Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Isis Chaverri and Sharing the Red Cross Story

Regional Marketing & Communications Manager for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Isis Chaverri has been with the organization for almost three years. Originally from Panama, she immigrated to the United States in 1995.

A Fulbright Scholar, her media and communications background is extensive including overseeing Univision Chicago with over 30 people reporting to her and receiving multiple Emmy awards for her work. Her and her husband are also entrepreneurs, running their own small business for 10 years following her career in news.

She feels Hispanic Heritage Month is a fun and exciting celebration because it emphasizes differences within our cultures while also bringing so many people together.

“It just makes me feel connected,” Isis said.

“It’s a way to honor the different cultures within the Hispanic community because even though we all speak Spanish, we have things that make us different from one another; even within the Hispanic community there are different cultures and think that’s important to highlight.”

Isis shared that seeing how the month is celebrated further emphasizes how the cultural differences between the Hispanic community are some of the things that make it so interesting.

“I’m so proud of my culture and being Panamanian. When you are identified as Hispanic/Latina- it just puts you together with other people who share the same values and cultural commonalities that you do… its just a way to not only celebrate Hispanics as a whole but also what makes us who we are and realize the differences culturally.”

Working at the American Red Cross, Isis is part of the team responsible for sharing the mission and message and activities with the rest of the community. It’s a role that she says has been fulfilling in multiple ways especially with her ability to connect with people of many different backgrounds in often some of their most difficult times.

“What attracted me was that I was going to be able to use my skills to help others. I learned about the many lines of service, and thought this is an organization that is not only well-known and respected, but I would be able to give back. What a better way to give back and use the skills I have than through the Red Cross?”

A meeting at the Chicago headquarters (pre-COVID-19)

In the midst of disasters, Isis says it feels good to be able to help people. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was still able to help share how Red Cross volunteers continued to meet the needs of people experiencing disasters of all kinds from home fires to hurricanes to flooding. When Freeport, IL experienced severe flooding a few years ago many people were forced to evacuate their homes, Isis met a woman living in that area who was originally from Puerto Rico and had relocated to Freeport after Hurricane Maria. Faced once again with disaster, Isis said it was nice to be able to bring even the slightest bit more comfort to the woman by not only providing Red Cross services while displaced from her home but also communicating with her in Spanish- something familiar and understandable among a confusing and complex time.

Though Isis goes back to Panama often to visit family and they often visit the US, Isis says the distance is great and she misses them deeply. When family is able to come and visit her here, she says it is a joyous reunion filled with great memories. But Isis says being a part of the Hispanic community within the Illinois community is a connection worth cherishing and sharing.

“We are here to contribute and we want to make our communities a better place…we have very strong family values. We are a very tight-knit community and we can be loud sometimes but we are a lot of fun.”

Written by Communications Manager Holly Baker

Hispanic Heritage Month: Red Crosser Brittany Reynoso Reflects on Cross-Cultural, Cross-Generational Connections

Brittany Reynoso joined the Illinois Red Cross staff as a Regional Philanthropy Officer earlier this year. In this role, she manages a portfolio of donors and works with them individually to understand their philanthropic goals; together they connect their giving interests with all that the Red Cross does. Prior to joining the development staff, Brittany was a virtual volunteer with the Red Cross in the western U.S.: “I wanted to learn more about the Red Cross, the breadth of the life-saving work that’s part of the mission, and the different lines of service”. When a position opened in Chicago, the fit was perfect!

Hispanic Heritage Month is a special time of year for Brittany to reflect on her own heritage. Her grandparents are from Jalisco, Mexico and she takes great pride in that culture. “It’s so vibrant and I’m very proud of it. It’s an important part of my identity every day, but this month is a reminder to share our cultures and heritage with friends and loved ones.” One of Brittany’s favorite ways to celebrate is listening to live mariachi music in Chicago, and sharing that unique musical experience with friends. Throughout the year, she enjoys the Mexican influences in the Pilsen neighborhood, including the National Museum of Mexican Art. Visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibit with her family this summer at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art (College of DuPage) brought the Mexican painter and history to the forefront and was amazing, says Brittany.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to appreciate other Latin cultures and recognize those communities. Brittany recently visited an Argentine market and restaurant with an Argentinian friend, to experience what makes their culture distinctive. A multi-cultural and ethnic city such as Chicago allows for that exposure.

“This month is also the perfect occasion to spark conversations among elders and hear what stories they lived, a time to connect to family and carry on those stories in the U.S.”, says Brittany. She plans to travel to Jalisco next year with her grandparents, and looks forward to reconnecting with her family’s history and heritage.

