a Cause

Winter hats and mittens. These are necessary items during the cold weather months and can be taken for granted, sometimes. However, a group of American Red Cross volunteers in the Quad Cities do not take these items for granted. They are dedicated to using their talents for the good of other people, and have spent countless hours knitting these items together for children and military families who need them.

The knitting group meets weekly in Moline and got its start in 2011. The group donates an average of 200 sets of handmade mittens every year and, in total, these ladies have made and donated more than 2,000 sets of knitted items since 2011. The mittens and hats are provided to military members and their families through Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.

“Hats, gloves, and scarves are distributed at stand downs for homeless veterans, helping them to stay warm throughout the winter. These knitted items provide not only for the physical needs of our veterans, but the personal nature of these handcrafted items show them that someone cares,” said Crystal Smith, regional director of Red Cross Service to Armed Forces & International Services.

Carol Van De Walle has been there since the beginning. She helped form the group and is glad to see it has continued through the years, even during the pandemic when they have met virtually on Zoom meetings or outdoors. None of the people in the group knew each other before joining, but consider each other good friends, now.

“I think the camaraderie of the people is what I enjoy the most. Our group, we just enjoy each other a lot and we’re very supportive of each other. We have very talented people, and we have beginners. It’s a very accepting group. I really enjoy having that connection, it has been very rewarding,” she said.

Carol and her fellow group members have worked with the Rock Island Arsenal in recent years, sending their handmade items to be distributed to military families. Items ranging from lap blankets to dishcloths to pet accessories all have been lovingly donated, through the years.

“We feel like we’re helping our community and that’s important to all of us,” she said.

Carol has been a Red Cross volunteer for 20 years, formerly serving on our disaster team. She loves giving her time and is thankful to still have the opportunity to do so.

“This is something I can do to still contribute. What’s nice about the Red Cross is there’s something for everybody. When you’re young and strong you can do some of the things and when you’re not, there’s other things you can do and you can still be useful and helpful to your community and the Red Cross in general,” she said.

Trish Burnett, our executive director for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, has worked with these dedicated volunteers for many years and appreciates the efforts they make on a regular basis.

“Carol and the group of volunteers who selflessly give their time to knit these items by hand show true kindness and generosity, again and again. They are dedicated to serving members of the military, the Red Cross and the community and we are very appreciative of their continued efforts.”
-Trish Burnett

This month, we celebrated the knitting group for their efforts during a reception in their honor. Please join us in thanking this team of dedicated volunteers for all they do!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Challenge on 74: Illinois State University vs Bradley University Blood Battle

The Challenge on 74 brought in blood donors from Illinois State University and Bradley University, to help bolster the American Red Cross blood supply.

The Redbird Red Cross Club took on the Bradley Red Cross Club for bragging rights and while there could only be one winner of this battle, the real winners are the people who will receive lifesaving blood during their time of need, because of these blood donations.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this event!

Please visit redcrossblood.org to find a location near you and schedule an appointment to donate blood.

Women’s History Month: Lyn Hruska

Lyn Hruska joined the American Red Cross nearly 25 years ago, in 1997.

Lyn has served in numerous important roles during her time with the Red Cross, starting as executive director in Bloomington. Little did she know, that was just the beginning of her career with the organization.

“I joined the Red Cross, thinking it would be an opportunity that might last a couple of years. But, obviously, 25 years later, you can see that once you are immersed in the Red Cross mission, you can’t leave,” she said.

Currently, Lyn is executive director of the Central Illinois chapter, which serves more than 900,000 people in 17 counties. She enjoys being able to cultivate relationships with staff and volunteers in her chapter.

The chapter is where those really strong connections and bonds can happen, and where people are serving their own communities.”
-Lyn Hruska

Lyn has seen changes happen during her time with the Red Cross. But, she embraces the changes and says it is a critical part of how an organization succeeds in the long run.

“The Red Cross is all about change and that is why they are so successful, even on a grand scale. We have been able to change as change has been needed,” she said.

Among the many things Lyn has contributed during her 25-year tenure with the Red Cross, in 2020, she led the Red Cross partnership with the United Way of McLean County to support a community care fund feeding more than 500 families a week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, Lyn also leads two active Red Cross chapter boards in Central Illinois, one based in Bloomington and the other based in Peoria.

She has a heart for her team and has seen the power of compassion at work in the people who represent the Red Cross, during everyday operations and during times of extreme need.

“The reason I am still at the Red Cross after 25 years is our volunteers and community partners. These are people who truly want to help. We see the best of people during the worst of times. These individuals want to be part of that.”
-Lyn Hruska

Lyn and her husband live on a corn and soybean farm, west of Normal in McLean County. She rescues cats on their farm, socializing them and helping them get healthy so they can find new homes.

You may find Lyn on a tennis court as well. She has played since high school and continues to play local club competitive tennis.

Thank you, Lyn for your dedicated service and commitment to the Red Cross and its mission!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen