Volunteers and Partners Sound the Alarm in Richton Park

The Sound the Alarm program is part of the Red Cross home fire campaign, which has helped saved 1,275 lives since launching in October 2014.

Spring for many of us signifies renewal by way of home improvements projects, gardening, spring cleaning, and maybe even a fresh haircut! May at the Red Cross is dedicated to the annual campaign, Sound the Alarm, and with it a renewed commitment to fire safety awareness, a community-based campaign to install free smoke alarms to our most vulnerable communities.

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, we were excited and honored to kickoff Sound the Alarm in Cook County alongside Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, 38th District State Representative of Illinois, Debbie Meyers-Martin, Cook County Commissioner, Donna Miller, County Board Commissioner, 6th District, and dozens of volunteers who dedicated their Saturday to Sound the Alarm in Richton Park. Smiles and dedication were palpable as the event was kicked off with a short address by Red Cross of Greater Chicago, Chief Executive Officer, Celena Roldán.

“Nationally, seven people are killed and 36 more are injured every single day due to home fires,” explained Roldán. “Our Home Fire Campaign has helped save over 1,200 lives nationally and in Illinois, we have saved 33 people because of this program. We couldn’t be prouder of our amazing partners, volunteers, and donors who make our work possible.”

In addition to smoke alarm installations, Red Cross volunteers worked on fire escape plans with Richton Park residents.

Richton Park and neighboring residents excitedly welcomed Red Cross partners and volunteers into their home who installed free smoke alarms and outlined fire escape plans. When asked why installing smoke alarms was important for her, Richton Park resident Carolyn Wright stated, “My granddaughter and great-grandchildren live with me, and it is very important for me to keep all of my little ones safe.”

In total, 136 homes, 171 people, were made safer in Richton Park and neighboring communities. Since launching the Sound the Alarm campaign in 2014, our volunteers have helped save lives by installing more than 2 million smoke alarms. We encourage Chicagoland community members to volunteer or register to have free smoke alarms installed during an upcoming event.

#EndHomeFires

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Red Cross and Partners Team Up to Sound the Alarm in Peoria

American Red Cross volunteers and community partners gathered in Peoria Thursday, May 5 to install free smoke alarms in dozens of homes and share home fire safety information with residents.

The event kicked off the 2022 Sound the Alarm campaign in the Illinois region. Volunteers will be installing smoke alarms in numerous communities in the region in coming weeks – 50,000 in total, throughout the U.S.

Volunteers gathered at the Red Cross chapter office in Peoria, where Peoria Fire Department officials instructed them on how to properly install the smoke alarms. Teams of two or three went out into the community from there, to educate homeowners on fire escape plans and complete the installations. Volunteers installed 74 smoke alarms in homes of Peoria residents.

“It is important that we partner with other community leaders to promote fire safety,” said Jesse Getz, CEO of Getz Fire Equipment. “It was very rewarding. Any time you can volunteer to help others in your community, it’s just a great experience.”

Click here to see more photos of the Peoria event.

Thank you to the following community partners for helping make this possible:

Ameren
ATS
Caterpillar
Commerce Bank
Getz Fire Equipment
Maxim Healthcare Services
Peoria Fire Department
Salvation Army

The Sound the Alarm program is part of the Red Cross home fire campaign, which has helped saved 1,275 lives since launching in October 2014.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Help Can’t Wait: Home Fire Response

Fire destroyed Debbie Barger’s Benton, Illinois home earlier this year. Jane Perr was there to help.

Take a look at this video to learn more about why Jane loves what she does as a disaster volunteer, and to hear why her efforts made a big impact on Debbie.

Volunteers like Jane make up 90 percent of our workforce. Please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a volunteer and to learn more about what we do to help people after a disaster. Thank you for supporting the American Red Cross!

Volunteer Spotlight: Anna Cebulak of Chicago

Anna Cebulak has been volunteering for the American Red Cross of Illinois since October of 2017. Since joining, she got involved in three different roles which include being a Logistics Volunteer, Mass Care and Sheltering volunteer , and Disaster Action Team Supervisor. Anna became a volunteer because she loves to help people. She explained that once she became an empty nester she found herself searching for purpose beyond her full-time job.

It was when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and she saw the TV coverage that she really started considering what she could do to help- and Anna saw that the Red Cross was helping and decided to join herself.

