Mr. Nasir Bin Zakaria Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Global Citizenship Hero

Mr. Nasir Bin Zakaria Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Global Citizenship Hero

“We can do so many things when we are organized,” said Nasir Bin Zakaria, reflecting on what he has achieved in Chicago by creating a community space for Rohingya refugees for learning, healing and advocating.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. As a young Rohingya child growing up in Myanmar, Bin Zakaria and his family were in physical danger. He faced discrimination when he was finally able to attend school and the one constant in life was a sense of unpredictability. Over half a million Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Myanmar according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

At the age of 14, Bin Zakaria was captured by the military, driven to the middle of the jungle and narrowly escaped. “I had never been in the jungle before, but I escaped the group and found the energy to run so fast for so long,” said Bin Zakaria. “I knew I couldn’t go back because the soldiers would kill me.” After a long journey through Bangladesh and Thailand and more than 15 years living in Malaysia, Bin Zakaria connected with the UNHCR to request refugee status. The application process required background checks and five interviews, but after seven years, his refugee status was approved. He arrived in Chicago in August 2013.

“If I could build one place, it would be easy to help everyone at once. Like a village. Our village,” said Bin Zakaria.

As a newly arrived refugee, getting a foothold on life in the United States was difficult. “I felt nervous because I wouldn’t be able to keep up if I wasn’t educated,” said Bin Zakaria, who had attended only a few years of school. He was losing sleep over the losses he had experienced and the challenges of integrating into a new place – and he knew he wasn’t alone in these feelings. Rogers Park on Chicago’s north side is home to about 400 Rohingya families, the largest Rohingya population in the country.

“If I could build one place, it would be easy to help everyone at once. Like a village. Our village,” said Bin Zakaria. In 2016, with the support of the Zakat Foundation, he opened the Rohingya Culture Center where individuals can go to speak their own language with those who understand them and receive vital support during their difficult journey. “It is amazing. Everyone is coming to us to process their trauma – to cry together, to pray together – because we have a place,” said Bin Zakaria.

Bin Zakaria established more than a meeting place. He created a platform for teaching others about the struggle of refugees and the Rohingya people. At a 2017 press conference at the Rohingya Culture Center organized by Bin Zakaria, Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky met with him and members of the cultural center, spoke about a recent fact-finding trip they took to Myanmar and learned more about the atrocities that Bin Zakaria and others like him experienced.

Bin Zakaria is amazed at what is possible when people come together like they have at the Rohingya Culture Center. “With everyone’s support, we can do anything,” said Bin Zakaria.

The Global Citizenship Award is presented to an individual(s) who volunteered or worked to meet the needs of the world’s potentially vulnerable populations by building safer, more resilient communities and providing needed relief.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 

Advertisements

Miss Charmin BoClaire Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Youth Hero

Miss Charmin BoClaire Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Youth Hero

At only 9-years-old, Charmin BoClaire became a hero to her entire family when she used the fire safety training she learned in school to quickly and safely evacuate her family from their burning home in October 2017.

Charmin was in the kitchen when the fire started. She saw her Mom’s legs catch on fire and rushed to bring her a blanket to douse the flames. Then, she hurried to get her 8-month-old brother, who has Down syndrome, and her 4-year-old sister, out of the house. Her sister was in the shower and didn’t want to leave because she wasn’t dressed, but Charmin wrapped her in a towel and urgently convinced her to go outside with her brother. Charmin then ran back inside the burning home to get her Mom, who was struggling with her wounds.

 … Charmin stepped up and took control in the unexpected situation, getting her siblings to safety and motivating her Mom to go outside with her, saying “You have to get up and get out. I’m not leaving you.”

During a house fire, a child’s natural reaction might be fear or bewilderment, said her aunt LaTiffanie Jackson, who explained that Charmin can be very shy. But, Charmin stepped up and took control in the unexpected situation, getting her siblings to safety and motivating her Mom to go outside with her, saying “You have to get up and get out. I’m not leaving you.”

It all happened in just a few moments. But, Charmin was prepared for those moments. Just one week before the fire, she and her classmates attended fire safety training at Nathan Hale Primary School. Charmin said that fire safety is important for everyone, “so they won’t get hurt and they’ll know how to help keep their family safe.”

Jackson, who is caring for the three children while their mother is recovering from injuries, said that Charmin has always been a caretaker for her younger siblings. She’s not surprised that Charmin went into quick action that day.