To become a Red Cross volunteer and make a difference in your community, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Blood Donor Wins Contest & Shares Story About Giving Back

Shannon Symonds has donated blood throughout the years for a decade, but recently she and her husband who is O negative, one of the most transfused blood types, have been making the conscious effort to donate regularly. Shannon says a blood drive held in honor of a teacher’s son years ago at a local high school inspired her to begin donating.

Over the summer, while donating at the Northwoods Mall in Peoria, Illinois she was automatically entered in the Red Cross Gas for a Year Giveaway for $5,000 and was named the winner of the contest.

Shannon says she was quite surprised when she received the phone call and was unaware of the contest. Shannon adds it’s all about the patients and helping them when it comes to donating blood.

“It’s a nice reward and I will continue to give,” she says.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Hispanic Heritage Month: Red Cross Volunteer Martha García Barragán Shares Highlights of her Mexican Culture

Martha is a new volunteer with the Illinois Red Cross, and she didn’t hesitate to jump right on to the front lines at the United Center and Truman College COVID vaccination sites. For several months she assisted step-by-step with the vaccination process, from client registration, temperature checks, and translating English and Spanish. This was an extraordinary experience for Martha: “I love how a group of strangers can come together for the good of others; this was heart-strengthening during the COVID pandemic.” As a member of the Disaster Cycle Services team, she plans to continue promoting the American Red Cross in Chicago’s Hispanic communities.

Also important to Martha is her Hispanic heritage. Originally from Mexico City, Martha has called Chicago home for many years. Almost anything you want from Mexico is here, including parades and block festivals in Pilsen and La Villita to celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, explains Martha.

Preparing traditional food is one way Martha celebrates this month with her family, starting with Chiles en nogada. These are poblano peppers stuffed with ground meat served with a walnut sauce and adorned with pomegranate seeds. Some of Martha’s favorites foods when she visits Mexico include tacos al pastor, which is marinated pork served in a taco with pineapple on top. The food in Veracruz, on the Golf Coast of Mexico, is absolutely unique, mainly seafood with a variety of chili sauces – primarily chipotle.

Martha relishes other parts of her Mexican heritage. The art and muralist movement because they use strong colors and images that are publicly accessible to tell important histories; her favorite muralist is Rufino Tamayo. Music wise, her favorite composer is José Pablo Moncayo and her favorite piece is the Huapango. If you plan to visit Mexico, Martha recommends the artisan city of Oaxaca, the traditions of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, and the turquoise Caribbean Sea in Cancún.

For Martha, Hispanic Heritage Month “is an acknowledgment of the contribution of my community to the success of this country.” Thank you for sharing some of your rich culture with us!      

To become a Red Cross volunteer and make a difference in your community like Martha, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Erika Ochoa Serves Others Through AmeriCorps, Reflects on her Cultural Heritage

Erika is an AmeriCorps/Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) member with the American Red Cross, and completes her 11-month term this September.

Before joining the Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) in Chicago, Erika always connected to a community of people helping out, whether locally, nationally, or globally. She found a perfect fit for humanitarian work with the Red Cross.

As an IDC member, Erika experienced firsthand much of what our organization does on the ground: providing disaster relief for home fires in Illinois, teaching preparedness classes virtually, staffing COVID-19 vaccination sites with the City of Chicago’s Department of Public Health earlier this year, and assisting with client recovery casework. The most eye-opening experience for Erika was working with residents affected by floods in Tennessee. While deployed there, she went door-to-door with other Red Crossers to offer immediate assistance to those in need. “It was great to see how the Red Cross organizes and mobilizes on-site so quickly, while also working toward a bigger goal,” says Erika.

Erika (left) during her deployment to Tennessee

In addition to celebrating the completion of her AmeriCorps service, Erika will also celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month over the next several weeks. Erika’s father is from Huatabampo, Mexico, and that cultural heritage is important for her family to observe in the U.S. Some of her favorite traditions include Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in November, which commemorates the life and death of family members and loved ones and making tamales in Mexico for various holidays.

Thank you, Erika, for all of your impactful work as an Illinois Disaster Corps member this year. We are also grateful that you will continue as a volunteer with the Red Cross!

Click here to find out about how to serve your community through AmeriCorps.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Blood Drive in Honor of River Helmuth

River Helmuth was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. She was born at full-term and shortly after her family found out about her condition.

When River was two and a half months old, she developed a cold and spent 73 days in the hospital where she underwent open heart surgery and multiple blood transfusions. About six months later, River returned for another heart surgery.

Today, River is doing amazing and started kindergarten this year. Her mother Stephanie says she may need another surgery in the future.

Now her family is hosting a blood drive in honor of River. The family realizes the importance of blood donations because of River and other members in their family that have received blood transfusions, including River’s grandfather who received blood after a traumatic car accident years ago.

“Our hope for the blood drive is continue to raise awareness for the need, that’s always there, it’s not just today or tomorrow,” Stephanie adds.

River’s blood drive will be held on Saturday, September 18 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sullivan American Legion, 8 E. Strain Street in Sullivan, Illinois.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Illinois & New York Volunteer Reflects on 9/11

Tell Sheil has been a a Red Cross volunteer for nearly 50 years. In that time she has helped countless people as a registered nurse and health services volunteer and as a disaster mental health volunteer.

Of all her time with the Red Cross, responding to 9/11 stands out most prominently. Tess calls both Illinois and New York home and was working in a school in New York the day the Twin Towers were hit. She recalls the day in the video below.

In the years that followed, Tess has carefully preserved items from that response and reflects on them often.

Tess has kept this poster for 20 years; a memento of the morale that pulsed through the city as people banded together.

A pin to commemorate the date.

A certificate of appreciation from the American Red cross for her work serving on that day.

Magnets and regular cards from the Health Registry Staff

For Every Henry, There is a Chuck: Stories from Louisiana

Written by Brian McDaniel, Executive Director of the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley

As the people of Louisiana recover from Hurricane Ida, thousands of humanitarians are working to help people recover over this Labor Day in 2021.

Without a doubt, hundreds of great things happened today; I want to tell you about one of them.

Fuel here is scarce right now.  There is no power to pump gas; and in areas where there is power, gas stations quickly run dry.  Late last week, the State of Louisiana set up fuel depots so ambulances, linemen, and other essential vehicles (such as Red Cross food trucks) keep running.

Chuck Massaro, Dannette DePando, and I were on our way back from distributing 400 meals when we decided to stop at one of the fuel depots.  This particular location also has a shelter where people displaced by Hurricane Ida can find a safe place to stay.  Our team delivers breakfast to this shelter every morning, so we know it well.

As we drove towards the site, down the narrow, two lane road, we noticed a man pumping his wheelchair in the middle of the street.  Large trucks were passing on both sides, and he was doing is best not to get hurt.  Danette asked to check on the man, and we stopped.

Looking scared and a bit upset, the man said that he was trying to get to the shelter.  Could we give him a ride?  Quickly assessing the back of our vehicle, we knew he and his wheel chair would not fit.  The vehicle was built for the distribution of food, not this situation.

What happened next was one of the most amazing examples of human kindness I have witnessed.  Chuck Massaro, a Red Cross volunteer on his very first deployment, jumped out of our vehicle and started pushing the man and his wheelchair towards the shelter.  Danette, a Red Crossers from Utah, joined, and I put our large Mercedes Sprinter Van right behind them to block traffic.  Together, we all moved towards the shelter for nearly two miles.

As Chuck pushed the wheelchair, Dannette talked with the man.  His name was Henry.  He escaped Belle Rose but not after Ida had destroyed his home.  Once we reached the shelter, Dannette made sure the staff was aware of Henry’s situation.  Chuck took Henry to a truck serving snow cones.  We said our goodbyes and left to load up on diesel.

There are so many stories like Henry’s that take place after a disaster.  There are many Chucks and many Dannettes; ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  They keep the human in humanitarian; and bring hope to those who are dealing with the worst day of their lives.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Red Cross, sign up at redcross.org/volunteertoday

Reflecting on 9/11 Twenty Years Later

Twenty years ago, the United States faced one of the worst days in its history. As our country marks 20 years since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the American Red Cross remembers the victims of that horrific day, honors the brave responders and is working to rekindle the spirit of service the country saw then to help those in need today.

The Red Cross is grateful to those across the country who came forward with donations of time, blood and funds to support the victims and survivors of the attacks. Within minutes of Flight 11 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center, the Red Cross mobilized to provide immediate help. Our work continued for years after.

Some of the volunteers that responded included many from the Illinois Region. A few took a moment to pause and reflect on the response and the impacts of being there to help.

The 20th anniversary of the attacks is a reminder that the unimaginable can occur — and that Americans need to do everything they can to protect their neighbors and be ready for crises of any size. Emergencies can happen at any time, and everyone can do their part to be prepared.