As someone with a full-time job, she volunteers when she can and uses her vacation time to deploy to big disasters outside of the Illinois region with hopes that she will be able to deploy more once she retires. Being a volunteer means you get to meet different people who are all working towards the same goal, helping others and Anna loves the fact that she is able to listen to stories and get to know others on a more personal level.  

“I love meeting other Red Cross volunteers, learning from them and creating friendships.”

 – Anna Cebulak

Throughout her time at the American Red cross, Anna has helped with many different events. In the past 4 years, she has assisted with the CBS Chicago Cares Disaster Relief Telethon, blood drives, Our Lady of Angels Smoke Alarm installs, and smoke alarm installations through Sound the Alarm events. Beyond local events, she has deployed to flooding in northern Illinois and south central Wisconsin as a casework volunteer.

She has also participated in relief work for Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Laura, but Anna’s work doesn’t stop there. She has also volunteered in shelters in Prospect Heights IL, Morris IL, Gibson IL, Cicero IL, and comes to the rescue as part of the Disaster Action Team to fires throughout the Chicagoland area.

When refugees from Afghanistan were coming to the Illinois Region, Anna helped secure and organize delivery of toys and stuffed animals for children to receive to help make the experience a little less frightening. When it comes to being a volunteer, Anna loves helping people at what could be the worst or often most difficult time of their lives. 

Anna is a volunteer that goes above and beyond and the Red Cross is honored to have her as part of the team. Anna says that anyone who’s interested in volunteering with the Red Cross please not wait and sign up today. The American Red Cross has something for everyone, helping people is very rewarding and the Red Cross allows you to do so.  Thank you for bringing your passion and skills to the Red Cross, Anna!

To browse our volunteer opportunities, click here: www.redcross.org/volunteer 

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley Honors Three Local Lifeguards

The American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley was proud to present a Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders to three local lifeguards who acted courageously in the summer of 2021 when a patron of the Joliet Park District needed help.

On June 2, 2021, three lifeguards working at the Inwood Athletic Club in Joliet called on their American Red Cross lifeguard training to help save the life of Marge Bell, a Shorewood woman in her 70’s after she collapsed during a group water aerobics class.

Julia Castillo was the active lifeguard on duty who noticed a woman in the water unresponsive and immediately activated the Emergency Action Plan, which triggered fellow lifeguard Cole Kics to respond as well. Together the two lifeguards got Marge out of the water using a backboard and started to assess her as she was not breathing and had no pulse. The Safety and Aquatics Superintendent, Lauren Ryan, also responded and together CPR was started as an automated external defibrillator, or AED, was set up. The AED advised a shock, and the lifeguards continued CPR as she began to show signs of life and regain consciousness. Local EMS arrived and took over care of Marge who says she finally started to fully regain consciousness in the ambulance.

Marge says she is usually very active and had no signs of health issues before the incident. “I was lucky to be where I was,” she said reflecting on being surrounded by lifeguards.

The following day, Marge required heart surgery and has been recovering well in the time since. She hopes to get back to water aerobics soon.

The Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders is the highest award given by the Red Cross to individuals or group of individuals who save or sustain a life using skills learned in a Red Cross Training Services course.

“We’re extremely proud to be presenting a Lifesaving Award for Professional Responders to three outstanding lifeguards and members of this community,” said Brian McDaniel, executive director of the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley. “Their actions exemplify our mission to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.”

See more photos here.


Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at redcross.org/takeaclass.

If you or someone you know has used skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course to help save or sustain the life of another individual, visit LifesavingAwards.org to nominate, recognize, or be inspired.

American Red Cross Celebrates 2022 Local Heroes

CHICAGO, IL (March 25, 2022) — The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago announces the 2022 class of heroes – individuals who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to build and maintain better communities, and who have made a lasting impact on others in the process.

This is the 20th year the Red Cross has honored a class of heroes at our Heroes Breakfast, typically attended by nearly 1,000 individuals. This year’s event is scheduled for Wednesday, May 11 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Hilton Chicago.

“For twenty years, the Red Cross has honored the heroes among us. In 2022, it is a great privilege to celebrate these outstanding individuals who selflessly give of themselves with no expectation of gain, yet who have made a tremendous impact in their communities and beyond,” said Celena Roldán, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Illinois. “It is inspiring, seeing the good they have done and continue to do. We look forward to honoring them in person at this year’s Heroes Breakfast.”

Click here for your in-person or free virtual ticket to the breakfast!

The 2022 Class of Heroes

Heroes in 12 community service categories are being honored this year. Honorees were chosen by an independent committee of leaders in the business and civic community. Get to know the 2022 heroes by reading more about them, below.

Michael A. McGee, M.D., M.P.H. of Crown Point, IN is the Blood Services Hero. As an emergency room physician and CEO of Chicago’s first Black-owned urgent care clinic, Dr. McGee sees the need for blood every day. Last fall, he partnered with the Red Cross and 100 Black Men of America, Inc. and coordinated a multiple city tour of sickle cell awareness blood drives beginning in Chicago and moving across the country. In the process, Dr. McGee and the 100 Black Men organization generated awareness across the country for the importance of blood donations and the need for African Americans to participate, specifically for fighting trauma and diseases including sickle cell. Dr. McGee is passionate about educating the community about the need for blood and continues to advocate for individuals, particularly young people, to give blood.

Ruthann Richardson, RN of Tinley Park, IL is the Disaster Relief Hero. Ruth has a servant’s heart and has volunteered for us since 2017, after a 40-year career as a nurse. Last year, as a nurse volunteer, she worked day and night and gave almost 2,000 hours of her time to the Red Cross. She has responded to numerous disasters, both here in Illinois and elsewhere in the U.S. Hurricane Florence in North Carolina was her first major deployment; more recently, she deployed to Louisiana after Hurricane Ida. When you speak with Ruth, you can tell she truly cares about others, and it shows in her volunteer efforts. “My life is a gift and what I bring to others can be a gift, too. If I can provide a positive experience to someone’s life, particularly if they’ve been through one of the worst experiences, then I have done something right,” she said.

Dorothy L. Gaters of Maywood, IL is the Education Hero.  A teacher at Marshall High School, after Title IX was created in 1972, Dorothy agreed to be the first girls’ basketball coach. 45 years later, she is the winningest high school basketball coach in Illinois history, but beyond winning games, she built an empowering, education-focused culture during her tenure as the Marshall High School girls’ coach. Dorothy became the first-ever girls’ basketball coach at the school and led her team to more than 1,100 victories and 10 state championships. Behind the success on the court was a successful mentality off the court. Dorothy made sure education came first for her players and is proud to say most of her students went on to go to college. She is a firm believer in creating structure and goals, to help steer young people in the right direction and prepare them for life. Dorothy enjoys interacting with her former players and continues to encourage and mentor them and provide a positive example with the way she lives her life.

Stephanie Esterland BSN, RN, OCN of Sandwich, IL is the Healthcare Hero. Stephanie is an oncology nurse at Rush Cancer Center who was driving her son to work on a dark July 2021 morning. On the side of the road, she came upon what she thought might be a yard fire, but instead realized it was a blazing car fire that had just occurred as the driver slammed into a tree near IL 47 in the Sugar Grove area. Stephanie saw someone trying to get out of the vehicle, and then falling to the ground near the flaming car. She jumped out of her car to help. While assessing the individual’s injured condition, Stephanie heard what sounded like fireworks. Concerned the vehicle may be on the verge of exploding, Stephanie cautiously got the individual moved away from the fire to a safer location and continued rendering assistance until emergency response arrived. Stephanie then continued to drop off her son and head to work at the Rush Cancer Center. She has received a DAISY nursing award from the Rush community for this act of bravery and the individual in the crash credits her with helping save his life.

Fire Chief Tracey Steffes of Morris, IL is the Firefighter Hero. In June 2021, Chief Steffes faced his biggest challenge as the leader of the Morris Fire Department, when nearly 200,000 lithium batteries exploded, and a massive fire with toxic fumes erupted, posing a serious threat to the health of his community. Chief Steffes led the effort to evacuate thousands of people from the area; nearly one-third of the city’s residents. Managing this large battery fire presented complexities as traditional fire extinguishment methods would exacerbate rather than extinguish the large, growing fire. Chief Steffes consulted with agencies around the world to coordinate the unique response to the fire and to continue operations in the days and weeks to come. At one point, more than 40 firefighting companies were on hand helping to battle the blaze. Chief Steffes now receives calls from other agencies when they face similar situations and provides insights to help protect their citizens. Chief Steffes is credited with staying calm during a situation that could have escalated further, without proper leadership and swift action.

Lynn Cole of Chicago is the Global Citizenship Hero. During a 1998 trip to Angola with her husband, Andrew, the Coles witnessed the devastating effect of 27 years of civil war in the country and were moved to help. They learned that the after-effects of the civil war in Angola had prevented many children from access to basic education. Believing every child has a right to education, in 2003, the Coles built their first school in Angola, and committed to building five more. Together, the Coles, founded RISE International an organization dedicated to building primary schools in rural Angola to educate children, empower communities, and contribute to the rebuilding of the country. In 2004, Andrew died unexpectedly, and Lynn was left to carry out and expand their mission. Today, Lynn leads RISE International and the organization has built 192 schools and helped more than 138,000 children in Angola receive an education. In Angola, the organization works in partnership with local leaders and provides children with a safe place to learn. In the process of building schools, jobs are created, including construction workers, teachers, principals and more. Lynn is now leading a project along with a team in Angola to build a 10-classroom school in an area where 1,000 children have no access to education.

Evelyn Figueroa, M.D. and Alex Wu, M.D. of Chicago are the Community Impact Heroes. Dr. Figueroa and Dr. Wu are a husband-and-wife team of family physicians with a passion for reaching patients where they are. In 2018, they founded Pilsen Food Pantry next to a health clinic to destigmatize food insecurity and distribute healthy, high-quality and culturally appropriate foods. It is their mission to provide critical social services to address food insecurity, homelessness and poverty while serving patients. Pilsen Food Pantry served 6,000 visitors in its first year and now services more than 22,000 clients and provides two million pounds of food annually. Dr. Figueroa and Dr. Wu saw a need beyond food and are expanding their vision into the Pilsen Health Initiative. Their organization now distributes clothes, medical equipment, hygiene items, books and more to underrepresented individuals and families. Spanish and Cantonese interpreters are available as part of the services provided, and the organization hosts large community events on holidays. Dr. Figueroa and Dr. Wu have plans to further expand and to include mental health and housing assistance.

Officer Jennifer Maddox of Chicago is the Law Enforcement Hero. Officer Maddox is a 26-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Working on the south side as a police officer, she developed a strong bond with the community and noticed that so many children were fearful to go outside and did not have a safe space where they could be kids. In 2011, Officer Maddox started Future Ties, to provide a welcoming place for children to gather and get off the streets. Future Ties is an eleven-month afterschool and summer camp program that has provided support for more than 1,000 of Chicago’s children. During the pandemic, when parents’ resources were extremely challenged, the Future Ties organization offered e-learning opportunities, meals and other services to young people. Officer Maddox’s organization soon will be moving into a former pharmacy building, providing more space to further support the community’s needs. Officer Maddox continues to work her police beat with a passion for making a difference and serving the people in the community.

Lewis Medina of Aurora, IL is the Lifesaving Rescue Hero. At about 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 9, 2021, Lewis was driving his daughter and grandson home just a short distance from his house. As he crossed railroad tracks, he noticed a vehicle stuck on the tracks, with its wheels spinning. Lewis safely parked his vehicle and then called 911. He then headed for the car on the tracks, to see if he could help the person inside. When he got there, he discovered a driver who was in distress from a medical emergency. Lewis could hear the horn and see the lights of the train coming and knew he had to act fast. Lewis pulled the driver from the vehicle, then got him safely down the ravine and out of the way of the railroad tracks. Seconds later, the train barreled into the vehicle, crushing it. Lewis saved the man’s life by removing him from the vehicle and getting him out of the way of danger, just in time.

Captain Scott Friedland of Chicago is the Military Hero. Captain Friedland is a member of the Indiana Army National Guard and has been in the military for 11 years. He is also the owner of Timeless Toys in Chicago. His military background taught him that life was about more than himself and his surroundings, and so he works to give back to the community in big ways, through his heart for helping others via toy drives and other programs in both the Chicagoland area and beyond. Last year, Captain Friedland organized a massive toy drive for Afghan evacuee children which provided $30,000 worth of toys in just the first couple of weeks. Understanding the impact receiving a new toy has on a child, he substituted new toys when used toys were brought into his store for the children, donating the used toys to a local organization. Captain Friedland continued the generosity, sending numerous toys to children impacted by the Kentucky tornadoes last December. Captain Friedland continues his service to our country in the National Guard and is scheduled to deploy overseas, this year.

