2021 Rockford Heroes: Michele Pankow and Joe Danforth, Making a Difference in Their Community

Division Chief Michele Pankow is being recognized with the 2021 Red Cross Disaster Services Hero Award. Michele is an everyday hero in the true sense of the word. As Division Chief of Operations at the Rockford Fire Department, Michele oversees the fire department’s 250 uniformed firefighters, and their responses to nearly 30,000 service calls each year. For 28 years, Michele has dedicated her career to disaster response by working through the ranks as a firefighter, emergency medical services operations chief, lieutenant, captain and district chief.

Michele also has an uncanny ability to manage and communicate across agencies, serving as the emergency services disaster coordinator for the City of Rockford and Winnebago County. When any type of large-scale disaster strikes, whether it be a tornado, civil unrest, or even a pandemic, Michele centralizes regional response and rescue agencies at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The needs for each event are different and must be assessed and acted upon quickly.

“The fire service has prepared me for this because I can piece it together in my head to think of how we function as a fire department,” Michele said.

Her actions during the COVID-19 pandemic are just one example of how Michele’s flexible and fast-paced thinking helped so many individuals in a crisis.

“Starting out, we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” Michele said. “Who knew we’d end up a year later this way? Early on, our focus was to support the Health Department on gatherings. There wasn’t really one thing with the pandemic. It was one thing after another after another.”

Michele and her team opened the EOC on March 12th, 2020 and have offered community assistance on many fronts including reaching out to school districts to feed kids who previously relied on school meals, distributing critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and now, supporting local COVID-19 mass vaccination sites.

In disasters both large and small, Michele’s connections to the American Red Cross are frequent. At the scene of home fires, she works with Red Cross responders to find immediate shelter for displaced families and individuals. In her disaster coordinator role, Michele partners with the Red Cross on large-scale and longer-term recovery projects. A recent example of this partnership is the 2019 flood in Rockford that damaged over 500 homes in the area. Emergency responders aren’t there only in the face of disaster.  They partner with the community to ensure a forward path to recovery, which is something that can take years of planning and committed teamwork.

“I really enjoy being a part of this,” Michel said. “I feel extremely humbled and extremely fortunate to be in the company of such good people. I’m constantly surrounded by creative, good, and innovative folks that want to help. It’s infectious. It’s contagious. Whether I’m in the Emergency Operations Center or at the fire department, I feel great being a part of that team.”

Michele shines as a role model on the job and outside of work. She volunteers with the Young Women’s Leadership Organization through the Rockford Public School District. There, she mentors students one-on-one about career opportunities and talks frankly about the challenges of her own career, including what she enjoys most, and how she made the choices to get where she is today. Michele has no shortage of inspiration to share.

“I feel great when we’re able to save a house or pull somebody out on an EMS call. Even just bringing down cleaning buckets to help someone clean out floors from a flood. Being able to help people, you’d be amazed how appreciative people are of the smallest gestures,” Michele said.

Written by Communications and Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Sergeant Joseph (Joe) Danforth is one of our 2021 Red Cross Law Enforcement Heroes. As a sergeant with the Rockford Police Department, Joe says the job comes with its challenges, but also comes with many rewards.

“It’s a fun job,” said Joe. “The most rewarding part about being a police officer is … knowing that a lot of people still need you.”

He has served the Rockford Police Department for 25 years. As a kid, Joe was inspired to become a police officer after watching Shaft movies and the TV series SWAT.

“To see those shows and to see black officers — I wanted to do that,” Joe explained.

Raised by a single mother on the west side of Rockford, he experienced gang activity in his neighborhood growing up and the effects that violence had on his community.

After joining the police force, Joe decided to stay on the west side of Rockford. He said that in order to better serve a community, it helps to live there and experience what they are experiencing.

“I grew up on the west side, so I was going to stay on the west side,” added Joe. “I’m from here. I’ve seen a lot of stuff growing up. I wanted to stay on the west side where my people were at.”

After working with the police force for a while, Joe wanted to do more. He noticed that basketball was keeping his son away from gang activity and wanted to spread this to other children. Joe decided to start a program that would help.

In 2005, he founded Rockford Five-0. It started as a youth basketball training program for kids that could not afford to be on a travel team.

“We help a lot of single parents’ kids, [and] boys with no father figure at home. In the beginning I just thought it was something you were supposed to do. I didn’t look at it as ‘I’m saving the world,’” said Joe. “I didn’t look at it like that at first,” he explained.

In the beginning, he struggled financially to provide everything needed to have a team, often having to pay for things himself. However, as time went on, the program grew and so did the volunteers.

Since starting the program, Joe has helped over 300 kids, some of whom have received scholarships for their athletic performance. One of his alums, his own son, Rockford basketball star Fred VanVleet, now plays for the Toronto Raptors.

Joe sponsors about 10-15 kids at a time, helping with meals, shoes, travel costs, tournament fees, and uniforms. He stays in touch with many of the kids that were in the program. Some have gone on to college at Kankakee, Carl Sandburg College, Illinois Valley College, and North Alabama.

“We try to find those kids that really want to do something. No matter what background you come from, [or] economic situation, we find a way to help you out. It’s got to be kids that really want to do something, that want more for themselves than what’s right in front of them,” said Joe.

The majority of kids start in the program around third or fourth grade, and usually remain throughout high school. However, the organization sees themselves as a family and once you enter, you never truly leave.

“If this sport can help kids stay out of gangs and stay out of trouble, and they’re dedicated to what we do, then I got you. But if you want to stay on the streets and mess around and not go to school, then I can’t mess with you. I never looked at it as an outreach program, but I guess it kind of is,” explained Joe.

Joe thanks his wife, Sue Danforth, for being his number one supporter, and for helping him and the organization be successful.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

2021 Red Cross West Central/Quincy Heroes

Roy Webb-Education Hero 
Roy Webb is the superintendent of Quincy Public Schools (QPS) in Quincy, Illinois, and one of our Education Heroes. Throughout the pandemic, he has worked alongside QPS families, staff, and the community to keep schools open for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Due to the pandemic, the spring 2020 school semester was switched to remote learning, causing sports and many events, including the in-person graduation ceremony, to be canceled. Instead, a virtual ceremony was held for the seniors and Roy personally delivered a special blue devil coin to every senior’s home. The coin is meant to remind students of the special memories made at QPS. 

As a superintendent, Roy believes in a hands-on approach when it comes to education. During the school year, you can find him visiting classrooms and games, and interacting with students and parents. He says leading the school district comes with tough challenges and criticism, but he aims to always make the best decision for the students and staff.  

“The best part of my job as superintendent is… getting to go see teachers at work, principals at work, and then seeing our students.  We have 6,700 students. I take great pride in the fact that most of them from pre-K all the way through our 12th graders at least know who I am,” said Roy. 

Roy was the recipient of the KHQA Hometown Hero Award in October 2020. In addition, he was named Administrator of the Year for the 2020-2021 school year by the Illinois Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. Now, he is a 2021 Red Cross Education Hero.  

When notified about his award, he humbly said he could not accept the recognition without emphasizing the amazing team that he works with every day. 

“I’m thankful for our Quincy team, from the school board, to the directors, to the principals, to the teachers, bus drivers, nurses, cooks, and educators. I am blessed to be in Quincy Public Schools. I feel that every day we have a very strong team and I appreciate all their work and support.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Joshua Smith and Marcus SweetenLifesaving Rescue Heroes  

Joshua Smith and Marcus Sweeten are two of our Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue Heroes. They are both students and resident assistants at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Marcus is a senior, majoring in history and Joshua is studying law enforcement and justice administration, as well as security management and administration. 

On September 15, 2020, a student was shot on campus. Joshua witnessed the shooting in the dormitory and was able to get the student to a safe spot, with the help of Marcus. The pair began performing lifesaving measures and following instructions from a 911 dispatcher.  They were able to administer first aid and keep the victim stable until first responders arrived on the scene. 

“The dispatcher instructed us to hold pressure on the wounds, count the wounds, see where all the blood [was] coming from,” recalled Joshua. “[I was] just going through the motions, checking arms, back, abdomen, and everything.” 

Marcus and Joshua said it was a surreal experience because all of this was happening while a shooter was still on the loose. 

“It was really hard to ever conceive of something like this happening, even when going through the situation. I didn’t really have time to process the situation until after the victim was taken from our care,” Marcus explained. 

The student who was shot survived. Even under extreme circumstances, both advisors stayed committed to their role by protecting their residents. 

Western Illinois University presented Joshua and Marcus with letters of commendations for their actions. In addition, the Red Cross is honoring both with the 2021 Lifesaving Rescue Hero Award. 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

2021 Red Cross South Central Illinois Heroes

Lori CamachoLifesaving Rescue Hero 

Lori Camacho is a hospice nurse supervisor at Carle Foundation Hospital, and one of our 2021 Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue Heroes. 

On October 22, 2020, Lori’s daughter and family came to visit. That morning, as her son-in-law opened the blinds, he saw a car in the 29-foot-deep retention pond outside Lori’s condo. Immediately, Lori went to help.  

“I first thought, is there anyone in the car?” Lori said. “I ran outside and asked. People said, ‘yes, there is a lady in there.’” 

When Lori got to the pond, without a thought of hesitation, she got in the water and swam over to the car. The woman was still sitting in the driver’s seat, as water quickly filled up that side of the car. Holding onto the open windows, she asked the lady in the car if she could swim. Unfortunately, she could not. 

“You have to come over to the passenger’s side of the car,” Lori told the lady. 

As soon as the driver moved to the other side of the car, Lori pulled her out of the passenger window. 

“I knew as soon as the water started filling up, I had to get her out of the car if there was any chance of her making it. That was just instinct there,” Lori said. “She had to come out, so I went to get her out.” 

Immediately after getting the driver out, the car began to sink to the bottom of the pond. The suction from the submerging car pulled the woman and Lori under with it. Lori was able to swim to the surface with the driver, and another neighbor arrived to help. After they were both safe, Lori waited with the driver, comforting her while she cried, until help arrived.   

Lori says the scariest part of the whole situation was not the fear that she would drown, but the fear that her family would be there to witness it. 

“I could’ve very easily died and so could she,” Lori said. “My two granddaughters, daughter, and son-in-law were watching, and the fact that I could’ve died in front of them [is difficult to think about.] …What tempers that a bit is that they saw me do something selfless. I didn’t think about anything, I just did it because it had to be done.” 

Lori went about her day after the incident, as she jumped on a Zoom meeting directly afterwards with her hospice team. The seriousness of the whole episode did not register to Lori until a police officer came to her door to talk to her. When she looked outside and saw the commotion, she realized, “Wow, something significant just happened here.” 

“I tend to shy away from the spotlight, but when I was talking to police afterward, one of the firemen had me stand with three other firemen and said, ‘Guys, today you’re with a hero.’” 

Later that evening, the woman’s husband stopped by, explaining to Lori that his wife had suffered a heart attack behind the wheel and regained consciousness when she was already in the water. He thanked her from the bottom of his heart.  

“I’ve been a nurse for 42 years. I’ve encountered a lot of stuff,” Lori said. “I’ve attended countless codes, that’s kind of what I compared it to. It’s like you go on autopilot, you get done what needs to be done, and you fall apart later.” 

Decades ago, Lori paid her way through nursing school by lifeguarding and took all of her swimming lessons with the Red Cross when she was a child. She used the lifesaving skills she learned to save this woman’s life.  
 

“I would tell everybody to take swimming lessons,” Lori said. “All my grandkids can swim, my kids can swim, it’s one of those things. It’s like walking and breathing. You have to know how to do it. Anybody can end up in that situation. Especially if you have children, you need to know how to get them out of the water.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Lynn EhmenEssential Services Hero 

Lynn Ehmen is one of our 2021 Red Cross Essential Services Heroes. Throughout the pandemic, she has dedicated her time to helping her community.  

Lynn is a mother of four from Springfield, Illinois and has always been inspired to help others. She grew up poor in her small country community and remembers how other people helped her family by offering boxes of food to drives at her school.  

Their generosity inspired Lynn to give back and decades later, she joined the Springfield Families Helping Families Facebook group. The group has allowed hundreds of people to connect to help each other during the pandemic. Families can reach out online for items like food, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and any basic needs.  

“It’s people asking for help and people giving help. That’s it,” Lynn said. 

She would check the page, keep track of people who needed food, and deliver meals to residents in her local area. After seeing the overwhelming demand, Lynn wanted to make the process easier for families. The gentleman who started the Facebook group built a small micro-pantry outside of his office. The pantry looked like a tiny house and was set up like a neighborhood library, except instead of books, it was filled with food. As Lynn got to know him, they became friends, and she started filling the pantries with food.  

“When I was filling it, and there were people waiting in line to use it, I thought, ‘Hey, this is a thing I can do.’ I’m pretty handy. My contractor friend took me into his shop, and I made 11 more of them,” Lynn added.  

She raised nearly $20,000 dollars to create more micro-pantries during the pandemic.  

“Take what you need and leave what you can. That’s the whole philosophy. I don’t own them or monitor them. It’s just a community place where people can drop stuff off and anybody can take what they need,” said Lynn.  

These micro-pantries are open 24/7 and people do not need any paperwork to receive food, which allows for anonymous pickup. The pantries operate on an honor system, encouraging families to only take what they need. The Facebook page keeps track of the pantry locations and people can go to the page to view a list of the nearest micro-pantries  

“They can walk up to their community micro-pantry, the one that’s closest to their home, and get what they need. If they don’t have something to eat for one particular night, and the food banks are not open, they have the option of going to the micro-pantries. That’s why I chose to build them,” explained Lynn. 

Due to the pandemic, many stable families found themselves out of work and struggling financially. The situation inspired Lynn to create a resource that anyone could access to avoid food insecurity. 

“All I could think about [were] the kids,” said Lynn. “There’s a lot of low-income poverty kids that count on breakfast and lunch at school. Those are the only meals they get in a day. How are they going to get food? How are their parents going to teach them at home?” recalled Lynn. 

As of October 2020, Lynn had established over 30 micro-pantries to serve those in need. She also started a community garden at Washington Middle school last year. The garden continues to expand, and its produce is donated to the micro-pantries.  

Although Lynn is being honored as a hero, she thinks that the real heroes are the teachers who are getting the children through this, online and in person. However, she is grateful for the recognition.  

“A hero is somebody who can see a bad situation… and help, or solve the problem without hurting anyone else and without asking to be paid for it,” Lynn said. “[A hero sees that] action needs to be taken and they take it, without any concern for their own situation.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco



2021 Red Cross Central Illinois Heroes

Jennifer ErlandsonHealthcare Hero

Jeni has been a nurse for more than five years at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, Illinois. For her, every day at work is different.  She works 12 hour shifts in the surgical unit, in addition to attending graduate school at Maryville University, with plans on becoming a nurse practitioner.  

“We’re trained to do a little bit of everything. I can’t say I have a typical day as a nurse, but it’s nice not doing the same thing over and over,” Jeni explained. 

On June 10, 2020, during her shift, she noticed a colleague, Gregg Pensky, who worked at the pharmacy, hunched over and not breathing on a chair. 

“As soon as I walked off the elevator and turned, I was probably no more than 15 or 20 feet away, and I could tell instantly something was wrong. When I’d walked past previously, he was upright and on his phone. And when I came off the elevator on the way back up, he was slumped over, and his phone was on the ground. He was not awake, not responding to anything,” remembered Jeni. 

She immediately began CPR and asked a passerby to contact the hospital operator  to call a Code Blue, which is a cardiac or respiratory arrest emergency that cannot be moved. Thirty seconds later, another nurse arrived to assist Jeni. They continued to alternate doing chest compressions until the response team could arrive. 

When the doctor came to the scene, the man was quickly intubated for oxygen and hooked up to an IV, while lying on the floor. 

“There was a lot going on at 7a.m. It was the first thing that happened in the morning,” Jeni said. 

She had a very small window to act, and before she knew it, the whole situation was over. 

“We had 20 people available to help, so it was very quick. I would say less than a minute and a half,” Jeni recalled. 

A few days later, she received a text from one of the doctors who had treated Gregg, letting her know that he was off the ventilator and breathing on his own. 

“Being able to give his family another birthday, another Christmas, another holiday season, I think that’s very, very special,” Jeni said. 

She received a Daisy Award for extraordinary nurses because of her heroic action. 

Jeni has been awarded the 2021 Red Cross Healthcare Hero Award for her lifesaving act and is very grateful for being nominated by the family. 

“It’s an honor that anybody views me as a hero. I just did what was right and was in the right place at the right time.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Jerrylee Murphy-WilesLifesaving Rescue Hero

Jerrylee Murphy-Wiles was walking to his bus stop in Peoria, when he heard someone shouting for help in the distance. After examining his surroundings, he identified where the yelling was coming from and found an elderly woman pounding on the window of her home. It appeared she had fallen and wasn’t able to get up on her own. Jerrylee could tell she was in desperate need of assistance, and immediately dialed 911. 

“Before I called, I tried to get in the front and back door, but they were both locked,” Jerrylee said. 

He thought it was best to keep the woman distracted until first responders could arrive, so he stayed with her, keeping her company from outside her window.  

“He is a very spirited 24-year-old who loves to interact with other people, so I’m sure he talked that woman’s ear off,” said Tim Lingenfelter, Jerrylee’s Mentor at EP!C, an organization of community members working to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Paramedics told Jerrylee that if it wasn’t for his heroic instinct, the woman could have passed out and not made it. 

“When they said I saved her life, I thought of my grandma. I was very proud of myself,” Jerrylee mentioned. 

Jerrylee works in the kitchen for EP!C. A few days later, when his colleagues heard of what he did, he was greeted with a big surprise when he walked into work.  

“Everybody was excited for him. When you walked down the hallway, it’s about two miles long and you could hear everyone talking about it. We couldn’t be prouder of what he did,” recalled Doris Hayes, chief operating officer of EP!C. 

Jerrylee was given a plaque and coin from AMT and Pekin Police for his efforts that day. In addition, the Red Cross is honoring him as one the Lifesaving Rescue Heroes for 2021. 

“It’s big to me. It’s very big to me because I love helping people,” Jerrylee said.  

“I think it shows that Jerry cared more about somebody else than he did himself. He very easily could have just kept walking to work and never looked back and he didn’t do that,” added Hayes.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Roger KingLifesaving Rescue Hero  

On November 26, 2020, Roger King, his wife Julie, and their two-year old grandson were driving through Pontiac, looking at Christmas lights. They noticed a house on fire, with flames coming out of one of the windows, and Roger’s wife recognized the home.  She was familiar with the resident, and knew the woman who lived there was elderly, as she was her mother’s friend.  
 
“I got out and I asked if anybody [had] knocked on the door. I asked [those at the site] if they knew if anybody [was] home and they really didn’t know for sure,” Roger stated. 

At this point, Roger realized people were possibly trapped inside, so he started knocking on the door. Moments later, a woman came running down the stairs to open the door, saying she was the caretaker of the resident. Roger explained to the woman that the house was on fire. Without hesitation, he ran upstairs with the caretaker, woke the elderly woman, and assisted her out of the house.  

“The smoke wasn’t super bad on the second floor yet. I was more concerned about the people upstairs than my own wellbeing,” Roger recalled. 

It was chilly outside, so Roger’s wife took the elderly resident with her to the car to keep her warm and wait for help to arrive. 

Shortly after, firetrucks arrived to put the fire out, and Roger was questioned about the situation from the fire department. A couple days later, he received a call and was told the house did not have working smoke detectors. 

As a result of Roger’s heroic effort and quick thinking, he was able to save not one, but two lives that evening. 

“I just did what I thought anybody else would do. I did what needed to be done,” Roger explained. 

A few months later, he was notified that he had won the Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue Hero Award. 

“I was pretty excited. I mean, it’s not something that happens every day,” said Roger. “It’s always easy to say what you’re going to do, but when it actually happens, it’s a totally different story.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Josh RaileyLifesaving Rescue Hero  

Josh Railey and his girlfriend Megan were out celebrating his birthday dinner on February 28, 2020. As they left the restaurant, Josh and his girlfriend noticed a burning car that had slammed into the median. Although the car was barely visible through the smoke, he noticed two people escape and run to safety. As Josh got out to further observe the situation, he saw a woman kick the door open and crawl out.  

“I immediately ran over to help her, but she insisted I get her baby that was still trapped inside,” Josh said. 

Thankfully, someone else had stopped their car to help the women get away from the vehicle while Josh searched. The car was engulfed in smoke and he struggled to see inside. He ran over to the other side, cut open the deployed airbags with his pocketknife, and patted around the back seats. 

“At first, I was worried because I didn’t feel anything. I wanted to check the front seats just to be safe and sure enough, the baby was still in the carrier between the driver and passenger chairs,” Josh recalled. 

He quickly grabbed the baby and ran far enough out until he knew they were safe.  

“I didn’t really have time to think about it. The whole thing felt like a few minutes, and I had to act fast,” Josh said. 

By the time he got down the road to return the baby, people had pulled over to see what was going on. Josh waited with them until police arrived. The mother of the child was unable to stand, so Josh handed the child over to one of the female police officers. He gave them a brief description of what happened, was thanked for his actions, and told he and his girlfriend could go home.  

“My night felt kind of surreal after that.I don’t even think we watched TV.  We were still trying to process what happened. It was a lot to take in,” Josh remembered. 

Within days after the incident, word got around about Josh’s heroic act. A local news team showed up at his work and wanted to interview him about the story, and he was soon nominated for a Red Cross Hero Award. 

“I don’t like to consider myself a hero. I’m a pretty humble guy and was just trying to help,” Josh said. “I hope to inspire people to do the right thing when the time comes.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious


2021 Red Cross Quad Cities Heroes

Megan MurphyHealthcare Hero  

Megan Murphy has always loved helping people. Since 2008, she has worked as a nurse at UnityPoint Health Trinity in Rock Island. She started as a Patient Care Technician back in 2006, assisting in the Intensive Care Unit. Since then, Megan knew the ICU was where she wanted to work.  

She has worked in many positions at UnityPoint Health Trinity. Before the pandemic, Megan managed and worked in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and the Medical Intensive Care Unit. However, as the need for beds increased, so did the need to find staff and manage them. Megan stepped up, managing the two additional intensive care units.  

With the number of beds increasing, Megan not only managed the units but also cared for patients to help her team and staff.  

“The meaning of a true leader is jumping right in with your team and being present,” said Megan. “I try to help my team as much as possible.” 

Megan said November was one of the toughest times for the hospital, because at one point they were seventeen patients over the maximum capacity. 

“Everyone truly came together,” said Megan. “It wasn’t ideal to have to go through, but I think it showed us how strong we are as a hospital team.” 

During these intense times, Megan relied on her family, friends, and coworkers’ support. Megan and her team would have to debrief with one another about difficult situations and were each other’s shoulder to cry on. 

“We grew really close with some of the patients’ families because with COVID, we had a lot of people intubated for a lengthy amount of time. People couldn’t come into the hospital and visit, but we had the ICU positioned to where they could look through the windows. It was really tough,” Megan said.  

While working in the ICU, Megan grew very close to the wife and family of one of her patients. To stay by her husband, the patient’s wife “set up camp” on an old evergreen stump outside his window, using it as a table for her magazines. Megan took care of him for multiple shifts personally, growing closer to the family over the month.  

Sadly, the husband passed away. In the end, having followed all the COVID protocols, his wife was able to hold his hand as he passed.  

“It was heart-wrenching,” recalled Megan. “I think about him and his family often.”  

Megan received multiple letters and emails from the wife, the family, and friends, all thanking her for the care of their family member and expressing how much it meant to them.  

“It made me feel like we truly did make a difference for them, even though the outcome wasn’t what we had hoped for,” said Megan.  

Heroes are people who take it upon themselves to care for others and their communities. Megan Murphy is one of those heroes, dedicating her life to helping others, even in troubling times.  

“I really do feel we survived. It was really, truly heartwarming seeing everyone who came together.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Lee Ann PorterSocial Justice Impact Hero 

Lee Ann Porter founded the Loving Bottoms Diaper Bank after noticing an unaddressed need for diapers and feminine hygiene supplies in her community. Her organization serves counties in the West Central Illinois region, and has distributed one million diapers to families in need. 

Lee Ann’s idea to start her own diaper bank began long before she knew she was going to do it. In 2004, she experienced what it was like to not be able to afford diapers for her child. Years later, she read about a diaper bank online and could not believe the problem she experienced back then was still a problem in her community.  

“I realized that was something that I wasn’t going to be okay with, [because of] my own experience, [so] we decided to make a change for the local community,” Lee Ann said. 

Families often bounce from store to store, hopelessly looking for the supplies they need for their children. Lee Ann remembers the struggle of having to drive for three hours to reach the nearest diaper bank because there were no other options.  

As a result of Lee Ann’s efforts, Loving Bottoms Diaper Bank works with a network of partner organizations that distribute their diapers directly out to the families for them. They look for organizations that are already working with families, like food pantries, in order to prevent  families from having to make unnecessary trips. 

“We serve families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet and want them to be able to live their lives healthy and to the fullest,” Lee Ann mentioned. 

What was originally intended to be a local diaper bank in Knox County now serves six counties throughout West Central Illinois. Each month they distribute more than 18,000 diapers, and support over 360 families.  

Lee Ann treasures the stories she has with the families she serves. She recalled a time when her diaper drive partnered with a drive-thru food distribution. A mother came to get food for her family and didn’t know they had diapers available. When Lee Ann asked her if she had children and gave her 50 diapers, the mother started crying. 

“I always want to have a huge impact on families. It means a lot to them, and I know because I’ve been there,” Lee Ann said 

The Red Cross is honoring Lee Ann with the Social Justice Impact Award for her efforts. 

“It’s hard to be in poverty and feel like you can’t take care of your family. They’re the real heroes,” added Lee Ann.  

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious


Honoring 12 Community Heroes from Chicagoland in An Extraordinary Time

Brothers Carter and Noah Collins of Park Ridge are the 2021 Blood Services Heroes. They have proven that you are never too young to start making a difference. In 2017, after Category 4 Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana, the boys decided they wanted to help.

“We saw what the Red Cross was doing, and we wanted to help, even though we couldn’t donate blood at the time [due to our age],” the brothers explain. “So, we contacted the Red Cross and asked how we could help.”

The boys worked with the Red Cross to host their first blood drive at their school and worked hard to promote it and invited friends to run the canteen at the drive.

From then on, the blood drive became an annual tradition. However, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their blood drive plan. The brothers were unable to host a drive at their school due to its closure, but they were determined to make it happen.

“We had to find a new place and [found a] sponsor at a local community church, and that’s where we held it this year,” Noah says. “We want to consistently help every year, and even though COVID made it harder to set it up, we were successful this year.”

Despite the pandemic, the boys welcomed more donors and collected more blood than in prior years.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Chef Q Ibraheem is receiving the 2021 Disaster Services Hero Award. The renown Chicago Chef, organized popular underground dinners in Chicago and worked with non-profit organizations to teach children about cultural awareness through food diversity. However, everything came to a stop with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In March, we literally lost everything. After crying for two days, I jumped in and started calling [my] parents and [they] were calling me. I realized that people really needed food. It was my eureka moment. I realized I didn’t have a lot monetarily to give, but I know how to cook food. I know how to make healthy, delicious food. And I know that people would readily receive restaurant quality food, free food during a pandemic,” adds Chef Q.

To address food insecurity and help her community, Chef Q created “Kids with Co-Workers,” a delivery farm-to-table meal program, which provides four course meals to families in need.

“There were so many people that stepped in. There were children that reached out to me and they created little index [cards] to put in our children’s meals. It’s been wonderful. I’ve not acted alone.  By no means would I be able to do this by myself,” says Chef Q.

As more people became familiar with her mission, the delivery service grew larger and Chef Q opened a secondary kitchen to be able to serve the increasing number of families in need. As the operation grew, she gained support from other organizations, including the Chicago Bulls, who helped with funding.

Currently, Chef Q provides more than 200 meals per day to struggling families including many seniors. She has even hired laid-off bus drivers to help deliver the food.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Phalon Carpenter is being recognized with the Education Award. She is a professional mentor with Friends of the Children, an organization that identifies Chicago families facing adversity and pairs their children with a personal mentor for support. The organization is designed to work with youth to help them achieve academically from kindergarten until they graduate from high school.

Each mentor at Friends of the Children is assigned eight kids. Phalon currently works with eight girls, made up of six second graders and two third graders. She spends two hours a week in school with them and two hours a week outside of school for extra help and extracurricular activities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, her students’ families faced new challenges as the school turned virtual. To help make their transition as smooth as possible, Phalon provided computers and wi-fi to all the families who lacked the technology needed to complete the work.

“I’m just trying to make it as easy as possible for them to learn in the process, while trying to navigate new technology,” said Phalon.

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Phalon makes an effort to stop by the children’s houses to drop off books, food supplies, or anything else the family may need to support them.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Esther Lindor is the online market coordinator at Chicago’s Lakeview Pantry and the 2021 Essential Services Hero. In 2019, Esther became one of the organization’s earliest innovators to help lead and manage an online marketplace that shifted how the Lakeview Pantry offered food.  

The new online system gives customers full access to the pantry without leaving their homes. People can select their food from a website and choose a convenient pick-up time.

“Our clients are able to place their orders online. They can choose the day and time that they can pick up their order. They come through and are more than welcome to stay in their car. We help load all of their groceries into their vehicle, along with a bouquet of flowers and then send them on their way,” explains Esther.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Lakeview Pantry Online Market was in place and was able to safely deliver food to families.

During the pandemic, the Lakeview Pantry also created pop-up pantries in various communities in Chicago. These sites included the Sheridan Market, La Casa Norte’s Fresh Market, Avondale, and certain South Side locations. Currently, the Lakeview Pantry serves more than one million meals to thousands of households each year.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Lieutenant Quention Curtis is the 2021 Firefighter Hero and a member of the Chicago Fire Department. In the summer of 2018, the 33-year veteran firefighter, founded the Black Fire Brigade. He established the organization in response to inner city crime, which impedes the future of young people in our city and disproportionately affects Black communities. 

“The Black Fire Brigade was built around getting young people off the streets,” said Quention.  “That’s why our motto became: ‘If you teach a kid to save a life, they’ll be less likely to take a life.’”

The Black Fire Brigade provides 90 to120 days of training to youth to show them they can have a career as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic. The organization also provides assistance with tuition for young individuals receiving training in these fields.

The training is paid for through donations. After completing the program, the Black Fire Brigade continues to mentor the new first responders.

As of 2020, more than 250 members have successfully graduated from the program, including 60 single moms, and three homeless students.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Joshua Hoyt is the 2021 Global Citizenship Hero. Both in Chicago and nationally, Joshua is a known advocate for immigrant and refugee rights. His community activism was sparked by his experience while studying abroad in Barcelona in the ‘70s. He saw how hundreds of thousands of people turned to the streets to demand freedom and democracy after the death of Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco. He learned about community organizing in Humboldt Park shortly after an uprising in 1977. Despite the physical devastation, poverty, and crime overtaking the neighborhood, Joshua saw the power in bringing people together to create and demand better.

After 9/11, Joshua moved from ground level organizing into the public policy arena, becoming the Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). On the national stage, Joshua became the founding director of the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), a coalition of 37 organizations, working on immigrant and social justice issues. Over the past six years, NPNA has helped 5.3 million immigrants become citizens and registered them to vote.

Throughout his long career, Joshua has worked to enable the voices of many, including the undocumented immigrant population, and has fought for access to healthcare, education, and for a path to legal status.

“There are all kinds of things that I have helped to organize over the course of 45 years, but it always starts with getting people to stand up and push back,” says Joshua.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

A group of nurses at Northwestern Memorial Hospital affectionately known as the “Old Dolls” are being recognized with the 2021 Red Cross Healthcare Heroes award.

This team of dedicated nurses have been working together in the medical Intensive Care Units of Northwestern Memorial since the mid 1980s. At the time, they were in their 20’s and 30’s and were just beginning their nursing careers. A male nurse co-worker affectionately gave the team the “Old Dolls” nickname, referring to their skilled and attentive nature, and it stuck. The nurses embraced the name and are proud to own it, even becoming minor celebrities at the hospital.

Today, about eight nurses are part of the “Old Dolls” team in the ICU’s, and together they have more than 300 years of nursing experience. The team includes: Raquel “Rocky” Collanto (35 years), Andrea Baer (36 years), Valerie Gongaware (39 years), Cindy Pascalo (39 years), Linda Michna (40 years), Kathleen Hoke (39 years), Peach Donnan (43 years), and Susan O’Connell (40 years).

In March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic crisis happened, this female team of skilled nurses did not hesitate to remain in the ICU’s and serve on the frontlines. The Dolls were given the choice to transfer to other departments early on, but they all chose to remain in the ICU, with several working directly with the most serious COVID-19 patients.

“Despite the risks of our age, during the COVID crisis, we all decided to stay in the ICU. Because we knew we were protected and safe and we had our camaraderie.…we chose to stay to be a part of it. I think our friendship absolutely helped us get through this crisis,” said Andrea Baer.

The current pandemic is not the first health crisis these nurses have experienced. In the 1980s, they worked through the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Deep friendships have developed between the ladies, and they have shared decades and milestones together, both at work and outside of work. They train newer ICU nurses. Truly, they are symbols of hope for so many, which is why for the “Old Dolls,” nursing is more than a profession, it’s a calling.

Written by Communications and Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Officer Marseilla Collins is being recognized with the 2021 Law Enforcement Hero Award. In August 2020, Marseilla Collins found herself at the scene of a mass shooting on her seventh day of duty as a Chicago Police Officer. She was still in her probationary period when she responded to a shots fired call in the early afternoon at a restaurant on Chicago’s South Side.

Upon arriving to the scene with her field training officer, Collins saw multiple people with severe gunshot wounds and knew she had to stay calm while addressing the situation.

“Being so new and taking on the situation was very new to me. I went through a lot of emotions, but one thing I knew was to do my job that I signed up for. I knew that this is what I [needed] to do. I was [really]calm. I didn’t freeze. I just went in and did what I had to do,” Officer Collins said.

After noticing one man had succumbed to his wounds, she immediately checked on the next closest victim. The woman had been shot in the foot and Officer Collins quickly went to her vehicle to retrieve her first aid kit. She applied combat gauze and a pressure dressing to the gunshot wound to reduce the bleeding.

By the time she had treated the woman’s wound, more officers arrived and began assisting the other victims. Officer Collins’ training was put to the test that day. Her ability to react quickly and professionally helped stabilize multiple victims of a mass shooting and get them transported safely to a hospital.

She has now been with the Chicago Police Department for more than 16 months and strives to maintain a strong and supportive image in the community.

Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Kyla Davis is receiving the Lifesaving Rescue Award. After finishing her night shift as a hospital operator at Glenbrook Hospital, Kyla headed to Arlington Heights to visit a friend. However, the morning didn’t go as plan. When she arrived and got out of her car, she heard the sound of escalating voices. Kyla looked around and heard a woman screaming for help as a man put a knife to the woman’s neck.

“It was obvious she was in danger,” Kyla said. “She was afraid for her life.”

Hearing the woman cry for help, Kyla immediately made her presence known by yelling at the man to stop. She walked toward the situation but stopped when he flashed a knife. Kyla realized her own life was in danger, so she got back into her car and dialed 911.

She gave the 911 operator a description of the armed man and noticed he was forcing the woman into his SUV. The woman made an escape and darted toward Kyla’s car with the man quickly following from behind. Kyla immediately unlocked the door, allowing  the woman to get in, and quickly drove off before the man could get inside.

“I didn’t think twice,” Kyla said. “When the woman got into my car and I was racing through traffic, I went from being someone who saw something and called the police, to now being in the situation. Now I was in danger, as well.”

The man had jumped into his own vehicle and started chasing the two women. Kyla was on the phone with the 911 operator who was directing her to the Arlington Heights Police Department. The police were able to catch up to Kyla’s car as she headed toward the police station.

Arlington Heights Police called Kyla days later and awarded her with the Chief’s Meritorious Service Award.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Akbar Arsiwala is the 2021 Military Hero. Akbar, a U.S. Navy Veteran and coordinator at the Travis Manion Foundation, learned that the Jesse Brown VA Food Pantry was closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and decided that something should be done.  Akbar and his group of volunteers “made it [their] mission to find a way to succeed,” he recalled.  Akbar proceeded to volunteer at a food distribution event to learn more about the process of establishing a replacement for the food pantry.

“I asked representatives if they’d be willing to sit down and answer some questions. I started learning what I needed to do [to help with food for veterans in need] and quickly realized that we needed volunteers. We needed a venue. We needed food and safety protocols for COVID,” said Akbar.

He and his team were able to secure a venue, solicit food donations from across the Midwest, and obtain PPE that was donated by a physician, who also gave his time to take temperatures and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. During the first food drive, Akbar and volunteers, mostly veterans from the Chicago area, helped 200 families.

However, he soon realized that they needed funding to continue.  A grant was obtained from the McCormick Foundation, and the program was able to remain open.

“That enabled us to keep our doors open each month and distribute food. And the beauty of the food pantry was every month, I’d get a call from somebody else saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got, you know, 40 cases of water,’” explained Akbar.

Akbar said that he is so proud to see how the veterans have taken ownership of the food drive. By the end of the summer, they were distributing an average of 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of food a month.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Tanya Lozano is receiving the 2021 Red Cross Social Justice Impact Hero Award. She is a Chicago-native activist based in the Pilsen area who campaigns for local social justice issues, as well as some of the national struggles for Latino rights.

Social activism runs in Tanya’s blood. Her uncle was Chicago-based activist Rudy Lozano, who helped organize minority race unity in the election of Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington. Additionally, Tanya’s mother, Emma Lozano, is also a well-known community activist in Chicago.

“I never got to meet my uncle Rudy Lozano because he was assassinated in ’83,” said Tanya. “I think a lot of the passion that I have behind my work comes from the responsibility I feel to continue his work because his life was taken unjustly. My parents are such a beautiful reflection of just our whole family and everything that our family has done.”

Tanya has always enjoyed fitness, but she realized that it was hard for people in her community to promote and participate in healthy habits because of a lack of money and infrastructure.

She made the decision to pour her passion for health and physical fitness into founding the non-profit organization, Healthy Hood Chicago. The organization, which is based in Pilsen, uses wellness education to combat the life expectancy gap for underprivileged Chicagoans.

The program started in 2014, when Tanya began teaching Zumba classes in her parents’ church. The class costs one dollar and it became popular, with about 85 women attending three times a week. It was the first time a program like this was available in her community and she realized there was clearly a desire for these activities.

“It made people realize that the power is within ourselves, that the power is in our community,” stated Tanya.

Today, the Healthy Hood organization provides free mental health services and nutrition workshops to the community. Tanya wants her community to know how important it is to address the underlying issues of good health, by not separating mental health or preventative care from health care.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, it hit the Pilsen community hard. After seeing the statistics on COVID deaths, and how it was affecting Black and Brown communities at much higher rates, she knew she needed to start fighting for resources.

In April 2020, Tanya organized a spinoff of her non-profit Healthy Hood Chicago, called We Got Us. We Got Us is a collective of community groups dedicated to addressing immediate needs, such as food and masks. As of early October, over 1,000 volunteers have fed about 10,000 families biweekly and expanded services to include a neighborhood pantry, grocery, and hot meal delivery, in addition to establishing COVID-19 testing sites and providing distribution of protective personal equipment (PPE) on the South and West Sides.

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Students from Leadership Village Academy are being recognized with the 2021 Youth Hero Award. In 2017, the 5th grade class at Village Leadership Academy in Chicago was challenged by their teachers to come up with a grass roots campaign to make a change in their community.

“Part of our social justice curriculum at Village Leadership Academy includes a class called Grassroots Campaigns,” says Village Leadership Academy Principal Dayo Harris. “Every homeroom class has to come to a consensus around a social justice issue that they would like to address in their communities.”

The class chose their project and became determined to rename a park in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. The 151-year-old park was originally named after Stephen A. Douglas.  He was a pre-American Civil War U.S. senator whose wife owned a Mississippi slave plantation and advocated for the legality of slavery to be decided on a state-by-state level. The students began the ‘Change the Name’ campaign to do just that.  They wanted to, instead,  honor Mr. Frederick Douglass, a renowned abolitionist and activist, and his wife, Anna.

This project would prove to be no easy feat, taking several years and several classes of students to do the work. Zahir Mbengue and Raniya Thomas are 8th graders at Village Leadership Academy, and are representatives of the class that picked up where the first 5th grade class started.

“The name change was so important to me because I live in North Lawndale,” Raniya said.

“Negligence is not something that just is on accident,” stated Zahir. “People actually thoroughly knew that they were putting a park named after a slave holder in a predominantly black neighborhood.”

Zahir and Raniya’s class needed to get community support to change the name of the park. They started with train takeovers.

“We would go from school and go to the train station with flyers,” Zahir said. “We sometimes would actually get on the train with our teacher to pass out flyers and introduce ourselves. I want to say about 3,000 plus signatures on our petition came from train takeovers.”

After the train takeovers, they started canvassing North Lawndale to get 2,000 more signatures from people who lived in the neighborhood of the park.

Once the class received the signatures they needed, they went to the Chicago Park District to make the change happen. After years of hard work and perseverance, the Village Leadership Academy students officially changed the name of the park!

“I feel like it’s taught everyone who was in this campaign how to use their voice better because at one point everybody was a shy little kid who didn’t want to come out of their shell,” Raniya stated. “It’s shown you that you can use your voice for good and for other possibilities.” 

Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Volunteer Rick Daitchman reflects on time at Red Cross and milestone blood donation

Over the years, Rick Daitchman has dedicated a lot of time to the Red Cross through volunteering and donating blood. His parents inspired him to serve others.

“My father and mother were always helping people. That’s one of the things that I remember. They treated people right and helped,” Rick says.

Rick’s drive to help others stems back to when he was a college student during the Vietnam War.

“I got lucky,” says Rick. “I had a high number in the draft and didn’t get picked. I have a lot of friends who went to Vietnam and aren’t here anymore, so I just decided to give back to those people.”

Rick’s been volunteering with the Red Cross since 2009 but has been donating blood for almost 30 years. Most recently, Rick donated his 60th unit of blood!

“I don’t really think about it as a big deal anymore. I just think of it as something I look forward to. And I like the cookies! I like the experience and I like to joke around with the staff,” says Rick.

As a volunteer, Rick has worked with Disaster Cycle Services on the Sound the Alarm campaign and was also one of the first volunteers to be part of the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). This program provides information about Red Cross services to military recruits and families before they are deployed.

Thanks to the Red Cross, Rick is trained in first aid and CPR. And since he retired at the end of 2020, he looks forward to spending more time volunteering.

To become a volunteer like Rick, please visit redcross.org/volunteer. You can also make an appointment to donate blood at redcrossblood.org.

Written by Doreen Fosco, Communications and Marketing Intern

Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter Honors 2020 Wesbury Award Recipients

The Wesbury Leadership Awards were established in 1991 to honor Stuart A. Wesbury, a former Chicago Red Cross Board Chair, health care professional, and outstanding community leader who epitomized humanitarianism and partnership in his professional and volunteer life. This award was created to recognize those who enhance the visibility of the Red Cross by helping us deliver our services and messages of health, safety and preparedness. 

On June 25th, the Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter recognized a media partner, corporate donor, long-standing Tiffany Circle leader and a dedicated Red Cross volunteer in the first ever “virtual” Wesbury award ceremony at the Annual Board meeting on June 25th. Each has honored the legacy of Stuart Wesbury and has significantly enhanced the visibility of the Red Cross and our lifesaving mission through their dedication and diligence.

ABC 7 is a dedicated media partner and was honored with the Media Wesbury Award this year for their partnership to the American Red Cross and our blood services mission. 

  • Since 2015, ABC 7 has hosted the “Great Chicago Blood Drive” and has grown this drive from 430 units collected in a single location to more than 1,830 units collected in four locations across their Chicago viewing area. 
  • In 2020, the ABC 7 Great Chicago Blood Drive became the largest single day blood drive in the entire American Red Cross
  • ABC 7 promotes drive appointments by airing compelling blood stories of people in need, combined with PSA’s asking people to sign up.
  • During the day of the blood drive ABC talent – including Chicago board member Cheryl Scott, Mark Rivera (pictured left) and Hosea Sanders (pictured above right) – report from 5 a.m. to well past 7 p.m. –from the blood drive, letting walk-ins know they are welcome, reporting on the need, and interviewing government officials including Governor Pritzker and Lt. Governor Stratton in 2020. 
  • ABC 7 also involves other media partners who similarly sponsor the Great Chicago Blood Drive including Univision, I-Heart Radio and Clear Channel enabling the blood drive and its messaging to emblazon the Chicagoland area. 

John Idler, President and General Manager of ABC 7 Chicago, accepted the 2020 Media Wesbury Award on June 25th at the Annual Meeting. John is, pictured above with Red Cross Greater Chicago board member and ABC 7 Meteorologist, Cheryl Scott and Red Cross of Illinois CEO, Celena Roldán, at the 2020 ABC 7 Blood Drive.

Zebra Technologies has been a long-time partner of the American Red Cross and was awarded the 2020 Corporate Wesbury Award. Zebra is known for building enterprise-level data capture and automatic identification solutions that provide businesses with operational visibility. Their partnership encompasses significant generosity through the donation of time, blood and financial resources.

  • The Red Cross is proud to have been selected as one of Zebra’s three strategic partners. During times of disaster, Zebra activates employee giving campaigns in addition to corporate gifts.  In 2019, Zebra added a giving component to their annual sales kick-off conferences, engaging employees in the Red Cross mission, and ultimately donated nearly $50,000. 
  • Zebra also understands the importance of giving blood and has hosted several successful blood drives, and created a video to share their commitment to saving lives, and as a Lead Partner of the Missing Types blood campaign.

Therese Van Ryne, Global Director – PR, Thought Leadership & Advocacy of Zebra Technologies Corporation accepted the 2020 Corporate Donor Wesbury Award on behalf of Zebra Technologies.

Tiffany Circle member and leader, Laura Linger, was also honored with a 2020 Wesbury Award.

  • Laura has a long history of supporting the Red Cross. She joined the Tiffany Circle in 2012 and. since then, her generous contributions have qualified her for the elite recognition society named for longtime Red Cross Board of Governors Chair, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter.
  • Laura was recognized not only for her generous financial contributions, but also for her service to the Red Cross. Locally, Laura serves as a Co-Chair of the Greater Chicago Tiffany Circle Steering Committee. This chapter dates back to the founding of the Tiffany Circle in 2005. She also serves on the Tiffany Circle National Council along with other dedicated women who oversee the strategy and direction of the Tiffany Circle and serve as ambassadors of the American Red Cross. Lastly, she is  Co-chair of the Tiffany Circle National Council Chapter Chairs Forum committee!
  • Laura has introduced countless new donors to the organization, many of whom have become Tiffany Circle members like her mother, her sister, and her niece, just to name a few!

The Red Cross consists of 90% volunteers, and in the Illinois region, we have almost 4,000 volunteers. This year, we were proud to honor a key volunteer in the Chicago & Northern Illinois area, Hank Welch, with a 2020 Wesbury Award.

  • Hank has been a volunteer for four years and he regularly (pictured left) goes above and beyond to extend the reach of the American Red Cross in our community.
  • He continually leverages his connections on behalf of the Red Cross to create new partnerships and help people in need. Many of these partnerships have led to new installation events for the home fire campaign.
  • Hank is a Disaster Action Team Manager and is the Regional Lead. He also is a Duty Officer and a Public Information Officer. On top of all of that, Hank has stepped up into a leadership role as the state-wide Regional Feeding Lead, where he is utilizing his expertise in food handling and management to help us create contracts with vendors for disaster feeding. 
  • Hank is constantly mentoring and training new volunteers, is willing to join in on nearly any activity within the region and is always available with a listening ear. His positive, can-do attitude lifts others up.

We are humbled to honor these outstanding individuals on behalf of the Greater Chicago Board of Directors with a 2020 Wesbury Award. Each recipient serves the Red Cross in so many different mission capacities and embodies the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Robert King Honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Good Samaritan Hero

On the Saturday of Easter weekend 2019, Robert King decided to take the scenic route home from work. “I remember the day so clearly. It was a beautiful, sunny evening and I hopped on Lake Shore Drive to take some time and enjoy my ride home,” noted Robert. 

A 20-year automotive sales professional, Robert had finished a busy day selling cars and was looking forward to getting home. While driving near Soldier Field, Robert saw a green and white ambulance with lights flashing, quickly speed by him. He continued on Lake Shore Drive for a short time and again spotted the green and white ambulance, but this time it was smashed and had been “T-boned” in a major accident. While other traffic whizzed by, Robert pulled over to see if help was needed.

Three people were standing near the ambulance when he pulled up. Robert asked if everyone was alright and if they needed any help. One of the men standing on the side of the road asked if Robert could take them to the hospital. Without hesitation, Robert said, ‘no problem’ and told them to hop in his car.

One of the men started to load several coolers and boxes into Robert’s car. Then two people hopped into the car and said to Robert “‘Can you take us to Northwestern hospital? We don’t have time to wait for another ambulance,’” he recalled. 

It was in that moment that Robert learned the emergency vehicle was actually an organ transplant van on its way to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for a surgery. In the coolers were a liver, a kidney and a pancreas that one of the men in the vehicle, Dr. Kofi Atiemo, an organ transplant surgeon, had just removed from a young, deceased donor.

Time was critical to get the organs to the hospital, as organs are only viable to be transplanted within a few hours.  Kofi informed Robert that patients were already prepped for their transplant procedures back at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, waiting on the organs that were now in his car.  

Robert said, “I thought they were loading their lunch or some equipment into my car. Once I heard about the transplants, I did not know whether to speed up or drive very carefully to the hospital.”  Robert said his nerves kicked in and he focused on driving the organs very cautiously to their hospital destination.

“There were lots of people just driving by, but Robert was willing to stop,” says Kofi.

“I stopped that day because that is what I would hope people would do for me, my wife, my family,” said Robert. ‘It was simply a good deed for my fellow man. I was brought up to help people and to live by the golden rule.”

That day, Robert’s good deed unexpectedly helped to save more than one life.  Quite an accomplishment, for a scenic drive home after a day in the office!

For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.

You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.

Rosie Quinn Honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Youth Hero

“Love your body. Bald is beautiful.” are two of the first things bubbly, nine-year-old Rosie Quinn says when you meet her. Rosie, whose chipper voice espouses much wisdom for her young age, was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, alopecia, at two years old. This occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss and baldness.

In so many ways, Rosie is your typical child. She is in third grade and says “softball, swim team and piano lessons are my jam.” Yet, having been bald since she was 2 years old, dealing with curiosity and stares of strangers has taught Rosie to rise above and kindly navigate the inquiries; smiling, introducing herself, quickly explaining alopecia and closing the conversation with “what makes you different?”

While Rosie never felt the need to hide her bald head, at times she grew weary of the explanations. Rosie’s mother Paula said the family placed their focus on “raising a little girl who loves herself unconditionally, hair or no hair.” Making colorful and lively drawings and paintings are also Rosie’s jam. One day Rosie’s mother had a brilliant idea and decided to take one of Rosie’s beautiful paintings and have it printed as a headscarf for Rosie. 

Her goal was twofold. Rosie would be proud to wear her beautiful artwork and perhaps the focus of strangers would be on the beautiful scarf and not on Rosie’s hair loss. The family surprised Rosie with a head scarf using one of her prized paintings. Paula said, Rosie “was overjoyed, and quickly blurted out, ‘What about the other bald kids? We should make these for all the bald kids who look like me. Can we do that?’”

Rosie’s mother discovered that any drawings could be printed onto fabric – creating custom headwear for those facing challenging hair lines. From this realization, the Quinn family put together a plan for creating scarves and capes ‘for the other bald kids’ and started the non-profit, Coming Up Rosies. The mission is to restore confidence, happiness and pride to anyone struggling with low self-esteem during their medical journey, especially bald children.

Rosie, her six-year-old sister Caroline, her mom and dad assemble “smile kits” at their dining room table. The kits have all the creative tools needed for children to make their own scarf or cape. Since 2016, they’ve donated 1,500 smile kits to 20 hospitals and rehabilitation centers around the country, including Lurie Children’s Hospital where Rosie began her medical journey. Lately, the word about the indomitable Rosie, is really getting out. Orders for smile kits have started to come in from as far as Canada, Ireland and Australia!  

 “When I put on the headscarf, I’m confident. I want to give all the other kids facing baldness this confidence too. It is my goal to give ‘smile kits’ to all the bald kids in the world,” Rosie beams.

For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.

You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.