Charmin is still processing the experience, said her aunt. They lost everything in the house, including the family’s pet cat. Charmin is still focused on the distressing experience but she’s slowly getting more comfortable talking about it. “At first it really upset her to talk about it,” said Jackson, who said that Charmin’s responsibility to her family runs so deep that she sometimes has to remind her to go out to play.

Charmin’s life-saving actions taught her classmates to really pay attention because, even at their young age, “They have the power and the ability to do something amazing,” said Jackson. “Something that changes lives.”

The Youth Award is presented to an outstanding individual(s) who is 17 years old or under and has performed an act of heroism involving an unusual, significant or unexpected incident, or is involved in an ongoing situation in which a commitment is made to the community through acts of kindness, courage, or unselfishness in response to an identified need.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 

Captain Michael Casagrande Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Firefighter Hero

Captain Michael Casagrande Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Firefighter Hero

As a 41-year veteran firefighter, Michael Casagrande has faced more than 2,000 fires. A Kankakee Fire Department captain, Casagrande is experienced in putting out fires, but knows that fighting fires before they happen is the ultimate battle.

Casagrande, who leads the Fire Prevention Division for the City of Kankakee, is dedicated to fire prevention and education. He has led the installation of more than 10,000 smoke alarms across Kankakee since 2015. This number of installations is extremely significant, given that the city of Kankakee is home to approximately 10,000 households. Casagrande and the Kankakee Fire Department, in partnership with the American Red Cross and through a grant from FEMA, blanketed Kankakee homes with smoke alarms.

As this program was launching in 2015, Casagrande felt particularly shaken by several tragic home fires. That year, four small children died in Kankakee home fires. One of them was a young girl who lost her life when her mother tried to carry both her and a sibling through the fire to the front door, passing possible escape windows. Casagrande knew that fire education paired with working smoke alarms could have prevented this tragedy and would prevent future heart break.

Casagrande and his Fire Prevention Division began educating Kankakee children about fire prevention through programs like the Fire Safety House program. Initially, these school programs targeted children only, however, Casagrande and his team quickly realized that the message also needed to be relayed to parents. Casagrande altered the program to involve parents and continued his quest to install smoke alarms. For the past two years there have been no fire fatalities in Kankakee.

For the past two years there have been no fire fatalities in Kankakee.

According to Casagrande, “It didn’t matter who you are or what your housing situation is, whether you rent or you own, we educated and installed the alarms necessary for all populations in need in the community.” Casagrande’s close relationship to his community was critical to the program’s success. Some of the people served were members of the migrant worker community who do not speak English and were fearful of authority. The team strategized carefully around community needs to ensure every household felt comfortable receiving this life-saving resource.

Casagrande and the Kankakee Fire Department know their program is saving lives. In several cases, the Fire Department uncovered substantial gas leaks during smoke alarm installations which were repaired, averting potentially fatal crises.

In 2017, Marsean Harris and her young family escaped a house fire because of the smoke alarms that Casagrande and his team installed. Harris said, “It was terrible. We woke up to the smoke alarm. By the time we made it out, the house was engulfed in flames. I thank God for those smoke alarms, having two small kids and a baby on the way.” To hear about this family’s story in a video, click here.

The Firefighter Award is presented to a professional, volunteer firefighter(s), or medical personnel related to dispatch operations at a fire department who acted above and beyond the call of duty, exhibiting heroism either in response to an emergency situation or through an ongoing commitment to the community.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 

Mr. Roy B. Sartin & Mr. Eli Williamson Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Military Heroes

Roy Sartin and Eli Williamson are kindred spirits. They met in a freshman year Latin class at Kenwood Academy High School and attended Luther College in Iowa. During college, both men enlisted in the Army and deployed overseas to the Middle East.

After years of military service as a staff sergeant in special operations as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Williamson found himself back in Chicago thinking about his next chapter as his student loans came due. Coincidentally, his old friend Sartin had also recently been discharged from his Army Heavy Combat Engineer Reserve unit as a sergeant and was contemplating his new purpose as a civilian. He too was grappling with student loans.

The difference between military and civilian life felt stark. They spent years fostering a very specific skill set to find it underutilized upon their return. And they weren’t alone in this feeling. They found that many veterans had trouble reconnecting with their communities after their service ended and that student debt and underemployment were major burdens for many returning service members.

“When you recognize a problem, your duty as a member of society is to do something about it,” said Sartin.

