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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Communications Manager Holly Baker

Retired Rush University Medical Center CEO, Dr. Larry Goodman Discusses Importance of Red Cross Antibody Testing During Pandemic

Today, the Red Cross is testing each blood donation for COVID-19 antibodies. During this uncertain time, we know that individuals and public health organizations are eager to learn more about COVID-19. And the Red Cross is uniquely positioned to offer our blood donors insight about their possible exposure to this coronavirus.

Implementing this free antibody testing to the public is costing the Red Cross an estimated $3 million per month, but the positive impacts — offering our blood donors insight about their possible exposure to this coronavirus — and providing valuable public health information – are important contributions in addressing this ongoing pandemic.

This fall, our team at the Illinois Red Cross spoke with Dr. Larry Goodman, President Emeritus – Rush University and Retired CEO, Rush University Medical Center and the Rush University System for Health, to explore why antibody testing and convalescent plasma collection is so important to our hospitals and public health systems, and how the Red Cross has worked hard to create strong partnerships with medical systems here in Illinois and around the country. The Red Cross has been the blood supplier to Rush University Medical Center for over 25 years.

Dr. Goodman is currently President Emeritus of Rush University and the retired CEO of Rush University Medical Center and the Rush University System for Health. He was a Greater Chicago Red Cross board member from 2006-2011. He says Rush’s partnership with the Red Cross is a natural fit.

“We (at Rush) see people often at the worst moments of their life, like the Red Cross,” Dr. Goodman explains. “But if you drew a diagram of where these two organizations impact the community, they overlap. Not perfectly, but complimentary. Both organizations recognize that health is far more than just treating disease (or responding to a disaster) when it occurs; it is also about prevention. Additionally, it’s about neighborhood safety, education, and the many other factors that contribute to forming healthy communities. And these building blocks to health must be available to everyone because they all factor in to extending people’s lives. It’s the basic idea of how we measure the health of our society.”

How Your Antibody Test Could Help Those in Need

Dr. Goodman’s background as an internal medicine and infectious disease physician offers him a wealth of knowledge on how the Red Cross is working together with hospital partners in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tessia Phillips donated convalescent plasma in June 2020 after recovering from COVID-19.

In this fight against the coronavirus, Red Cross antibody tests will be helpful to identify individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies, which suggest they have been previously infected.  This is useful knowledge for them and provides additional data on monitoring the extent of the disease in our community.   Additionally,  these previously infected individuals may qualify to be convalescent plasma donors. Convalescent plasma is a type of blood donation collected from COVID-19 survivors who have antibodies that may help patients who are actively fighting the virus. Right now, requests to the Red Cross from hospitals for convalescent plasma is outpacing our collections of this potentially useful treatment. 

“When we’re infected with organisms, we make antibodies to those organisms,” Dr. Goodman explains. “We make a small army that is sent out to destroy the virus. However, it takes 10-14 days to make antibodies. During the period that antibodies are produced, you are left with your other host defenses, like white blood cells and other factors, to stave off infection. If we could find a way to get patients antibodies earlier during that 10-14 day window, it might make a difference. So if somebody already made those antibodies against COVID-19 and survived the infection, we can draw blood off (the convalescent plasma), separate the blood and antibodies, and infuse that into the ill person to be available in the early days of infection prior to that patient’s own antibody formation.”

While logical, the efficacy of convalescent plasma is still under investigation in the treatment of COVID-19, but it has been useful in other illnesses. This is the same concept behind the recently released monoclonal antibody therapies. Dr. Goodman believes it has been important that the Red Cross paved the way in offering this antibody testing free of charge to donors because of its trusted brand and reputation in communities.

“The Red Cross has a great reputation, and I think it comes back to some of the values of impartiality, neutrality, and commitment to the community,” Dr. Goodman explains. “Those are values that every organization is reexamining. The Red Cross makes a major effort to serve diverse populations and that’s very valuable.”

“People remember who’s showing up,” Dr. Goodman said. “The Red Cross shows up to fires or floods, regardless of where they occur. To have a nonprofit also participate in answering critical research questions that might lead to new therapies concerning this pandemic is another important contribution added to the invaluable gift of blood.”

New Red Cross Blood Donation Site Opens in Heart of Illinois Medical District

With the addition of The R. Scott Falk Family Blood Donation Site (Falk family pictured left), located at The Rauner Center, right in the heart of Chicago’s medical district, the Red Cross is able to collect convalescent plasma and test every blood donation for COVID-19 antibodies, while also ensuring that our hospital partners receive these and other critical blood products as swiftly as possible. Considering most of the blood that hospitals like Rush uses comes from the Red Cross and the density of hospitals in and near the Illinois Medical District, this proximity is critical.

“Timing is important with most types of blood transfusions,” Dr. Goodman says. “Availability is critical. Hospitals can’t keep all the blood they need on hand. They can go through 10-20 units in a transplant. In addition, this new site has capabilities that weren’t available previously in the medical district. Different kinds of blood products are now available. Almost all the blood products from Rush come from the Red Cross. There are also trauma centers at Stroger and other nearby centers. There’s a lot of need. Minutes mean everything. It’s a valuable use of the space at the Rauner Center.”

Now more than ever, the need for blood remains constant. Emergencies don’t stop during COVID-19, and every donation makes a direct impact on people that can’t wait for lifesaving blood.

“This is the time. While COVID-19 happened and is a dominant factor in health care and our everyday lives, while all that is happening, all the rest of the chronic and acute illnesses continue,” Dr. Goodman explains. “People still have heart attacks, tumors, strokes, and need organ transplants. Blood transfusions remain a critical need and something that has become more acute at a time like this. That same critical quality of life, which is blood, has so many capabilities in it. This is a moment when people try to decide what they can do. There’s a lot they can do to reduce their own risk and improve the health of the community through blood donation to ensure that the supply is there when any of us might need it.”

Need for Blood and Convalescent Plasma Donors

The Red Cross is encouraging individuals who have fully-recovered from COVID-19 to give convalescent plasma but, most importantly, if you are healthy and feeling well, we encourage you to donate blood. Visit redcrossblood.org to schedule your appointment today. To learn more about donating convalescent plasma, visit redcrossorg/plasma4covid.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

APL#: 2020-APL-01316

Illinois to Djibouti: Staff Member, Kelsey Smith Deploys to Support our Armed Forces

The American Red Cross has a history of supporting our armed forces that dates back to our founder Clara Barton, who provided assistance to soldiers during the Civil War. Today, the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces delivers support to over one million active-duty personnel and over one million members of the National Guard across the United States. The Red Cross also ensures that veterans and military families are receiving the proper assistance they deserve. Along with these services, the Red Cross also helps military installations around the world.

Kelsey during her 2018 deployment during California wildfires

Kelsey Smith is a staff member on the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team of the Illinois Red Cross region and is one of 200 mobile SAF personnel across the country. Kelsey is mainly involved in volunteer management and in her two years with the Red Cross, she has been working closely with over 130 volunteers who assist with Service to the Armed Forces. Kelsey, will be deploying to Djibouti to support our armed forces on the ground this August.

“My (current) job is making sure volunteers are happy, because the Red Cross work force is 90 percent volunteers and only 10 percent of paid staff,” Kelsey says. “We want to make sure that the volunteers feel fulfilled in their role and that they feel supported.”

Kelsey comes from a military family which is what prompted her to be interested in this role at the organization. This trip will be unique for Kelsey as it will be her first-time teaching CPR to soldiers. Although she is nervous about traveling far from home, she is excited about the opportunity to work abroad and provide support to members of our military.

Kelsey donating during a 2019 blood drive

“It will be really interesting to understand the experience of the service members,” Kelsey says. “Just because they have so many unique challenges and struggles that they go through, and I am very excited just to further the mission of the Red Cross while I am there.”

Kelsey leaves on August 23rd, flying from Baltimore to Germany on a military plane. But before she arrives in Djibouti, she will undergo orientation to prepare for her deployment. During orientation, she will receive her uniform, equipment for Djibouti, and will do casework training. She’ll arrive in Djibouti in mid-September and stay until mid-March of 2021.

While she’s there, Kelsey will assist with morale-boosting activities for service men and women such as 4K races, and movie nights. She will also be managing and distributing in-kind donations to soldiers, and providing emergency communication services for service members who may need to quickly travel home to a family member in need. Kelsey believes that the presence of the Red Cross on base will have a positive effect on soldiers during these critical times.

“Obviously during times of COVID-19, I think this process is probably even harder than usual because you don’t know if your family is safe, you don’t know that your kids are safe, you don’t know that you are safe, yourself,” Kelsey says. “I think, above all, just knowing that the Red Cross is there is comforting.”

While assisting active service members is a large part of the effort, the Red Cross also supports veterans and military families. This includes providing referral services for veterans and assisting with veteran appeals. During a difficult deployment, the Red Cross will provide military families with courses that allow them to cope with deployment, as well as pre-deployment preparedness information. The Red Cross also helps families stay in contact with an armed force family member wherever they are deployed. Kelsey believes the Red Cross offers more than just supplies or skills to soldiers. It provides trust.

“I think people count on the Red Cross for a comforting presence, and it also makes people feel better knowing they can be in communication with their family,” Kelsey says. “I think it is important that someone is there just so that the service members feel constantly supported.”

For more information on how the Red Cross supports the armed forces click here.

Written by David Astudillo, Marketing and Communications Intern

Red Cross Clubs Across Illinois Offer Opportunities for Youth

For American Red Cross’ youth, involvement has always been a significant part of the organization and its future growth. With many Red Cross volunteers being retirees, the Red Cross is always looking for younger volunteers to join the organization.

The Red Cross currently has 16 active Red Cross Clubs in Illinois. The Red Cross Clubs are established in numerous high schools and colleges around the country. Along with these clubs, the Red Cross provides volunteering opportunities for young adults who want to gain experience in a nonprofit setting and develop better service skills. 

One of the members contributing to the Red Cross youth programs is Rodrigo Estrada. He first began volunteering for the Red Cross as a youth volunteer in 2015 and is currently a college student at the University of Chicago.

Rodrigo currently serves as the Resources Lead for the National Youth Council which allows him to oversee all of the resources that the council prepares for Red Cross Clubs to regions across the country. Through these experiences, he has been given more responsibility in the organization and has gained more service skills.

“I really owe it to my Red Cross Clubs experiences and the leadership skills that it instilled in me for preparing me to take on the role of Resources Lead for the National Youth Council to continue to advocate for youth volunteers across the country,” Rodrigo says.

Not only did this experience prepare him for new roles in the organizations, but Rodrigo believes that this involvement at the Red Cross is something that has contributed to his success outside of the organization. 

“I was recently accepted for the Truman scholarship and I really owe that opportunity and recognition to the Red Cross. The Truman scholarship is the nation’s premier public service fellowship and through the Red Cross I have been able to continue to cultivate my passion for service and my commitment to serving my community,” Rodrigo adds.

At the Red Cross, there are also volunteers like Steve Swett who has been serving the Red Cross for 36 years. Steve is currently an advisor for the Red Cross Club at the Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby and works closely with young adult volunteers, by organizing blood drives and food drives and much more. Steve believes the impact of the youth is something that can affect everyone in the community. 

“An organization is only as good as its youth . . . When they can come and help out at a blood drive or go and help out at the veteran’s home, that gets their feet wet and makes them want to go on and do something else, so I believe it is a positive domino effect,” says Swett.

Rodrigo and Steve are looking forward to the future of the Red Cross and are hopeful. When considering ways to attract more youth involvement in the organization Rodrigo suggested more virtual based interactions that are appealing to younger volunteers.

“I think it is important that we bring youth into the organization who have a greater competency or also proficiency in virtual engagement in social media,” Rodrigo says. “Through the National Youth Council, we launched a volunteer from home guide where youth who may have not been a part of the organization can find opportunities to serve the Red Cross and to serve the community at home through virtual engagement. We’ve also launched the Red Cross Clubs in a virtual setting guide which shows how Red Cross Clubs can continue to meet and can continue to plan projects virtually.”

If you want to become more involved in your community and gain leadership skills, please consider starting a Red Cross Club at your high school or college. If you wish to volunteer at the Red Cross, please visit the Red Cross volunteer page for more information.

Written by David Astudillo, Marketing and Communications Intern and Youth Volunteer.

Feeding Bloomington-Normal: American Red Cross of Illinois teams up with United Way of McLean County to feed thousands during coronavirus pandemic

The American Red Cross has been a longtime partner of United Way, dating back to the 1950s. So, when they saw an opportunity to jump in and help feed thousands in the Bloomington-Normal community during the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t waste a minute. The American Red Cross of Illinois is assisting, logistically, to feed folks, offering their vehicles and volunteers to help pick up food from stores, pack food in warehouses and deliver it where it needs to go.  

With the help of the American Red Cross of Illinois, United Way of McLean County (UWMC) has established a successful COVID-19 Community Care Fund, addressing urgent needs. Food access and food insecurity were two of the biggest issues. Since March 30th, UWMC and existing initiatives in the community have provided meals to school district food programs, including five school districts, purchasing over 900 pounds of fresh produce from local farms for LeRoy, Unit 5, Lexington, Olympia and Ridgeway. They’ve also purchased bread and chicken broth from Meijer and Kroger to help feed over 500 families a week.

Lynda Hruska is the Executive Director of the American Red Cross serving Central Illinois. She says this partnership has been impactful to the volunteers.

“It has really been a way for our volunteers to be a part of this incredible work that this team is doing. Often times in a disaster, we’re in the lead role. We’re sheltering, feeding, and in this one, we are using volunteers to plug in to a community-wide project. It’s been very heartwarming to be part of this huge network seeing different people playing different roles and truly making a difference.”

Aside from school food programs, the Red Cross and United Way are partnering with existing initiatives to purchase boxed meals from local restaurants to support their employees and distribute those meals through local non-profits. As of May 8th, they’ve served more than 44,575 meals!

And of course, nothing goes to waste. The Red Cross volunteers go back to the warehouse and pick up any unused perishables and deliver them to Home Sweet Home Mission so they can be utilized without waste.

But UWMC and the Red Cross agree the effort doesn’t stop here. This team has continued to look at not only the initial food insecurity issue, but other human issues that are facing the community as a result of this pandemic. With help from partners in the community, they’ve provided and distributed over 500 food boxes, locally, and more than 300 face masks to distribution volunteers, to keep them safe and protected during this project.

The need continues. The Red Cross is here, and will be here, to help our communities.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser – Blue Sky Efforts – February 2020

The Regional Sheltering Team recently conducted five classes with External Partners in Shelter Training. 

Three local organizations – Benedictine University, Hoffman Estates Emergency Management and the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – reached out to the Red Cross and requested Shelter Training for their people.

Five Red Cross Instructors over the last month – traveled out to their locations and instructed their people in both Shelter Fundamentals and Shelter Operations Simulation.  A total of 120 people were trained in these classes. 

Steve Wise and Lauren Zimmerman (RC Sheltering Instructors) – and Sarah Marcucci / Emergency Management Coordinator for the Village of Hoffman Estates

Such efforts help the Red Cross extend both our Partnerships and our reach in times of need.  If there ever was a local large-scale disaster – there easily could be the need to stand up numerous Shelters across the Greater Chicago and Northern IL Region.      

A big shout out goes to those Red Crossers who helped out with this instruction – Terri Cunningham, Lauren Zimmerman, Jackie Speciale, and Danny Portman.  Thru their efforts – we now have External Partners to call on for Sheltering Assistance.

If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, please go to redcross.org/volunteer to join us.

This picture was taken at the Shelter Training held at the Hoffman Estates Police Department last Saturday, February 1st. A total of 37 people attended this training.

Written By: Steve Wise, Disaster Volunteer

Marseilles Fire Department Celebrates 3,000th Smoke Alarm Installed with Red Cross Partnership

Representatives from the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley and the Marseilles Fire Department commemorate the installation of the 3,000 free smoke alarm through the Home Fire Campaign

Nestled along the Illinois River in LaSalle County, Illinois, Marseilles still has the many familiar elements of that small town charm often seen in rural parts of the state. Now this community of about 5,000 is well on their way to being better protected against home fire injuries and fatalities as the fire department confirms 3,000 smoke alarms recently installed in local homes!

Having a working smoke alarm in your home cuts your chances of dying in a home fire by 50% and a recent study by the American Red Cross showed that most people believe they would have 5 minutes or more to escape their home in the event of a fire when really, it is only 2 minutes or less. Having a working smoke alarm can help protect you and your family in the event of a fire.

Each year, the Red Cross responds to an average of more than 60,000 disasters, the vast majority of which are home fires. So we set a goal to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries in the US by 25%. Since it began in 2014, the Home Fire Campaign has saved 699 lives and 2,055,341 smoke alarms have been installed– 3,000 of them in Marseilles.

The partnership began nearly two years ago through the initiative of Red Cross volunteer Kent Terry and the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. When Marseilles Fire Department Chief Michael “Mick” Garrison was approached about partnering with the Red Cross for home fire safety, a new endeavor was launched.

Together, the Marseilles Fire Department and Red Cross were able to reach this installation milestone providing the free smoke alarms to local residents as well as fire safety education. During an installation, the fire department also performs a free home safety inspection.

The reach of the Home Fire Campaign continues to grow further, and Chief Garrison has also installed free Red Cross smoke alarms all throughout LaSalle County by partnering with neighboring fire departments and continuing to promote home fire safety.

“This is the best program ever for Home Safety. We get the opportunity to provide direct communication and protection to our residents,” Chief Garrison said.

The American Red Cross is thankful for this great partnership with the Marseilles Fire Department and the continued dedication to making our communities more resilient and safer through smoke alarm installation.

To get involved with the Home Fire Campaign or to volunteer with the Red Cross, join us as we Sound the Alarm this spring to install even more free smoke alarms!

Looking to volunteer with the Red Cross? Find an upcoming installation event here: https://www.redcross.org/sound-the-alarm.html

Do you need a working smoke alarm? Sign up for a free installation appointment at: www.getasmokealarm.org

Diane Olejnik: 4 Decades with the Red Cross and an Unexpected Connection

In 1980, a young Diane Olejnik started her new job at the American Red Cross as an executive assistant. She saw thousands of volunteers and co-workers and a handful of executive directors and CEO’s, and she was there through it all for nearly 4 decades. At the end of 2019 she will retire after a lengthy and wonderful career at the Red Cross in a job she says she was proud to have.

“I come from a long family of loyalty; you die with the company,”- Diane

If there is a quality to describe Diane, it is loyal. Even as a child, her family impressed upon her the importance of loyalty and her longevity at both her jobs have proved she took that lesson to heart. She attended Moser Secretarial School, and Diane started her first job at the American Association of Hospital Accountants. It was February. After nearly 14 years there, that organization moved to Oak Brook and she found herself looking for her next job.

Through connections, she heard of openings at the Red Cross for an executive assistant and an accounting position. Diane interviewed and was able to start a new job in 1980 at the Red Cross as an executive assistant in Blood Services, and her friend Jan Sabaduquia came to work at the Red Cross as well. Once again, in the month of February- which is also Diane’s birthday month.

Upon receiving her new job with the Red Cross, Diane says her mother told her a story about how it was that with the help of the Red Cross in Germany after the war they located relatives that were living in America.  The first time they located someone with the same name in Ohio .. but through a letter exchange it was not a relative.  On a second attempt through the Red Cross, they located someone with the same name living in New Jersey and through a letter exchange.. it was the relative – an Aunt (sister of her mom’s father) who was willing to sponsor the family to come to America and make their future brighter after WWII Europe.

Diane pictured with current CEO Celena Roldan and past CEOs Fran Edwardson and Bill Braden

“I liked everything about it,” she said of her new role in Blood Services, though she says she knew “nothing about it.” Always a “worker bee” she was determined to learn as much as she could about the exciting things happening at the Red Cross. She loved interacting with the interesting people who filled the board, she loved seeing the volunteers, and she especially loved the fundraising events put on throughout the city including several black-tie fundraisers at the Drake Hotel.

“It was fancy, it was schmancy- it was everything you could have dreamed of!” she said. A stand-out favorite of hers was the “Chicago At Its Best” fundraiser; an event held for 10 years featuring jazz music, local celebrities and dignitaries like Mayor Jane Byrne and Walter Payton to name a few.

“I was in charge of watching the mink coats,” she said with a laugh.

The Red Cross is accustomed to changes and over the years Diane saw multiple down-sizings, office relocations, chapter reorganizations, closings, a steady stream of volunteers coming in and leadership changes. It was with the Red Cross she got to see parts of the country she may never would have seen otherwise. Trips to Colorado, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City and Richmond, Virginia were memorable.

Though she says knew nothing about the Red Cross when she started, soon Diane was learning more and more about the organization and loving all of it. “There was always a focus on meeting the needs of Chicago and we were always cognizant of diversity.”

