Prepare with Pedro spreads safety message to P.H. Miller School kindergarteners

This February, more than 150 kindergartners at P.H. Miller School in Plano, IL took part in “Prepare with Pedro,” an American Red Cross program established to teach children about safety in a fun and engaging way.

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With disasters on the rise, more people and households are being affected every day, and kids are among the most vulnerable during and after a disaster, which is where Prepare with Pedro comes in. Developed by the Red Cross, Prepare with Pedro is a whole curriculum series dedicated to helping children understand what to do in emergency situations.


Laurel Mateyka, P.H. Miller School’s principal, and Amy Griffing, a S.T.E.M. teacher at the school, welcomed the American Red Cross into their classrooms to introduce children to the Prepare with Pedro fire safety storybook. The storybook is a fun new way for young children to learn about fire safety as Pedro learns about how to stay safe during home fires from his friend, Mia. The storybook ensures that children understand basic fire safety tips, such as the sound a smoke alarm makes, when to test smoke alarms, how to get out safely during a fire, and how to develop a fire escape plan. Children also learn how to cope with the stress that emergencies can cause and are encouraged to continue to learning with their families afterwards as each student receives their very own copy of the storybook!


Prepare with Pedro answered many students’ questions. The kindergarten students spent several weeks talking about how to prepare for different types of weather. Throughout the unit, students brought up questions about fire. They wanted to know more about fire and how to prepare.


“When my principal, Laurel Mateyka, told me about the Red Cross Program, Prepare with Pedro, it seemed like a perfect way to address students’ lingering questions,” Griffing said. “Pedro answered many questions about what to do in an emergency without scaring the students.”

After hearing the Preparing with Pedro story, students understood what to do in a fire emergency. The presentation cleared up several misconceptions about what to do in a fire drill.

Before the story, several students thought the beeping sound the alarm made was a signal for a lock down drill. Some students thought they should hide in the basement.

Pedro taught students not to hide when a fire alarm goes off, but to quickly “get low and go.” After the story with Pedro, students understood smoke detectors also tell you to get out of a house and not just school buildings.

“Now that students have heard and understood this message, I can feel more comfortable knowing that my students can take care of themselves in a fire emergency,” Griffing said.

The American Red Cross’ visit marks the first time the program has been offered in Kendall County making it a great opportunity for students at P.H. Miller School. Virginia Hopley of Safe Families AmeriCorps and Kelley Kudulis, a Red Cross volunteer, presented Pedro to the excited classrooms of children.


Mateyka has been working on a community early intervention program that is wholistic, incorporating literacy and public health, making Prepare with Pedro a great fit.


“We pushed for Pedro to be at the school because all students go home with a copy of the storybook and are encouraged to read it with their grown-ups, which helps foster literacy development,” Jeremiah La Plante, American Red Cross disaster program specialist, said.


In addition to the message about fire safety, the American Red Cross encouraged reading skills to the kindergarten students.

Some of the students that took part in the program could not write their name, and many could not read at all. The program presenters encouraged students to try their best when reading.

“During the presentation, Pedro taught students a smoke alarm says ‘beep, beep, beep’ At the end of the presentation, Kelly, Jeremiah and Virginia challenged students to find these words in their new storybook,” Griffing said. “Students were so proud and excited to read the words ‘beep, beep, beep’ on their own.”

The students described the Pedro mascot as friendly and cute, and it will not be the last time he will be visiting P.H. Miller School students.

“We’ve been invited back next school year to teach fire safety and possibly the upcoming tornado safety storybook,” La Plante said.

According to Griffing, students shared their excitement and loved receiving their own Pedro book to take home to share their safety knowledge to friends and family.

“One student said, ‘I am going to have to read this book to my friend! She doesn’t have a smoke alarm at home,’” Griffing said. “It was great for me to see this student excited to read about fire safety and concerned about her friend.”

Interested in learning more about “Prepare with Pedro” or having a presentation at your school? Contact us by emailing Brian at


Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Communications Volunteer Jasminne Hernandez.


