Hispanic Heritage Month: Illinois Red Cross CEO, Celena Roldán, Helping Inspire the Next Generation of Leaders

As the CEO of the American Red Cross of Illinois, Celena Roldán oversees the operations of the Red Cross in 88 counties, including four counties in Iowa and four counties in Missouri. She plays an essential role in helping the Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day.

However, for Celena, this job comes with an even greater responsibility. As a woman and as Latina, she understands that she is also a role model to many young professional women, “I often work with young women just entering the workforce, and I believe it is part of my job to be their champion and to help them to see the many possibilities for growth that already exist in themselves,” says Celena.

She remembers an eye-opening interaction that she had with young Latinas, a few years ago, after speaking at a conference.  An experience that was a reaffirmation of the responsibility that she has a professional woman, as a Latina, and as a leader. “Several young Latina women came up to me teary-eyed and said, ‘You have no idea for what it means to us to see you in this position.’ At that moment, I realized how unbelievably powerful it is for women to have a mirror image of themselves to know they can also be a leader. This is a tremendous responsibility to help them envision and script the possibilities that lie within them,” explains Celena.

As a young Latina, Celena recalls the great impact and influence that mentors have had on her throughout her professional career, and how their advice and encouragement helped her grow and develop professionally. However, there are two very special people who have had the most influence in Celena’s life, her parents, Ida and Hipólito Roldán. “I remember seeing my parents, who both came from very humble beginnings, live their lives with servant hearts.”  Her dad was the first employee of what became one of the largest organizations in the Midwest providing housing to families in need of a home. Her mother, Ida, a bilingual psychotherapist has been a champion providing critical mental health support in diverse communities.

Celena says that both her parents encouraged her to find her own path and way to serve others. A social worker by trade, she tells us that her parents told her the road would often be challenging, and that seeing the vulnerability and suffering in humankind can be heartbreaking. But they also reminded her that we are put on this earth to help support a person, a child in need and do our part to build stronger communities.

Celena with her dad, Hipólito Roldán, during this year’s ABC 7 Great Chicago Blood Drive

During her first year at the Red Cross, Celena started the Latino Engagement Outreach team with her counterpart in Los Angeles, Jarrett Barrios. This team has been vital in reaching vulnerable communities with volunteers that speak their language. “Sometimes in these communities, people think the Red Cross is a government organization. It’s our goal to break down these barriers and misconceptions to reach people with humanitarian assistance,” adds Celena.

Since joining the Red Cross, Celena has deployed multiple times to bring relief to communities impacted by disasters. In 2017, she traveled to Puerto Rico with her mother, who volunteers with the Red Cross. Once there, she saw the devastation that Hurricane Maria has caused to her beloved Puerto Rico. While her mother provided disaster mental health counseling to many on the island, Celena worked with community partners to provide access to critical services. She also went through communities with a megaphone offering clean water. “This experience deeply impacted me and reinforced the love I have for my culture and my people…Seeing the island that I loved and grew up visiting, devastated, was very difficult.”

Celena and her mother, Ida Roldán, as they deployed to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017

For this Latina, serving others is her purpose in life, and helping form the new generation of women leaders, is a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly, “While I am proud to be a female leader of the Illinois Red Cross, I have the great honor of working alongside people who I consider to be superheroes. They answer the call at al times of the day, every day, here at home and across the country. I hope that my team views me as simply someone who can help them move beyond dreaming into doing. Someone who inspires them each day to find the right course, get to the best answer and do the right thing as a humanitarian. For me, setting a good example and not being afraid to get into the trenches and do myself, what I ask others to do, is the best way I know to empower and inspire the next generation of leaders.”

In the summer of 2020, Celena deployed to Oregon where she led the Latino Engagement Team during the wildfires.

This is your time to join other humanitarians like Celena. Become a member of our amazing and dedicated team of volunteers today by visiting redcross.org/volunteer. You can make a different in the lives of so many impacted by disasters. You can also help by donating at redcross.org.

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