Diane looked at life in “buckets.” One for your career, one for your family and so- forth. And in her case, this “Red Cross bucket” was being filled from many sources.

“I was really ‘rah-rah’ Red Cross,” she said punching the air. Diane was quickly homing in on her specific skills in the work place, and noticed she loved writing. She even submitted a script to “Bonanza” once upon a time. She was doing more writing and soon also doing board orientations and found herself speaking most compassionately about disaster response. “I was really good,” she said.

Diane with a bobble-head version of herself

A Polish-speaker, Diane also found herself occasionally helping the Services to the Armed Forces volunteers with a Restoring Family Links case, and even accompanied some Disaster volunteers visiting a Polish-speaking family who had just experienced a fire to help with translating. “I understood from the beginning these are wonderful volunteers, they are giving their professional time and money to us. I was just so happy to see them!”

Diane was loyal. She rarely took a day off and faithfully filled her desk’s multiple candy bowls, ensuring a regular stream of sugar-hunting co-workers passing through. She worked closely with everyone who held the CEO position of recent years from Margaret James, Bob Gilbert, Elizabeth Curtis, Bill Braden and more, all the way to Fran Edwardson and current CEO Celena Roldan. She says she dreamt of being the Della Street to Perry Mason and get to know her bosses well enough to anticipate what they were thinking or needing before they could say it.

Now Diane plans on resting and giving her home some TLC, but she says she’ll remain loyal to the Red Cross, “I have always said this, Red Cross is a great steward of your money.”

Looking back on her career, Diane said she hopes we don’t lose the personal touch of face-to-face communication as technology continues to advance. She says she feels like now is a good time for her to leave, though it will be the “end of an era.” She plans on picking up her other interests and hobbies and getting more involved in her church and choir, and maybe even learning another language. Possibly Spanish. And though she is closing the book on this chapter of her life, and says her buckets are filled and she is leaving nothing behind.

“I cannot give anything more…yes, I gave all that I had.”

Thank you for your 4 decades of service, and your loyalty to the Red Cross. We will miss you Diane!

Diane’s last day in the office will be December 31, 2019. Send your well wishes her way at Diane.Olejnik@redcross.org before then!

Written by Communications Manager, Holly Baker

In Memoriam: Yvette Alexander-Maxie

The staff and volunteers of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois are deeply saddened to share the loss of a dear friend and valued colleague. Yvette Alexander-Maxie, Regional External Relations Manager for Chicago & Northern Illinois, passed away this morning following a prolonged illness. She leaves behind an incredible legacy. Yvette joined the American Red Cross as a volunteer in 1992 and as an employee in 1999. For the next 20 years, she provided leadership throughout the Red Cross which included roles in Disaster Cycle Services, International Services, Services to Armed Forces, Youth Services, and Volunteer Services. 

Since 2013, Yvette directed our work with external partners and led many aspects of disaster relief including numerous large-scale operations and multi-agency resource centers. Yvette was widely recognized for her leadership in mobilizing partners to support our clients and was also the current Chair of the Northeast Illinois COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster). Yvette was proud to be a member of the Red Cross family. Her work in the disaster community was much more than a job to her. It was where her purpose and passion collided into action. Today is a sad day, not just for the Red Cross, but for the entire disaster community. Yvette was an icon who advocated passionately for our clients and volunteers. In the emergency management and non-profit community, Yvette was a respected leader due to her expertise, strength of character, and ability to unify others. Numerous leaders followed her because they believed in her. Her integrity, vision, and compassion were extraordinary and inspire all who knew her.

To know Yvette was an honor, and to work with her a privilege. Her presence would light up a room. Her glow, smile and charisma were special. When she spoke, people listened. Yvette had a wonderfully mischievous sense of humor that brought levity to even the most challenging moments. Yvette was also incredibly generous with her time and philanthropy. In addition to her work with the Red Cross, she was a frequent donor to Save the Children, UNICEF, the United Way, ASPCA, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, veteran groups, and many local charities. Take a step inside her home and you would be surrounded by pictures of children she sponsored and letters from organizations thanking her for her generosity.

Yvette’s unwillingness to compromise our standards and refusal to be mediocre, drove us to excellence. Even in her final months, she gave her all to the mission of the Red Cross. Yvette’s time with us was cut tragically short.  Yet, Yvette would want all to carry on the noble mission that she dedicated her life to. 

Yvette was a mentor, an advocate, and a source of strength to so many of us when we needed it most. Her sharp wit and pearls of wisdom have made us all laugh and gave us many insights for both our professional and personal lives. Yvette’s spirit is intertwined in all we do, and when we install a smoke alarm, respond to a fire, or support a major disaster, we will continue to honor her legacy and she’ll be there – celebrating our work and reminding us to do our very best for our clients, partners, and each other. If we listen closely, we may even hear her say ‘I’m with you on that.’

Thank you for the many years of service. We will miss you, Yvette!

Memorial Service:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, 1460 W 78th St, Chicago

11:00AM

Internment immediately following Services

Mt Olive Cemetery 

115th St & Fairfield Ave, Chicago

Flowers

A. A. Raynor Funeral Home 

318 E 71st St, Chicago, IL 60619

Celebration of Life Information

Date: Thursday, December 12, 2019

Location: Rauner Center; 2200 W Harrison, Chicago

Time: 6:00pm – 7:30pm

Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Regional Disaster Officer Adam Runkle

Susan Noyes: Helping Hands in Action

Red Cross Board Member Susan Noyes

It was “the coldest night of the year in November in Chicago,” American Red Cross board member, Susan Noyes explained, when she first witnessed the organization in operation. She had “signed up to respond to a fire… [and noticed] how well trained and professional the volunteers were and… how they interacted with the police, and the fire… and the families.” After Susan’s experience that night, she decided she wanted to do more, and so she joined the Tiffany Circle, a group of women leaders who contribute $10,000 or more per year to the Red Cross, as well as pitch in on various Red Cross missions. She also went on to become a Red Cross board member and co-chair of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, an annual event that spotlights local heroes for their service to the community. Susan said “the more I learned about the Red Cross, the more I wanted to help.”

Susan gives the credit for her initial interest in the Red Cross to the organization’s former CEO and her close friend, Fran Edwardson. It was Fran who helped Susan discover the details of her connection to the Red Cross. In conversation, Susan mentioned that her husband’s family had some sort of tie to the organization. Fran then went and researched and uncovered that, indeed, there was a connection – and what a connection it was. The ancestors of Susan’s husband, Nick Noyes, were in the inner circle of American Red Cross founder, Clara Barton! In addition, in 1949, the Noyes family donated a home to be used as the Red Cross Chapter House in Danville, New York, the same town in which Clara Barton had founded the first Red Cross chapter in the late 1800s. That Chapter House is used as a Red Cross museum and office today, displaying a collection of antiques donated by the Noyes family, as well as other memorabilia pertaining to the history of the Red Cross.

In addition to her work with the Red Cross, Susan is an avid seeker of ways to have a positive influence on the world in which we live. To that end, she founded Make It Better Media Group, a print and digital publishing company that extends to several platforms, including “Better” “Marin” and “Spaces” magazines. The motto of the media group is “Live, Love, Work, and Play with Greater Purpose” and as Susan explained, it means to live one’s life in a way that promotes “greater social impact.” A quick visit to the “Better” website and you can see the immense range of topics that the company covers. There’s everything from ways to get involved in your community to advice on travel, arts, museums, restaurants, and investing.

The Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois presented the 2019 Media Partner Wesbury Award to BETTER for understanding that content sharing of the Red Cross story and mission are important for their audience to learn about.

During the past year, Susan and BETTER took direct action to tell the catastrophic disaster story and to promote public contributions for Red Cross Hurricane Michael disaster relief. 

A consortium of Chicago-area donors was formed by BETTER to offer a $90,000 matching gift challenge to anyone who donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.  A couple of months later, another BETTER anonymous donor provided a $10,000 challenge grant to support relief operations for the devastating California Wildfires – again promoted through the BETTER digital platform. Both challenge grants were fully utilized, providing much needed support for people who lost everything.

Susan and her BETTER team accepted the 2019 Wesbury Media Award.

When thinking about the work of the Red Cross, Susan said that she has “never seen an organization make a donated dollar go further.” Thanks to great board members like her and our fantastic volunteers, the Red Cross continues to serve and thrive. Thank you, Susan, for all you do for your community and for all your hard work at the Red Cross!

Written by Red Cross Communications Volunteer Vicky Arias