Quilen Blackwell of Chicago is the Social Justice Hero. Quilen has a passion for empowering young people in the community to learn the skills they need to succeed in life. He is founder of Southside Blooms, an organization that creates sustainable, off-grid, urban flower farms, training local youth to cultivate them and deliver the flowers to Chicagoland. In the process, Quilen is providing job and life skills to young people in high-risk areas on the south and west sides of Chicago and showing them how to use their talents to have a positive impact on their communities. Quilen has also partnered with the Cook County juvenile probation services program and adult services to provide opportunities to high school-age individuals and young adults. He even has developed a sustainable urban farm on Cook County Jail property, providing inmates with the experience of working the farm. He believes his urban flower farm model is “…a viable solution that is scalable and replicable; it is solving problems with gangs, sustainability and blight and it represents a realistic end game to the ghetto as we know it.”

Benjamin Kagan of Chicago is the Youth Hero. Benjamin was in 8th grade when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Like many other students, he found it difficult to adapt to life without being around his classmates and friends. More than that, he felt a need to help other people who were struggling as the pandemic continued, specifically his grandparents. Due to technological challenges, they were unable to sign up for a vaccine, missing out on the online openings when they came up. Benjamin took action. He got his grandparents a vaccine appointment online. He then joined the Chicago Vaccine Hunters Facebook group, and used his technology skills to get vaccine appointments for senior citizens who were in the same position his grandparents had been in. Ultimately, Benjamin started his own group, Chicago Vaccine Angels, and worked around the clock to secure appointments for senior citizens. Leading a team of 50 adult volunteers, his organization helped thousands of senior citizens, even arranging for people on his team to join medical teams for in-home vaccination visits to home-bound citizens. “I got the satisfaction that I helped people who would have had to wait months, living in fear, get back to their lives,” he said.

2022 Heritage Award

The Heritage Award acknowledges the demonstration of long-term commitment to improvement of the lives of others through actions, deeds, and philanthropic works in the corporate and civic communities.

We are honored to present the 2022 Heritage Award to Helene D. Gayle, M.D., M.P.H. Dr. Gayle is president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, a prominent, longstanding community foundation. The Chicago Community Trust is working to close the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicagoland area. Under Dr. Gayle’s leadership, The Chicago Community Trust helped raise more than $35 million for the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. These efforts provided resources to help communities impacted the most by the pandemic.

Dr. Gayle has been honored numerous times, including being named one of Non Profit Times’ “Power and Influence Top 50” and one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women”. She has advocated on behalf of alleviating poverty, gender equality, social justice and public health issues.

“Dr. Gayle is a visionary public servant who through her leadership of The Chicago Community Trust is compassionately making an impact by recognizing and assisting people who experience inequities in our community daily. Her significant work both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic is aimed at investing in population health and prevention,” said Roldán. “It is our privilege at the Red Cross to highlight her significant work and honor Dr. Gayle and The Chicago Community Trust with the 2022 Red Cross Heritage Award for her community dedication and service.”

Click here for your in-person or free virtual ticket to the breakfast!

Thank you to the generous sponsors of the 2022 Illinois Red Cross Heroes event, including Presenting Sponsors: Better, the Edwardson Family Foundation and Susan and Nick Noyes; Champion Sponsors: JLL, KPMG LLP and Packaging Corporation of America; and our media sponsors Better & Make It Better Media Group and CBS 2 Chicago and numerous other organizations who have made this program possible.

About the American Red Cross of Illinois
The American Red Cross of Illinois serves 12.4 million people in 88 counties in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri including Adams, Bond, Boone, Brown, Bureau, Carroll, Cass, Champaign, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cook, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, DeKalb, De Witt, Douglas, DuPage, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Franklin, Fulton, Green, Grundy, Hamilton, Hancock, Henderson, Henry, Iroquois, Jasper, Jefferson, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Knox, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, Livingston, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Marion, Marshall, Mason, McDonough, McHenry, McLean, Menard, Mercer, Montgomery, Morgan, Moultrie, Ogle, Peoria, Perry, Piatt, Pike, Putnam, Richland, Rock Island, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott, Shelby, Stark, Stephenson, Tazewell, Vermillion, Warren, Washington, Whiteside, Will, Williamson Winnebago, Woodford. Iowa: Lee, Muscatine, Scott and Van Buren. Missouri: Clark, Lewis, Marion and Ralls. 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 Redcross.org/Illinois or visit us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @RedCrossIL.

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Red Cross Month: Getting Involved and Making a Difference

Shelly Oliver started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018, shortly before Hurricane Michael made landfall in the U.S. She has traveled to Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and elsewhere to provide disaster relief after hurricanes, wildfires and other disaster scenes.

Shelly lives in Macon County, near Decatur and responds locally to home fires and other incidents, providing immediate assistance to people who have been impacted by disasters. She also helps install smoke alarms as part of our Sound the Alarm program.

“I like the disaster response work, being on scene with the clients. You take these people with you. I call to check up on them and they will call me sometimes,” she said.

Despite the challenges presented during the COVID pandemic, Shelly still has been able to assist in a virtual setting, and she is glad to have had to have been able to serve during this time.

“I love the virtual intake process because I am still able to meet with the clients, even though it has not been in person during the pandemic,” she said. “When we do intake over the phone, we’re able to connect a little deeper because we have more opportunities to talk after the initial response.”

Shelly has been a great asset to the Illinois region and beyond. Her positive attitude and strong work ethic have helped people in numerous situations during her time as a volunteer. For Shelly, it is something she enjoys doing.

“I love everything about Red Cross. I wish I had known what the Red Cross did a long time ago, I would have gotten involved long before I did. Four years ago, I had no idea all they did; it just amazes me.”

If you would like to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer, please click here.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteer Spotlight: Pat D’Alessandro

Pat D’Alessandro of Le Claire, IA is the Regional Recovery Lead for the American Red Cross of the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, and has been a volunteer for almost 12 years. She has been deployed in many Operations Management roles as well as taken part in the Volunteer Leadership team for the Quad Cities. As a volunteer, she has been deployed to Superstorm Sandy, Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Irma just to name a few.  She has worked in many regional Disaster Reliefs such as the 4-month flood in the Quad Cities. Not only is she heavily involved with disasters, she also helps teach disaster classes, works on the Sound the Alarm initiative, and is part of the Quad Cities Service to the Armed Forces knitting group. Pat is always lending a helping hand wherever it is needed, and she puts the livelihoods of others before her own needs.

Pat says that she thoroughly enjoys volunteering because of the people she’s met and the sense of accomplishment she feels knowing that she is helping people during some of the worst times of their lives. Pat is an incredible individual and has no idea how much it means to those experiencing a crisis that she cares about them and wants to be of service.

“I tell people that this is the best job I’ve ever had. Where else can you get paid in hugs?”  -Pat D’Alessandro  

Part of her volunteer work includes helping with Sound the Alarm, the American Red Cross initiative to help install free smoke alarms throughout homes in the community. In the event that there is a fire, smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries. They aid in alerting families and giving them time to get out of their homes safely. Pat says initiatives like Sound the Alarm are part of the mission of the Red Cross to help in prevention of disasters, as well as respond to them and help people recover from them.

The Red Cross mission spans across five lines of service: Biomedical Services, Disaster Relief, Training Services, International Services and Services to the Armed Forces. Pat has found a place for her skills as a volunteer in multiple lines of service and anyone can find a place at the Red Cross including virtual work, or in-person responses. Pat says that if disaster response doesn’t sound like your “thing”, we always need help with blood drives, fundraising, working with Service to the Armed Forces, and helping around chapter offices.

Pat had been looking to give back as a volunteer at an organization that provided opportunities to help those in need both at home and in other parts of the country. She identified a connection with the Red Cross because of what they had done for her community and she felt a strong need to be part of it. Ever since then, Pat has volunteered to a great capacity and the American Red Cross cannot thank her enough. Individuals that do what Pat does have such a big heart for others and never fail to bring a smile to those who need it most.

To find more volunteer opportunities at the American Red Cross click here: www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

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