Red Cross Volunteer Morrie Bowie: Volunteering from the Heart

The Red Cross is built on the idea that offering the gift of compassion to those that are in need is a privilege.  By lending a helping hand, that privilege becomes hope for people that are frightened and suffering great loss.  For many, seeing volunteers from the Red Cross arrive after a fire has burned down their home or a hurricane has taken everything they have is a welcome beacon of relief.  One of those volunteers is Chicago’s own Morrie Bowie.  Hailing from the Wicker Park neighborhood, Mr. Bowie attended the University of Illinois, receiving a degree in Fine and Applied Arts, before going on to join the fire department.  There, Morrie worked as a firefighter for 28 years, putting out fires and acting as a scuba diver, building inspector, photographer, and even becoming a lieutenant.  He was also a helicopter pilot for the Chicago Fire Department Air Rescue Unit and a substitute teacher when he wasn’t working at the fire department.

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Morrie on his first deployment to Puerto Rico in 2017

Mr. Bowie is now retired, but his hero heart beats stronger than ever.  In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving devastation in its wake.  The destruction caused by the hurricane ripped apart homes, tore down infrastructure and left much of the island in ruins.  With considerable areas of land lying in wreckage, thousands were left displaced and fearful of what the future held.  During that dark time is when Morrie sprung into action, saying that the “public service guy in [him] wanted to do something.”  He looked at the Red Cross as a means to help.  He signed up to volunteer, went through the training, and deployed to Puerto Rico for one month.  After returning home, he saw that there was still a great need for assistance, so he deployed again, this time staying for four months.

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Morrie pictured here with David Eigenberg from NBC’s Chicago Fire and a member of the Chicago Fire Department duing a “Sound the Alarm” smoke alarm installation

While in Puerto Rico, Morrie lived in both Juncos and San Juan, at times in a leaky gymnasium,  with the only power coming from a generator.  He spent his days packing up trucks with food, water, and supplies that were then taken into communities and up into the mountains.  He also supervised assignments for three different warehouses, delegating what responsibilities should be placed with which volunteers.  Drawing upon his own Puerto Rican heritage and ability to speak Spanish, Morrie was able to understand the locals and communicate with them at a time when communication was absolutely crucial.  On one specific occasion, Morrie recalls a man who came to him for water.  He noticed that the man had a 10-gallon container in his car that he had been trying to fill, likely having to drive for miles, from location to location.  He was heartbroken at the effort that this man was having to put into getting something as basic as water.

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Disaster responders like Morrie offer guidance and help to people going through disasters like home fires

Mr. Bowie continues to serve others through his work at the Red Cross.  He installs smoke alarms, is currently a Disaster Action Team Lead, and volunteers Sundays through Thursdays, responding to 10-15 calls per month.

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When Morrie was still fighting fires, he said that he would wonder what happened to the people once the fire was put out.  He admires the Red Cross because, as he put it, they are “there when people have lost everything [and are] standing outside in their bare feet.”  He pointed out that they offer “blankets, a friendly face, an offer to warm up in the car, or [to] call someone for them.”


Morrie has been interviewed by many news outlets during his deployments, including NBC 5 while he was in Florida for Hurricane Michael

He summed it up by saying, “Thank God for the Red Cross for giving me a platform,” and going on to say “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.  I’ve always felt that everybody ‘owes.’  If you’re in tune to life’s simplest blessings, like a sunset, the laughter of children, flowers, friends, then gratitude is due.  The Red Cross has been my way of paying back.  And forward!  When people, clients and colleagues, thank me for volunteering, I say thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve others.  It’s such a good feeling.  The Red Cross is the only organization that does all the things we do.  Add to that it’s funded by donations and staffed primarily by volunteers and it’s clear that volunteering with the Red Cross is one of the most selfless things I can do.  It’s sometimes hard and requires a sacrifice of time, it may be cold and rainy and the middle of the night, but I never felt that it was time wasted and always warmed by a divine reward.  Red Cross has made my retirement years spiritually fruitful.  ‘Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to Mr. Morrie Bowie for all that he’s done and continues to do!

If you or anyone you know is interested in volunteering, visit     for more information.


Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Communications Volunteer Vicky Arias.

1,232 Units of Blood Collected at 5th Annual ABC 7 Great Chicago Blood Drive

Chicagoland community members came together and donated over 1,232 units of blood at this year’s fifth annual blood drive hosted by the American Red Cross and ABC 7 Chicago, surpassing the goal of 1,000 units!


Medical institutions all over the country brace themselves for a blood shortage around the holiday season. Even more so this year because of the emergency need for blood and platelets.

In order to aid in this shortage, many community members donated though the American Red Cross at Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Drake Hotel in Oak Brook, and at this year’s new location CDW At Play in Vernon Hills.


Donors and Red Cross phlebotomists smile at this year’s CDW donation location in Vernon Hills.


The blood drive collected 432 more units than last year’s drive, which amounts to more than a thousand people who can be helped as one pint of blood can save up to approximately three people.

All of the attending donors had an important reason as to why they were donating.


Nicole Stevenson shares with ABC 7’s Cheryl Scott her story of being diagnosed with leukemia and needing many blood transfusions during treatment


William Monroe, blood donor, donates blood regularly even if that means that he has to do it during his workday lunch break.

“It’s something that I think everyone should do if they can do it,” Monroe said. “My brother had leukemia and he unfortunately needed a lot of blood. With all the blood he went through, I feel like I’m still in debt.”

All donors are sought after, but there are unique individuals whose blood can help almost anyone, and that is O positive donors.

Maddix Moore III, blood donor, believes it is just as important to know your blood type as it is to donate.

“You know your shoe size, right? Well, those keep you warm. Knowing your blood type can save your life,” Moore III said.

A donor who has blood type O positive are referred to universal donors meaning that their blood can be used by many people.

Individuals who have blood type O are always urged to donate in order to keep up the blood supply in their community since it is needed by so many patients.


Carla Walters gets ready to donate blood.


Carla Walters, blood donor, is one of those unique donors who donates every year.

“I came today because I wanted to help people. O positive is the universal donor, so a lot of people can use my blood,” Walters said.

Donated blood is not only used to treat medical conditions, but also used in blood transfusion and even surgery.

Jessica Klugman, medical student, knows what it is like to have a family member get routine blood transfusions due to lymphoma.

“That was really good treatment that helped her most with health and quality of life,” Klugman, who is a regular Red Cross blood donor, said.

According to Klugman, she donates blood approximately every eight weeks because she understands how important blood donation is.


Jessica Klugman holds her arm up after finishing donating one pint of blood


“It’s just a small way for me to give back,” Klugman said.

Each person who donated during the blood drive left with a goody bag, some food and a smile. The American Red Cross has blood drives almost daily in the Chicago and northern Illinois. You can visit to find a drive based on your zip code. Thank you for helping to save lives.

Written by American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Communications volunteer Jasminne Hernandez.


Governor Pritzker attends Red Cross and Rockford Fire Department Smoke Alarm Installation Event

Dozens of volunteers from around the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois chapter area gathered on Saturday, January 12 to help make the Rockford area safer as part of the Sound the Alarm. Save a Life. campaign.


Governor-elect JB Pritzker supported the event as part of his “Day of Service,” featuring service opportunities in cities across Illinois ahead of his inauguration on January 14.


Volunteers gathered at the chapter office for the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois.

Sound the Alarm is part of the larger Home Fire Campaign, an initiative to help make homes across the country more prepared for the event of a fire by having volunteers install free smoke alarms and provide fire safety education. Having a working smoke alarm in your home cuts your risk of dying in a home fire by nearly 50%.

The temperature hovered around 30 degrees as volunteer teams of 3 from the Red Cross, the Rockford Fire Department and Hinshaw Law trekked into Rockford’s Signal Hill neighborhood to begin installations.


Governor Pritzker and the first lady joined an install team and met with a local family to go over fire safety preparednesss and ensure the home had working smoke alarms before greeting volunteers at the Red Cross chapter office.


First Lady MK Pritzker, Governor Pritzker and Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois CEO Celena Roldan speak with Rockford homeowner Mapleine Mayweather about home fire safety


Overall, 41 homes were made safer with the installation of 134 new smoke alarms!

The Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters a year, the majority of which are home fires. Working smoke alarms in a home cut the risk of death by half, and having an escape plan further improves the odds of survival. The Red Cross wants to end these tragedies and save lives, the reason why the organization launched the Home Fire Campaign in 2014.


Red Cross volunteer Scott Otto drills a new smoke alarm into the wall of a Rockford home.

To learn more about the Home Fire Campaign, visit Please help us Sound the Alarm by volunteering to install smoke alarms, making a financial contribution, or taking steps to protect your own family from home fires.

This Spring, the Red Cross will continue to Sound the Alarm with upcoming installation events in neighborhoods and cities across the country and right here in the Chicago & Northern Illinois 21-county region including Austin, Freeport, Bolingbrook, Rockford, North Lawndale, Joliet and more!

Do you or someone you know need a working smoke alarm? Sign up to get one and have volunteers install it for free by filling out the online form at


About the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois:

The American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois serves 700,000 people in 10 counties including Boone, Bureau, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross

Emergency need: Donors urged to give blood and platelets now

The American Red has an emergency need for blood and platelet donors to give now to help ensure lifesaving medical treatments and emergency care are not delayed or canceled this winter. The Red Cross collected more than 27,000 fewer blood and platelet donations the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s than needed to sustain a sufficient blood supply, as busy holiday schedules kept donors away.

Right now, the Red Cross has less than a three-day supply of most blood types, and blood products are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in.

You can help!

  1. Make an appointment to give blood or platelets by downloading the free Blood Donor App, visiting orgor calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
  2. Let your friends and family know there is an emergency need for blood and platelet donors and ask them to #GiveNow.
  3. Bring someone to donate with you.

Your support can help ensure blood products are there for trauma victims, premature babies, patients going through cancer treatment and others who depend on transfusions for survival.

Four-year-old Branson was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer, in May 2018. His treatment plan has included many rounds of grueling chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and surgery to remove the tumor near his kidney and spinal cord.

Branson has received 12 blood and 11 platelet transfusions so far. According to his mom, Erica, “They have been so important to keep him as healthy, active and battle-ready as possible. This is the hardest thing our family has ever faced. However, there is hope in the generosity of strangers who are helping to heal my brave boy. Blood and platelet donations truly are the gift of life!”


Every day, volunteer blood and platelet donors across the country are needed to help save lives. Don’t wait to help. Give now.

American Red Cross Responds to 18 Fires in the Past Week

January 7, 2019 Disaster responders with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois responded to 18 fires from Monday, December 31 to today across the 21-county region including fires in Riverdale, Spring Grove, Freeport, Dixon, Rockford, Johnsburg and 8 of those fires happening in Chicago.

The fires in the past week affected 72 people including 53 adults and 19 children.


A Red Cross volunteer on the scene of a fire affecting 2 people in Johnsburg.

The Red Cross provided resources to help address the immediate basic needs of those affected such as temporary housing, food, clothing, comfort kits with toiletry items, information about recovery services, and health and mental health services. Additional information about these incidents, if available, may be obtained from the local first responding agency/fire department.

Responding volunteers are members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, a group of specially trained volunteers who respond to the scene of a disaster when called upon any time of the day or night.

HOW PEOPLE CAN HELP: The Red Cross depends on financial donations to fund our relief services. Help people affected by disasters big and small like Hurricane Michael and the California wildfires, or local home fires affecting Illinois residents by visiting, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.

DONATE BLOOD: The Red Cross also has a critical need for blood and platelet donations to help meet patient needs. The Red Cross asks eligible individuals to make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

The Red Cross responds to 3 to 4 home fires every day in Chicago and northern Illinois. The Red Cross recommends two easy steps to help protect your home and loved ones from a fire: get a smoke alarm and create a fire escape plan. For more Red Cross fire safety and preparedness information visit

About the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois:

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois serves 9.5 million people in 21 counties including Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross.





Interning at the Chicago Red Cross

Working at the Chicago chapter of American Red Cross has been a truly valuable experience. As I reflect on my time with the Red Cross, I look back at the person who walked through the front door for an interview, and I now realize that I have a completely different perspective. I am no longer nervous and skeptical to enter the “real world”. After four months of hands-on experience, I now find myself equipped with the essential skills I will need to enter the working world.

As a Marketing and Communications Intern, my duties included but were not limited to: writing press releases and media alerts, scheduling and managing multiple social media platforms, preparing written and visual content for local publications, monitoring traditional media activity and creating web content for the Red Cross Stories blog. These duties gave me the opportunity to develop my professional skills, learn more about marketing and communications, enhance my writing skills, and build my resume and career network.


But, the very best part about working for the Red Cross is that the work is very interactive and engaging with the community. It was incredible to be a part of an organization that helps people every single day. It made all of the work so much more meaningful knowing that I too, was helping save a life.

Last but not least, a very big thank you to Holly and Joy who were always welcoming, supportive, and accommodating. Thank you, Red Cross!

Written by Adisa Suljic, Marketing & Communications intern for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois