Volunteer Karen Nelson: Answering the Red Cross Call for 15 Years

For Red Cross volunteers the call to serve can come at any time: volunteer Karen Nelson has been answering that call for an impressive 15 years. Karen has been deployed 14 times, most recently to North Carolina to assist with Red Cross flood relief efforts.ResizedImage_1443736193689

However, outside of her service to the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Karen has led a full life. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 56 years. Karen and her husband have five amazing children and seven adorable grandchildren. When she is not volunteering for the Red Cross she loves to go boating and snowmobile. One of her favorite hobbies is spending time with her grandchildren. Karen has been a lifelong resident of Rock Falls, Illinois. She is an invaluable asset to the community and to the American Red Cross.  We thank you for being on our team Karen!

If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, visit redcross.org.

Story by Lisa LaSala, Executive Director, American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois

For Team Red Cross Runners: the Choice Goes Beyond the Finish Line

(Chicago, IL) – When a Chicago Marathon runner signs up to run with Team Red Cross, they pledge not only their determination and skill, but also the promise of raising $1,500 to support the lifesaving mission of the American Red Cross.

Runner John Alegnani from Louisville, Kentucky is no stranger to this promise: this is his third Chicago Marathon running for 21915091680_a1e2472aa7_zTeam Red Cross. “When people decide to run (the Chicago Marathon), they often have a personal connection to the team they choose. I chose the Red Cross because they help so many people in need across the globe, that’s what keeps me coming back.”

131 runners crossed the finish line this year for Team Red Cross: the biggest number yet since the team was formed in 2007. Combined, over $200,000 was raised by our runners to benefit American Red Cross programs and services throughout Chicago and Northern Illinois: such as veteran assistance, reconnecting families, and home fire preparedness.

For first time C22077008226_e82d5d442d_zhicago Marathon runners Tim Hotchartani of New York City and Paola Buitrago of Colombia, South America, the choice to run with Team Red Cross was personal.

Tim, a healthcare investment banker was the  first Team Red Cross runner to cross the finish line  at 2:55.30. “I wanted to match the professional with the personal,” for his first Chicago Marathon, he said.

Paola has followed the work of the Red Cross since moving to the Chicagoland area a year and a half ago, “Many of my friends in Colombia are volunteers with the International Federation of the Red Cross . When I moved to Chicago, many of my friends here are volunteers with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois. So it was amazing to pick an organiza21482284723_281fef22f7_ztion to run with that everyone I know is already familiar with.”

An official charity partner with the 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the Red Cross is proud to bring together runners of all ages and abilities since 2007 in support of the  its mission. If you or someone you know is interested in running the Chicago Marathon in 2016 with Team Red Cross, visit RedCross.org/chicagomarathon for details and sign up information.

For more photos of Team Red Cross at the Chicago Marathon:


Story by Alexandra Sobczak, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Photos by Danny Diaz, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Volunteer  

Red Cross Goes Door-To-Door to Install 400 Smoke Alarms on Chicago’s South Side

Roseland Rally Knock on Door 9.19.15(CHICAGO, IL) – Christine White opened her door to American Red Cross volunteers on Chicago’s South Side on a Saturday morning to install smoke alarms in her Roseland home.

“I’ve never needed your services (for disasters), thank God. Hopefully, I never will,” she said as volunteers installed smoke alarms and made a safety plan for her family.

21370799950_04fcf9492d_oA few blocks south on 108th Street, Shavett Lovemore told volunteers, “We haven’t experienced anything personal, but you still hear the stories.”

The Roseland community on Chicago’s South Side has one of the highest numbers of fire fatalities in Northern Illinois. That’s why armed with ladders and drills volunteers went door-to-door to install more than 400 smoke alarms in a single-day on Sept. 19 to help families be safe. 21547221372_49e3d9e1d1_o

The effort is part of the nationwide Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, a multi-year effort to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent. Working alongside fire departments and community groups, the Red Cross and its partners will install 5,500 smoke alarms in Northern Illinois communities, like Roseland, over the next several months.

For senior citizens and people with physical disabilities, having the Red Cross install a smoke alarm in their home is crucial in those hard to reach places.