Sartin and Williamson thought there was a solution to the problem of service members feeling disconnected from their communities and lacking resources upon return. They launched Leave No Veteran Behind in 2008 to invest in veterans to build better communities through retroactive scholarships, transitional jobs and community engagement. Leave No Veteran Behind connects veterans with service opportunities that utilize their unique skill set, all while helping them pay off student debt.

They launched Leave No Veteran Behind in 2008 to invest in veterans to build better communities through retroactive scholarships, transitional jobs and community engagement.

A fantastic example of utilizing veterans’ skills as assets for the community started in 2009, when they partnered with Chicago Public Schools to position veterans on the corner of 35th and Martin Luther King Drive near several schools to help alleviate violence. The veterans, understanding the neighborhood, helped make sure students had a safe experience traveling to and from school each day.

The veterans became known and welcomed in the school area and violence decreased. Because of its success, CPS expanded the program across the city and it became known as The Safe Passage Program. Thanks to Leave No Veteran Behind, more than 700 veterans are helping to keep the children of Chicago safe.

Sartin and Williamson paved the way for other organizations in Chicago to consider the contributions of veterans as vital for our communities. “Helping communities to thrive is work we are all supposed to do,” said Williamson. “We are so glad to see the positive impact of Leave No Veteran Behind, both on the veterans we work with and on our community.”

The Military Award is presented to an active, reserve guard, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), or veteran member(s) of the Armed Forces, or military supporter, who acted above and beyond the call of duty or have made an ongoing commitment to the community

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 

Miss Olivia Shorter Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Blood Services Hero

Miss Olivia Shorter Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Blood Services Hero

Olivia “Livy” Shorter is just 7 years old and, in many ways, Olivia is a typical little girl. She loves cheerleading, baking cookies and listening to Beyonce. She is the little sister to brothers Adam, 11, and Dylan, 9. As typical as Olivia is, she has lived with the burden of a chronic, incurable illness for all of her young life – something most children will never understand.

When Olivia was just seven days old, she was diagnosed with sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that causes red blood cells to become misshapen and break down. For Olivia, it requires many treatments and transfusions to care for or prevent sickle cell-related complications. She is also at risk for bacterial infections and other complications.

Olivia has been treated for sickle cell since she was 5 months old, undergoing blood transfusions and IV fluids every three weeks. This equates to more than 100 transfusions in her short life. Olivia’s regular hospital visits for transfusions and treatments last hours because it takes at least two hours for the blood to be matched as closely as possible to minimize complications, then the transfusion itself can take an additional two to three hours. On top of this regular treatment, Olivia had her spleen surgically removed when she was only 6 years old in order to ease the blood transfusion process.

Amid all of the challenges Olivia faces, her spirit remains generous and kind. For her seventh birthday, Olivia told her parents that she wanted to host “a party for the children with sickle cell, to see them and meet them and have fun with them.”

For her seventh birthday, Olivia told her parents that she wanted to host “a party for the children with sickle cell, to see them and meet them and have fun with them.”

Olivia’s mother knew that the family had to honor her selfless request. “Despite her illness, Livy is so loving, caring and joyful,” she said. “Her birthday is September 20 and September is Sickle Cell Awareness month, so we decided to throw a party for all the kids and families that make every day a triumph.”

On September 16, 2017, Olivia and her family hosted not only a birthday party for children with sickle cell and their families, but also a blood drive with the American Red Cross. The event, which attracted over 200 people, was terrific. “While the children were partying, parents and friends donated blood to help children with sickle cell,” her mother explained.

The best blood match for an African-American child with sickle cell disease usually comes from an African-American donor. At Olivia’s birthday blood drive, African-American blood donors could mark their blood donation with a blue tag. The American Red Cross blue tag program, a national effort that partners regionally with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, identifies donations that should be earmarked to go specifically to sickle cell patients like Olivia.

“We are going to try to have a sickle cell birthday party and blood drive to honor Livy and the children with sickle cell every year,” her mother said. “Livy manages her situation with such patience and grace, it is an honor to celebrate her.”

The Blood Services Award is presented to an individual(s) or organization that is involved in activity that creates awareness of the importance of blood donation, helps to ensure a sufficient and safe blood supply is available to patients, and/or serves as an advocate for the blood community.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 


Officer Joseph McDermott & Officer Ryan Davenport Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Law Enforcement Heroes

Sacrificing their personal safety, Belvidere police officers Ryan Davenport and Joseph McDermott saved the lives of a mother and child in a dire situation. McDermott and Davenport both reflect on that day with the same sentiment: it was one of the most challenging days on the job, ever.

