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

Red Cross Helps Illinois Town with No Water

The town of Castleton, Illinois is a small unincorporated community in Stark County about 40 minutes north of Peoria consisting of just 4 blocks and is home to just over 30 people.

The small community of Castleton marked in relation to Peoria, Moline and Chicago.

Several wells provide water to this area, but recently problems with the wells left the residents without water to drink, cook with or bathe. Local emergency management estimated it would take 10 days for the problem to be fixed.

On Friday, August 13, 2021 the Stark County Emergency Management contacted the Illinois Red Cross looking for help with this issue.

Within hours, Red Cross volunteers were on their way to Castleton with over 1,000 bottles of water- enough to comfortably last the community until the wells can be fixed.

We are proud of our volunteers who never fail to step up when the need is there to help others.

Consider joining the world’s largest humanitarian network as a volunteer! Browse volunteer positions here.

Machesney Park Man Earns Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for Lifesaving Act

Emergencies can happen at any time: in the grocery store parking lot, at a family wedding, on a hot day at the community pool or even at the office and inside your very own home. But regardless of when and where they occur, emergency situations usually have one thing in common: a crowd of people standing around, staring at a victim—wondering who should act and trying to remember what to do. That is, until a hero emerges from the crowd.

On February 2, 2020, during church service at Riverside Community Church in Machesney Park, IL, a gentleman in the congregation appeared to be slumped over and unresponsive. Those attending church, and those sitting near him, called out for help. Pastor Cory Whitford calmly responded. He conducted an assessment and determined that the gentleman was no longer breathing.

Pastor Whitford placed the gentleman on the floor of the church pew and began administering chest compressions. After several cycles, the gentleman began to respond. Pastor Whitford continued to keep the gentleman calm and comfortable until EMS arrived. Pastor Whitford’s quick and calm action helped to save this man’s life!

“It was an honor to be able to do this and to be able to receive this award,” says Pastor Whitford. “I would do it again in a heartbeat because I would want someone to do the same for me or one of my loved ones.”

On behalf of the American Red Cross, Cory was presented with the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action, awarded to individuals who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life. Cory exemplifies the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Volunteer reflects on Red Cross memories after achieving huge milestone

Tess Sheil says being prepared is a skill she holds valuable, which has allowed her to help others in life from disaster response to helping people during medical emergencies.

She learned that at an early age, while in high school she took CPR classes through the Red Cross and  was able to help clear a woman’s airway on scene of a car accident in Moline, Illinois. That incident would blaze a long trail for her at the Red Cross.

Tess continued volunteering while in nursing school during the 70’s, and says she was inspired by one of her mentors and eventually went on to receive her Red Cross nursing pin.

 “My nursing instructor was a Red Cross nurse and I guess I just wanted to be like her, and I really did because she was just such a goodhearted person that I wanted to follow her footsteps,” she says.

Tess is a volunteer with the Red Cross Quad Cities and West Central Illinois and the Greater New York Chapter. She has completed more than 5,000 volunteer hours with the Red Cross!

She describes it as a pleasure to help educate and help those in need in both areas, while building memories that will last a lifetime.

While she has deployed multiple times over the last few decades, Tess shared some of her most memorable moments including helping after the September 11th attacks in New York City in 2001.

 “I went for the firefighters’ families,” she explained. “I went to the armory for the families there. That was part of my community that was impacted.”

During that time, she did anything she could to help survivors and their families including helping pass out water, made ribbons and simply had conversations with them.

“I wanted to help people feel that they had some sense of direction, because people didn’t know what was happening,” Tess says.

Her experience in New York has led her to focus more on mental health support at the Red Cross. She is currently the lead for the Red Cross National Staff Support Hotline, where staff or volunteers can call and receive any kind of help or advice they may need.

Aside from her role in the support hotline, she is also the Leadership Development Lead for the Illinois Region, and the Deployment Lead for the Greater Chapter of New York.

One of her most recent deployments was the Marshalltown, Iowa tornado is 2018. She remembers the huge sense of community and the many miracles that she was able to witness after the tornado.

Tess adds during her deployments, someone special always travels with her and that is Yokum. A stuffed animal monkey, who is a Red Cross volunteer with his own name tag and gear!