Part of doing that is ensuring an adequate blood supply is available year-round. Blood can take up to three days to be tested, processed and made available for patients – so it’s the blood already on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency. Find out more here.

To help prepare your household, the Red Cross suggests planning ahead on how to deal with the types of disasters that are likely in your neighborhood, what to do if separated and how to stay informed. Next, build an emergency kit. Your kit should contain food, water and other basic supplies to last at least three days for each family member.

Also, don’t forget to include essential medications, copies of important documents and special items for children and pets. Including your pets in your emergency plans is essential. Remember, if you and your family need to evacuate, so does your pet. It’s important to plan in advance to know which pet-friendly hotels are in your area, and where your pets can stay in an emergency situation.

The final step to preparing your household is to be informed. Consider taking a First Aid for Severe Trauma™ or first aid and CPR course so you’ll know what to do until help arrives in the event of an emergency.

Illinois Region Volunteers Respond to Hurricane Ida

“You’ve got to get out there and be part of the answer; part of the solution.”

– Illinois Region Red Cross volunteer Tom Hansen

Hurricane Ida has made landfall along the Louisiana coast today already bringing catastrophic wind damage, dangerous tornadoes and storm surge to a region still recovering from last year’s hurricane season.

August 29, 2021. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Wendy Halsey of the American Red Cross talks with Hermaine Collins-Jordan from Baton Rouge and her family as they settle in at an evacuation center on Sunday August 29, 2021. Hurricane Ida is also hitting Gulf Coast on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, bringing stark reminders of one of the greatest natural disasters to ever strike the United States. Hermaine spoke of her grandfather, who passed away from an infection after venturing out in flood waters to help others in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While remembering his memory, this mother of four stays strong and upbeat for her family as they wait out the storm together. Some 600 Red Cross volunteers are either on the ground or staged to support relief efforts after Ida makes landfall. Across Louisiana and Mississippi, the Red Cross and other organizations have opened dozens of evacuation shelters, offering safe refuge for hundreds of people. The number of open shelters and people staying in them is changing hourly. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

In addition to pre-positioned supplies, the Red Cross has moved truckloads of additional cots, blankets and comfort kits, along with tens of thousands of ready-to-eat meals into Louisiana and Mississippi this weekend.

Around 600 Red Cross volunteers are either on the ground there or staged to support imminent relief efforts from sheltering to feeding. About 60 volunteers from the Illinois region are currently working on a disaster either locally or nationally, with about a dozen volunteers directly responding to Ida.

A Red Cross emergency response vehicle (erv) based in the Illinois River Valley Chapter stands by for deployment to the gulf coast for Hurricane Ida

Volunteers from up and down Illinois are either already in Louisiana or are making their way there this week. Tom Hansen of Deerfield is going on his first deployment with the Red Cross after a lifetime of helping as part of the Navy Reserves. He says he’s looking forward to positively contributing when so many people are facing uncertainty in the storm.

“You’ve got to get out there and be a part of the answer, part of the solution,” he said. “Once I retired from the Navy Reserves, joining the Red Cross to continue helping was just part of a smooth transition. Life is full of adventure, and I appreciate this opportunity.”

Sarge Hughes gets ready to drive the ERV to Louisiana

Early Monday morning, volunteers were rolling the Red Cross ERVs out of the Chicago and Rockford offices. Charles “Sarge” Hughs says this is the best way for him to keep busy after retiring. After a safety inspection of an ERV, Sarge starting driving toward Louisiana with Chicago in the rearview mirror.

Jackie Speciale of Woodstock has been a volunteer since 2012 and has done many deployments, but each disaster is different and presents a different set of obstacles. Jackie says she is always happy to help.

Jackie Speciale getting ready to drive the ERV to Louisiana from Romeoville

COVID-19 has not changed the Red Cross mission. We are helping families in the same way we always have — and ensuring people have a safe place to stay during disasters is a critical part of that support.

How we support sheltering efforts may be diffe rent in each community, depending on local emergency plans and the scale of the disaster.

We plan to open group shelters for people evacuating in the face of tropical storms and have appropriate precautions in place to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID -19.

To help keep everybody safe, everyone in Red Cross emergency shelters is required to wear face coverings.

For those evacuating and looking for the latest open shelter locations near you, call 211, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or download the free Red Cross Emergency app.

Interested in joining the Red Cross as a volunteer? Learn more here: https://www.redcross.org/local/illinois/volunteer.html