McDermott responded alone to a call in the middle of a chilly March night, arriving at the Kishwaukee River where a minivan was sinking in the deep water with two passengers inside. He took off his vest, boots and belt and stepped into the cold river. He was immediately submerged in deep, cold water and swam to the sinking van.

Adrenaline and panic were starting to set in. McDermott recalls, “I couldn’t believe what was happening. I couldn’t touch the bottom and the water was freezing cold.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but his friend and fellow officer, Davenport, was right behind him ready to help. Davenport heard the dispatch call on his way home from a 13-hour shift and voluntarily headed to the scene of the accident to make sure McDermott had support. McDermott says, “We back each other up on everything. I depend on him. I know he’ll show up when I need him to. I’m not surprised Ryan was right there.”

It only took three minutes for the van to submerge completely. In that short time, McDermott and Davenport had saved the lives of both passengers.

Davenport, arriving soon after, watched McDermott swim to the van and began gauging the best place to enter the water. At that moment, McDermott yelled, “There’s a kid in the car!” Davenport jumped into the water to join his friend in this frightening save. When he heard this, he wasn’t thinking about how cold or deep the water was, he was just thinking about how to save the child.

“I could hear in his voice that this was something different,” Davenport remembers thinking when he heard his friend and colleague yelling from the water.

McDermott broke a window to gain access to the vehicle and the mother handed him the infant. Davenport was right there, ready to swim the child to shore safely. “The mother grabbed my shoulder from behind and the baby’s legs dipped into the water — I could see the infant’s eyes get really big,” said Davenport. “I held the baby above my head with my right arm and attempted to swim back to shore.”

Davenport managed to keep the infant almost completely out of the water while swimming her to shore, which likely saved her from hypothermia.

It only took three minutes for the van to submerge completely. In that short time, McDermott and Davenport had saved the lives of both passengers.

The Law Enforcement Award is presented to a professional police officer(s) or related law enforcement official(s) who exhibited heroism either in response to an emergency situation or through an ongoing commitment to the community.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

Mr. Sheldon L. Smith Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Community Impact Hero

Mr. Sheldon L. Smith Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Community Impact Hero

Sheldon Smith’s father was incarcerated when he was just 7 years old. A decade later, Smith was incarcerated himself for robbery at the age of 17. “I never thought I’d live to see 23. I thought I’d be dead by 23,” said Smith. But he didn’t let these experiences guide the trajectory of his life.

When Smith was 21, he found out he was going to be a father. He quickly decided that he wanted to do it right and he wanted to help others do the same. The same year he became a father, he created The Dovetail Project, a nonprofit that empowers young African-American fathers to be great dads.

The Dovetail Project provides African-American fathers, ages 17-24, with employment skills, educational resources and tools to be better fathers and men through a voluntary 12-week program. Fathers learn parenting skills, job interview tips, financial literacy and how to interact with law enforcement, among other topics.

“He’s like a beacon of hope, a symbol of fatherhood … The Dovetail Project has really changed me,” said Pool.

Dovetail participant Devonte Pool said that the program provides fathers with an opportunity to better themselves. “He’s like a beacon of hope, a symbol of fatherhood … The Dovetail Project has really changed me,” said Pool.

“The city of Chicago can be tough … especially if you live in a community with a lack of resources. It can be tough. [Dovetail participants] wake up every day, come to the program and avoid the roadblocks that exist in front of them,” said Smith.

He says this voluntary program is a training for fathers, but it’s really about their babies. “The most impactful thing you can do for your child is make sure they have a better life than you had,” said Smith. “It’s all about making sure you leave your legacy.”

Since 2010, 336 fathers have completed the program. The waiting list to participate has more than 300 people on it and this year marked the largest graduation number to date. The Dovetail Project, which started in Woodlawn, is now expanding to new neighborhoods and using a larger space for its main office to account for a growing participant base. Smith’s goal is to go from 120 to 325 annual participants by 2021 and to expand to a new city by 2022.

Smith credits the program’s success to his childhood mentors who stuck by him unconditionally. “I’m making the bet that everyone made on me,” said Smith, who believes that the world can be better if we all participate even in small ways.

The Community Impact Award is presented to an individual(s) who displays leadership and commitment to his or her community by making a positive, noticeable and significant impact on society.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.