CPSXhRiWcAAhyQ6“That’s something I can’t do. Thank you,” said Roseland resident Ed Bishop, when Red Cross volunteer Goeffrey Fishwick installed the device on the ceiling where smoke would rise to set it off if a fire would spark.

It’s also smart to install smoke alarms in bedrooms and hallways to sleeping areas. For Glenda Johnson, a stroke survivor, who needs a wheelchair to move, the Red Cross installed two smoke alarms in her home. “It’s good that you’re coming around,” she said.

For every smoke alarm installed in Roseland, volunteers like Cam Anton, also mapped out how families can safely exit their home in less than two minutes during a fire.

RoselandVolunteerInstallAlarm 9.19.15At Erma Washington’s home, where Cam’s team installed two smoke alarms, he walked her though her home pointing out possible exit areas through windows, and the front and side doors.

“So right there you’ve got three escape routes, and that really gives you a good game plan should an event actually occur. Hopefully not, but if it does, you’ve got a good game plan,” said Cam.

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois responds to 3 to 4 home fires every day, providing food, shelter, clothing and emotional support.21371469408_06f47f601d_o

Home fires tend to increase in the fall and winter, which is why Regional Disaster Officer Harley Jones said the Red Cross is making a big push now to be prepared for the colder months ahead.

“Home fires are tragic and devastating to those who experience them,” said Jones. “Our aim is to arm as many families as possible with these safety measures to help prevent another tragedy.”

TWO MINUTES TO ESCAPE  It is estimated that you may have only two minutes to get out after a fire starts in your home. As part of the campaign, the Red Cross is also asking every household in America to join us in taking two simple steps that can save lives: checking their existing smoke alarms and practicing fire drills at home. Every family should develop a fire escape plan, and practice it.

21369962598_25d54af9c8_oGET INVOLVED People can visit redcross.org to find out more about how to protect themselves and their loved ones and homes from fire or contact their local Red Cross to find out about smoke alarm installation events in their community. They can also help by volunteering their time or making a donation today to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to, and help people recover from disasters big and small. We respond to nearly 70,000 other disasters every year, from home fires to hurricanes and more. Learn more about how Disaster Relief donations have helped people affected by previous disasters including home fires.


Roseland Rally Group Shot 9.19.15

American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteers Tyler Bieschke, Eleanor Lyon and Alex Sobczak contributed to this story

 Photos by American Red Cross Volunteers Danny Diaz and Bill Biederman

 For more photos of the Roseland Smoke Alarm Installation Event:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagoredcross/albums/72157658419790759


World’s Largest Pillowcase Project Teaches Chicago Children Preparedness Skills

20824159040_bc91d13214_o(CHICAGO, IL) – When Hurricane Katrina made landfall 10 years ago, no one was prepared for the immense destruction and devastation it would inflict upon the Gulf Coast.

Many children were traumatized by their memories of the storm’s fury so the American Red Cross developed a program using something as simple as a pillowcase to help children feel safer and more prepared for a disaster.

21012145605_53a1db1594_oOn the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29, 2015, the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois participated in the World’s Largest Pillowcase of youth preparedness activities taking place across the county. In Chicago, kids gathered at the Robert Morris University where they learned how to prepare for a disaster and received art supplies to personalize their own pillowcase.

Eight-year-old Beatrice decorated her pillowcase with pictures of her family and favorite household items.

“I liked coming today because I learned a lot of important things,” Beatrice said. “Now I know not to put my hand on a door knob if there’s a fire because I might get burned. I need to open the door slowly so I can be safe.”

The Pillowcase Project was inspired by university students in New Orleans who evacuated the storm by carrying their personal items in pillowcase. Soon after, the Pillowcase Project became a youth preparedness class offered around the country by 20391260033_1191f8e0d6_othe Red Cross and sponsored by Disney.

In the last ten years, the Pillowcase Project has helped thousands of children learn to cope during emergencies from hurricanes to home fires. For more information on the Pillowcase Project:  RedCross.org.

For more photos of the World’s Largest Pillowcase event in Chicago visit our Flickr page. 

Story by Alexandra Sobczak, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Photos by Danny Diaz, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Volunteer  

Golin Volunteers Thank Navy Veteran for Service

19957827133_8554473c28_o(HINES, IL) – John Williams thought he would grow up to be a butcher in his dad’s meat market. Instead he proudly chose another uniform, becoming a sailor in the United States Navy.

Williams enlisted when he was 19 years old and “got to see the world” serving two years from 1962-1964 as a radar technician. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier in San Diego, CA in Nov. 1963 when he heard the news President John F. Kennedy was killed. Williams remembers how the ship turned solemn, but found support among his fellow military members.

Now a patient at the Hines VA Hospital in Hines, IL more than 50 years later, Williams gets supports from those who value and honor his service, like the volunteers from Golin who joined the Red Cross Aug. 10 to hand out comfort kits of items like soap and socks to veterans on the hospital’s 7th floor.

“To sit and talk with veterans who made such a huge sacrifice to our country is a wonderful way to show you care and thank them for their service,” said Molly Sawyer, a Golin volunteer.

Story by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manger, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Photos by Gerry Holmes, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois        

Volunteers “Go-All-In” For Red Cross

20390855050_cf50f59734_o(CHICAGO, IL) – PR firm Golin decided the American Red Cross was a cause to “go-all-in” for during its annual “Al’s Day” volunteer activities. The firm created the event in 2009 to honor the founder, Al Golin, and is held each summer around his birthday.

The firm’s main pillar is community service. Golin has big-name clients like McDonald’s so Al likes to give back to the community. He said it is a “wonderful legacy, practicing what we preach.”

Golin’s senior creative manager, Michael Marino said, “A couple years ago, it was a day we all went out and now it’s kind of expanded to a week.”

Golin employees culminated their Volunteer Week Aug. 14 at the Chicago headquarters of the Red Cross by cleaning and restocking the emergency response vehicles with supplies.20392158299_4b3b2b37b0_o

When a disaster strikes, the vehicles need to be ready to go. The Golin volunteers’ work will allow response teams to respond around the clock to a disaster site, where time is critical.

Christie Dooley works on the digital side of the company and said, “It’s a really nice part of working at Golin because they do have such and emphasis on giving back.”

20578841135_a901bf4a29_oThe manual labor reminded Marino of the hard work the Red Cross does for people who turn to the Red Cross in times of emergency.

“You never know when or where a disaster is going to strike so we could all need these services,” he said.

Fran Edwardson, CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the Red Cross’ work force is more than 90 percent volunteers. That’s why the Golin group was such a welcome helping hand.

“It’s great when we can get teams that want to help out,” she said.


Written by: Eleanor Lyon, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Public Affairs Volunteer

Photos by: Gerry Holmes, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Public Affairs Volunteer

Blood Donors Help Prevent a Summer Shortage at Brookfield Zoo

(BROOKFIELD, IL) – “This is my sixth time donating blood,” said Tom Bierwith of Chicago as he reclined at a donation station at the Brookfield Zoo. “When the Red Cross called me to let me know they were hosting a blood drive today, my wife and I didn’t hesitate, we knew we would be here no matter what.” 20327020962_b9c283d609_z

Temperatures in the 90’s couldn’t keep blood donors, like Tom, away from the Chicago Red Cross Summer of Connections Blood Drive at the Brookfield Zoo. Partnering with ABC 7 Chicago, the blood drive was held Aug. 5 to ensure hospital patients have enough blood products during the summer, a slow time for blood donations.

The Summer of Connections Blood Drive was the second largest regional blood drive for single-day collections with 228 units of blood collected. To put that number into perspective, those 228 units of blood have the potential to save 680 lives.

The call to donate was a commonality among the hundreds of donors, particularly for Rebecca Puskar of Chicago who visited the zoo with her son after donating.


“I want to teach my son today that this (giving blood) is an important part of giving back to your community,” she said. “If a time ever comes when I need blood, I hope that there will be people who have stepped up to provide me with the same life-saving gift that I’ve been able to provide today.”

If you are interested in an easy way to save a life, you can give the gift of life-saving blood by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visit redcrossblood.org, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to find a blood drive near you.

Story by Alexandra Sobczak, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Photos by Danny Diaz, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Volunteer  


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.