Celena Roldán: Leading the Charge for Those in Need

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Hispanic men and women who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day. Today, we are highlighting Celena Roldán, CEO of the Red Cross Chicago and Northern Illinois Region.

Celena joined the American Red Cross almost four years ago and has more than 20 years of experience working at nonprofit organizations focused on serving the most vulnerable populations. Celena says that learning about the mission of the Red Cross motivated her to get involved with the organization, “When I read the mission of the Red Cross, to “alleviate human suffering,” I was inspired. Then when I learned that the Red Cross is comprised of 90% volunteers, I knew I had to be part of an organization that could mobilize and execute its mission simply because of its massive volunteer base. These two things made me want to join the Chicago & Northern Illinois team,” adds Celena.

Celena, whose grandparents on both her mother’s and father’s side were born in Puerto Rico, grew up seeing her parents serving those in need, working with and in communities, “my father was the first employee of what became one of the largest organizations in the Midwest providing affordable housing to families in need of a home. My mother is a bilingual psychotherapist who has been champion providing critical mental support in diverse communities. Both encouraged me to go my own path and find my way to serve. They told me the road would often be challenging and that seeing the vulnerability and suffering in human kind can be heartbreaking,” recalls Celena.

Celena talks about home fire safety with a resident during a Sound the Alarm event in Chicago’s West Side

She is proud of her Latino roots, and for her Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Hispanics and Latin Americans to the country, adding “To me, my heritage is about being together as a family, eating the food and dancing salsa, learning our history and knowing what it means to be Puerto Rican. Everyone’s unique heritage is what diversity is built upon. Understanding the traditions and culture that shape you is very important to me and is, in part, what makes me unique.”

As the CEO of the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois region, Celena has had the opportunity to deploy multiple times. However, a deployment that is very close to her heart is when she traveled to Puerto Rico with her mother to help with the relief operations after the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria. Her mother who volunteers with the Red Cross, offered disaster mental health counseling to many of those affected while Celena worked with community partners to provide linkages to critical services, “I never thought I would be in Puerto Rico on a megaphone offering clean water. This experience deeply impacted me and reinforced the love I have for my culture and my people. It was tragic to see the impact of Hurricane Maria on my Puerto Rico. Seeing the island that I loved and grew up visiting, devastated, was very difficult,” says Celena.

Celena and her mom deployed to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria

She concludes by talking about the importance to get involved and help each other, particularly those who need to be heard and seen, “my goal at the Chicago and Northern Illinois Red Cross is to inspire that next generation of leaders to join me on this journey that is simultaneously difficult and empowering. I want them to know that there are so many ways you can help, through supporting our veterans, setting up a blood drive, or going out to a home fire. Our mission to prevent and alleviate suffering in the face of emergencies is what makes the Red Cross special. And I continuously tell people that if you want to really understand the Red Cross, then join us in putting on a red vest to support people when they need us the most.”

Celena with members of the disaster response team

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