Over the years, Yokum has listened to children and even adults, who may not feel comfortable speaking directly to another person after a disaster.

With her background in mental health, Tess says Yokum has served as an outlet for dozens and provided comfort for people’s darkest moments.

Now, Tess volunteers virtually helping fellow volunteers and providing training through different Red Cross programs in both states. She makes sure people realize that they are making a difference in their communities.

“It’s a place I know where I can make the world a better place. The goal for my entire career was to leave the world better than I came into it and I can do that at the Red Cross.”

To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer visit redcross.org/volunteer.

*All photos taken before the pandemic

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Ready Rating Program Helping Businesses Prepare for Disasters

Disasters do not stop and they can happen any day, from fires to strong wind storms and flooding.

Families prepare for the worst at home whether it is making a fire escape plan or gathering important documents for insurance purposes after a disaster. It is equally as important for businesses to have a plan in place for disasters.

The American Red Cross Ready Rating program’s goal is to help ensure businesses are prepared.

It is a free web-based membership program designed to increase the level of preparedness among employees and encourage businesses to help their local communities create a plan for emergencies.

As part of the program, business and organizations can take an assessment test to find out their level of preparedness assessment and have access to tools, tips and best practices to make any needed improvements.

Regional Ready Rating Program Lead Pete Vogel, says many organizations are unprepared for potential disaster.

“40 percent of small businesses don’t recover from a disaster and yet two-thirds of them have no disaster preparedness plans,” says Vogel. “That’s true of small businesses and frankly non-profits as well.”

Vogel says the program has received positive feedback from local organizations.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from members of Ready Rating have been extremely high, something like 90 percent say it’s been a very positive experience and 70 percent said they made actionable steps as a result.”

Vogel remains optimistic about the program’s future and hopes to continue and expand the Ready Rating program across the state.

“We’ve partnered with the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, to help market the idea to the community and to identify organizations that could benefit,” says Vogel.

To learn more about the Ready Rating Program, visit readyrating.org.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Volunteers prepare to install smoke alarms throughout winter

The American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign operates year round including our Sound the Alarm initiative. Within STA, volunteers go into local neighborhoods and install free smoke alarms for residents and provide fire safety education.

While weather can be unpredictable across the 21 counties within the Chicago & Northern Illinois region, volunteers are prepared to go out in all kinds of weather to install the life-saving smoke alarms.

On November 9, 2019 a small group was in Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood installing alarms. Volunteer and Regional Preparedness Program Lead Susanne Peters, along with fellow volunteers Tammy Dudley, Stephen White, and Joshua Hamlett spent Saturday in the community installing 20 alarms and making 9 families safer.

Upcoming events will be happening throughout November and December and into the new year.

Learn more about Sound the Alarm at www.redcross.org/soundthealarm and sign up for your free smoke alarm at www.getasmokealarm.org.

Oak Lawn home fire survivor shares her story

In June of 2019, Barbara Juris was preparing dinner for her husband in their Oak Lawn home. It was a summer evening, and she was planning on making french fries and spare ribs – some of her husband’s favorite things. It was in a crucial few minutes when Barbara left the kitchen that would completely change the course of the evening, and her life.

Barbara stepped outside to tend to the ribs on the grill, when she hears her neighbor yelling. The neighbor had seen what Barbara hadn’t yet- smoke pouring out of her kitchen window. She rushed back into the house to see her kitchen stove on fire and quickly spreading up cabinets and to the floor.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department was called and arrived within minutes- pushing Barbara and her husband Walter out of the house.

Barbara’s friends and neighbors gathered around her outside as she helplessly stood and watched the home she had lived in for 64 years go up in terrible smoke and destroy her kitchen and parts of the roof.

“I was devastated because I had raised 4 children in that home,” Barbara said.

Realizing her home was not going to be suitable to live in for a while, Barbara began feeling an unfamiliar uncertainty of not knowing where she would sleep in the coming days.

“We had no place to go,” she said.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department assured her that she would be OK as Red Cross volunteers also arrived at the fire. The two volunteers, Brian and Donald, talked to Barbara and made sure she and her husband had accommodations and helped them through the next steps to take.

“They were just so supportive and everything, and they told me I’ll get through it and they’ll find a place for me… couldn’t ask for anything kinder,” Barbara said.

At 93-years-old, Barbara says she has been cooking all her life, but this still happened to her. She says she is so grateful to her neighbors, the fire and police departments and the Red Cross for supporting her through the fire.

Her home is now under renovation but she hopes to be back in it by Christmas and have a big party to celebrate.

“I cannot rave enough about the Red Cross. They’ve always been wonderful but they outdo themselves,” Barbara said.

Barbara says she has so much to be grateful for, “but I hope that nobody has to go through that.”

The American Red Cross responds to more than 62,000 disasters a year and most are home fires.

Tips to avoid cooking fires include:

  • Keep young children and pets at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Move items that can burn away from the stove such as dishtowels, bags and boxes.
  • Clean the stove and the area around it before turning on the heat.
  • Don’t leave food on the stove unattended.
  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove to avoid spills.

IF A COOKING FIRE OCCURS If a pan catches fire, don’t move it. Slide a pan lid or cookie sheet on top of the pan to put out the fire. Turn off the heat. Keep the lid on the pan until it cools. Never try to stop a grease or oil fire with water – it will fuel the fire.

If something catches fire in the oven, keep the door closed. Call 9-1-1 so firefighters can make sure the fire didn’t spread to the walls. If a fire occurs in the microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the microwave if you can. Don’t use it again until a repairman checks it.

If the kitchen catches fire, make sure everyone gets out and call 9-1-1 when outside. Once outside, stay out. Never go back inside a burning building.

The Red Cross has been working to reduce that number through its Home Fire Campaign. Launched in October of 2014, the Red Cross and thousands of campaign partners have helped save numerous lives through the effort, as well as installing more than one million smoke alarms in homes all across the country. The Red Cross is asking people to do two things – create and practice their home fire escape plan and check their smoke alarms.

For more information on home fire safety, click or tap here.

Written and produced by Holly Baker, Regional Communications Manager

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 along with Governor Prtizker to help make the Rockford area safer as part of the Sound the Alarm. Save a Life. campaign. Click here to see a video from the day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 redcross.org. 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 www.getasmokealarm.org.

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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 www.redcross.org/Il/Rockford or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross

American Red Cross Responds to 25 Fires and Opens 1 Shelter in the Past Week

Disaster responders with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois responded to 25 fires from Monday, October 15 to this morning across the 21-county region including fires in Naperville, Blue Island, Elmwood Park, Darien, Rockford, Machesney Park and 15 of the fires happening in Chicago.

The fires affected 134 people including 80 adults and 54 children.

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.

Additionally, 18 Red Cross responders were on the scene in Waukegan as a senior living facility was evacuated on Friday evening. Just before 5PM on October 19, the Red Cross was notified by the city of Waukegan that around 250 people would be without a home that night as an expanding sinkhole made their apartment building temporarily unlivable for days and sheltering assistance would be needed.

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Red Cross trailer with supplies in Waukegan during sheltering response on October 19, 2018

A shelter was opened at Waukegan High School on Washington Street and the Red Cross provided food, health services, casework, mental health services, and cots for residents for the night and all day on Saturday. The Red Cross worked with the building management and local hotels to provide rooms for the residents and caseworkers will continue to follow up with the people affected by this evacuation.

Hurricane Florence: Hurricane Florence made landfall early on September 14 as a Category 1 storm just south of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Florence set tropical storm rainfall records in two states, surpassing 20 inches in South Carolina and 35 inches in North Carolina. Over the course of five days, Hurricane Florence dumped an estimated 10 trillion gallons of water across the Carolinas. More than 60 volunteers and staff were deployed for Hurricane Florence including CEO Celena Roldán and this response is on-going. Sunday night, more than 260 people stayed in 7 Red Cross shelters in North Carolina.

Hurricane Michael: On October 9, the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois began deploying local volunteers and staff to Hurricane Michael. As of today, 19 people have been deployed for Hurricane Michael and are on the ground or are on the way to the affected area. Last night, more than 1,300 people stayed in as many as 15 Red Cross and community evacuation centers across Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

HOW PEOPLE CAN HELP: After two major hurricanes in less than a month, thousands of people are looking for help. The Red Cross depends on financial donations to fund our relief services. Help people affected by Hurricane Michael by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word MICHAEL to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster.

DONATE BLOOD: The Red Cross also has a critical need for blood and platelet donations to help meet patient needs. This fall, Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence have forced the cancellation of about 200 blood drives, causing approximately 7,000 units of blood to go uncollected in the Southeast. The Red Cross asks eligible individuals to make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org 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 www.redcross.org/prepare.

Volunteers install free smoke alarms for National Fire Prevention Week

Volunteers install free smoke alarms for National Fire Prevention Week

Today, a group of Red Cross workers gathered at the Greater Chicago Chapter headquarters and reviewed the steps to properly install smoke alarms. They suited up in warm jackets and Red Cross reflective vests before heading to the nearby Little Village neighborhood, where local homeowners would be expecting them.

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Red Cross workers are ready to install free smoke alarms in local homes on October 12, 2018

 

As part of National Fire Prevention Week, these volunteers installed free smoke alarms in Chicago area homes and are encouraging people to practice their family’s fire drill at home. Having a working smoke alarm in your home can cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half. Fires are the nation’s most frequent and deadliest disaster.

Many residents had appointments with the Red Cross to have the alarms installed. Additionally, volunteers knock on doors to see if other families would like to have a free smoke alarm installed for them.

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One of the volunteers helping today is Myesha Terrell, a new volunteer to the Red Cross. She was inspired to join the Red Cross after a friend had a home fire a few years ago.

“I thought, ‘why keep waiting?’ If I can help I should help. We’re helping people in need,” Myesha said.

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New volunteer Myesha installing a smoke alarm

On average, seven people die every day from home fires, which take more lives each year than all other natural disasters combined in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association.

That’s why the Red Cross is working with community partners to install free smoke alarms, help families create home fire escape plans, and provide public fire prevention and safety resources through its Home Fire Campaign, a nationwide effort to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries. Since the campaign began in October 2014, it’s reached more than 1.6 million people and is credited with saving 472 lives nationwide.

Antonio Velez has been volunteering with the Red Cross for nearly 3 years going to fire responses, helping with smoke alarm installations and he is a part of the Red Cross Spiritual Care Team. Antonio retired after working for the CTA for 29 years and wanted to stay involved in his community.

“It’s important for every neighborhood,” he said. “We’re trying to save lives.”

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO

Experts say that today’s home fires burn faster than ever, leaving people with only as little as two minutes to escape a burning residence. But many mistakenly believe they have more time, according to a Red Cross survey last year. During Fire Prevention Week, the Red Cross urges everyone to take these lifesaving steps:

  • Develop a fire escape plan with everyone in your household and practice it at least twice a year. Need help with your plan? Use these free Home Fire Campaign resources.
  • Install smoke alarms in your home, on every level and outside each sleeping area. Test them once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year if required.
  • Teach children what smoke alarms sound like and what they should do if they hear one.
  • Make sure all household members know two ways to escape from every room.
  • Establish a family meeting spot outside.

1.6 MILLION PEOPLE SERVED—AND GROWING

Through the Home Fire Campaign, Red Cross volunteers and community partners continue to mount a nationwide effort across the country to save lives and curb fire-related injuries. Over the past four years, Red Cross volunteers and more than 4,500 partners have gone door-to-door in high-risk neighborhoods to deliver free preparedness resources through the campaign’s Sound the Alarm canvassing events. So far, we have:

  • Reached more than 1.6 million people through home visits in nearly 14,000 cities and towns
  • Installed 1.4 million free smoke alarms
  • Replaced more than 67,550 smoke alarm batteries
  • Helped families make more than 514,200 fire escape plans
  • Reached almost 1.2 million children through youth preparedness programs

Intersted in volunteering with the Red Cross and helping with events like these? Visit www.redcross.org/volunteer to find a volunteer opportunity for you!

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 redcross.org/il/chicago or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross.