Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Career counselor, radio personality, teacher, first aid and emergency preparedness trainer, volunteer, humanitarian — the list goes on, but for the past 35 years the one constant for Steve Swett has been his dedication to being a Red Cross Volunteer.

“I’ve been around a very long time,” laughed Steve. “But you know what? In my 35 years at the Red Cross, it’s always been something different – the learning is constant and with learning comes power and responsibility. For me, learning has given me the drive and power to help, and it makes me feel so good when I connect with people and hear how the Red Cross and volunteers like me have made a difference.”

Steve during a severe weather preparedness training.

In addition to his commitment to learning, Steve has dedicated time to teaching for decades at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, Illinois and for many years providing Red Cross training to youth groups, other non-profit agencies like The Salvation Army, and at Sheridan Correctional Center. Amongst his biggest accomplishments, Steve created and maintains a 30-minute segment on WCMY ‘Red Cross Minute’ which over the years has served to inform the public of resources, trainings, blood drives, safety preparedness, and other valuable information. Special recognition and much gratitude to Steve’s The Morning Mix on WCMY radio co-host, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Frost of LaSalle who passed away last month. Maggie, along with Steve, supported the Red Cross and over the years, both helped amplify the Red Cross message and what started as a 5-minute segment with special guest Red Cross representatives turned into a 30-minute program that LaSalle County residents have come to rely on.

When asked why he volunteers, Steve stated, “Volunteers like us have an important role and perform a lot of different tasks. We feed and shelter people, gather information, and coordinate with local government and community partners. We help clients and communities in the recovery process during and after a disaster. There is so much one can do. Bottom-line—we [Red Cross volunteers] are the line of hope for many and we have the responsibility to be there for each other when and where it’s most needed.”

Whatever your interests or abilities there’s a role for you as a volunteer at the Red Cross. What do you like to do? What gives you personal satisfaction?  There are many ways to be a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Join us! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can support your community.

Thank you, Steve for your dedication of time and talent over the past 35 years! We look forward to many more years! We couldn’t do it without you!

Steve finds time for a much-deserved break with his beloved Annie.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Walsh Elementary Paraprofessional Jen Kerrigan Saves Kindergartener from Choking, Receives Red Cross Lifesaving Award

The American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley was proud to present Jennifer Kerrigan with a Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action and a Red Cross Lifesaving pin for her heroic actions in the face of an emergency.

Executive Director Brian McDaniel presenting the award to Jennifer Kerrigan at Walsh Elementary

Jen Kerrigan has been a special education paraprofessional at Walsh Elementary School in Lockport, IL for over 7 years and easily develops close bonds with many of the children who attend. She oversees them in the classroom environment and also during non-classroom times like lunch in the school gym.

On January 18, 2022 Jen was watching students finish eating and encouraging them to line up to get ready for the next part of their day when she noticed a kindergartener in distress. In his rush to finish eating a bagel, he started choking on a piece of the bread.

Jen says she could see the fear in his eyes and immediately knew what to do. She was by his side in a moment and asked if he was OK, to which he shook his head “no,” and Jen gently picked him up and started doing back blows to dislodge what was in his throat.

It took several back blows and at least three abdominal thrusts but Jen was able to save the child from choking. Everyone was relieved to see the boy calming down and breathing thanks to Jen’s quick actions in both seeing him in trouble and doing something about it.

This was not the first time Jen stepped in to help a student choking. In 2018, she also saved a different young boy with special needs who had been choking on a taco. Again, even without any verbal cues she knew something was wrong and immediately took action.

In both instances, it took a combination of Jen knowing what to do and first recognizing what was happening even in challenging circumstances involving small children and a student with special needs. Jen says even when there is no verbal communication, sometimes you just know something is wrong and know you need to do something.

As someone who is surrounded by kids all day, she says its important to have those skills whether you’re around kids or not. She remembers taking the courses but its become more of an instinct she’s developed from years of supervising kids and having her own special needs son who passed away 18 years ago. She took trainings and learned skills from CPR to knowing what to do when someone is choking and more. Now, she’s the one you’d want to have around no matter what happens.

In the surprise presentation, both boys she saved were there to see her receive the award and be reunited with Jen who shed a few tears. For her, it’s just part of the job.

“I’m grateful that I can be calm about it,” Jen said. “To me, it’s all in a day’s work. If I can help you I’m all about it.”

Since the incident in January, bagels have been removed from the school’s lunch menu.

Jen truly embodies the mission and values of the American Red Cross, which has awarded over 1,800 individuals with Lifesaving Awards.

Learn how to save a life with Red Cross Training Classes: www.redcross.org/takeaclass

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Holly Baker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more photos here.


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

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

Still Getting Certified: Red Cross Blended Learning Training Classes

Many jobs require up to date lifesaving skills because they address health emergencies every day – people such as health care providers, first responders, and lifeguards. Others, including teachers and babysitters, are entrusted with precious young lives that could require aid on a moment’s notice.

Those of us who don’t face health emergencies every day can also benefit from Red Cross training. With a wide array of Lifeguarding, Caregiving and Babysitting, and Swimming and Water Safety courses the Red Cross can provide you with the training and skills you need to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

COVID-19 has really changed the way many things are done with safety a top priority for many. This can mean limited social or in-person interactions. Thankfully, the Red Cross has done a great job of creating different formats for their training programs to better suit everyone’s needs and desires. Updated virtual and blended classes are offered, meaning you can be certified in First Aid, CPR, AED use, babysitting, and even some aspects of water safety are now offered completely online. In-person courses and blended classes, meaning partially online and an abbreviated in-person portion, are also offered.

It was important to be to be trained in CPR & First Aid because at any given time, there could be an individual who becomes unconscious faces a life-threatening injury and knowing what to do and not feeling like a helpless bystander is rewarding. The hope is that you will never have to use your training in real life, but if it were to happen, it’s important that you are trained and ready. So I decided to get ready.

I chose to do a blended course to get certified in Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED so I could really get a feel as to how the classes are run and how they were able to modify a portion of the learning to be online. To my surprise, the online portion was very informative. They included images and videos to help you truly understand how to perform CPR on an adult/infant and give you scenarios of a real-life emergency so you can see how everything is done. I am now well versed in the “Check, Call, Care” mantra. They also had quizzes to ensure you are retaining the information and understanding it to the fullest. Having the training program be split between online and in-person shortened the course as well. Instead of having to go to a class that could last up to 6 hours, the class I attended was only 1.5 hours. The online part is also done on your own at your own pace, probably taking around 2 hours to complete.

Joe, the instructor of the class, was highly adept at keeping the class informative and fun. He made sure to help everyone individually if they needed assistance with CPR compressions, he was there if we had any questions, and so much more. Not only was he of great aid, the CPR manikins that we practiced on were also very helpful. When practicing chest compressions, red lights would illuminate inside the manikin as a guide to know if your compressions were firm and fast enough. The goal was to always have its forehead light up for the duration of the CPR. That would ensure that we had a steady rhythm and were also going deep enough on each compression. Everything needed for the training course was provided. We did not need to bring anything other than ourselves. We also had the opportunity to help each other out. I was partnered up with 2 other individuals from the class and we would take turns on the manikins while also giving following the guidebook to make sure our CPR techniques were correct.

The American Red Cross also ensures that we are all still following CDC guidelines when it comes to COVID including wearing face masks and spacing us out in the room. When learning what to do when someone is choking, the class has been altered to be contact-less and we practiced pelvic thrusts and back blows with chairs representing the victim or on ourselves.

The changes, though slight, made the class feel safe while still learning all the needed information. Upon successful completion, a 2-year digital certificate is issued to all students. I would recommend a blended course to anyone looking for training but also wanting to minimize their in-person interactions. Being trained in what to do in an emergency can help you feel empowered to help save a life.

Find out more about blended learning and all the Training Courses the Red Cross has to offer at www.redcross.org/takeaclass.

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Lifesaving Awards: Dave Shrum recognized for actions on the golf course

While enjoying a game of golf with a friend in Carlyle, Illinois, Dave Shrum put his lifesaving training into action. On August 13, 2020, Dave and a friend arrived at the 14th hole when his friend fell to the ground.

“It was just the two of us and once he dropped, he was unconscious, I called 9-1-1 and knew what to do,” Dave says.

Dave has been trained in first aid and CPR since high school, but just two months prior to the medical emergency with his friend, he completed refresher training through the American Red Cross.

He started compressions on his friend and kept performing them until EMS crews arrived at their location on the golf course. Dave described it as a hot day, but he knew his friend’s life depended on him to push through the heat and continue compressions.

His friend eventually recovered. Dave says it was rewarding to know he survived the incident.

For his courageous act, Dave was awarded the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit during a virtual meeting with his colleagues present, who nominated him.

This is the highest award given by the American Red Cross to an individual or team of individuals who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course. The certificate bears the signature of the President of the United States, who is the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross, and the signature of the chairman of the American Red Cross.

Dave says being nominated by his colleagues was quite a surprised.

“I’m a pretty humble person. I don’t like a lot of extra attention, but it was nice. I really appreciated the award,” he says.

Dave adds, if people have the opportunity to take CPR classes it is a valuable skill that could help someone in need.

To learn more about American Red Cross Training Services and to find a first aid training course in your area visit redcross.org. To nominate someone for a Red Cross Lifesaving Award click here.

Written by Drew Brown, Regional Communications Manager

Lifesaving Awards: Red Cross Recognizes Individuals for Selfless Actions

The American Red Cross National Lifesaving Awards program recognizes and honors individuals and teams who save or sustain a life using skills learned in a Red Cross Training class.

This year, Cory Pearson was recognized with the Lifesaving Award for Professional Rescuers. His instructor, Dan Kish, received the Lifesaving Instructor Award.

Cory Pearson (left) and Dan Kish (bottom)

Dan’s lifesaving teachings were critical in saving a man’s life at one of the pools at Naval Station Great Lakes. On October 17, 2017, Cory Pearson, a lifeguard to whom Dan had taught CPR and AED, spotted a distressed swimmer. Cory brought the man out of the water and with the help of teammates, performed CPR.

Dan was at the pool that day and remembers Cory’s actions vividly. “He was the closest to the victim and I saw him quickly respond and activate the emergency action plan.” Dan says. “He got the victim out of the water quickly. I was proud to watch one of my students perform a correct rescue and save someone’s life.”

As a swimming coach and lifeguard, Dan is very much aware of the importance of knowing lifesaving skills such as how to respond to aquatic emergencies, performing CPR and how to use an AED. “I have a seven-month old daughter, and we are always near a lake or pool. Everybody should know these lifesaving skills, “ Dan explains. “This helps build confidence in the rescuer. People should also stay current in their training as it’s always changing and evolving for the best. Emergencies can happen anywhere, anytime and you need to be ready.”

Also, this week, the Red Cross presented the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit to Petty Officer 2nd Class, Elias Sandoval of the U.S. Navy, who is trained in American Red Cross Advance Life Support. On December 6, 2019, Elias was driving in Jacksonville, North Carolina, when he noticed a man laying on the highway. He realized that the man was unconscious. Elias brought his personal AED and first aid kit to where the gentleman was and after assessing his condition, began to perform chest compressions and rescue breaths. Thanks to Elias’ prompt actions, the man began to respond. The skills learned in the Red Cross course undoubtedly helped Elias sustain a life on that day.

Elias, who is currently assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Base in Lake Forest, has been a CPR instructor for a couple of years. He told us why it’s so important for him to teach people the skills that he has learned with the Red Cross. “I think it’s very important for everybody to be certified and be able to provide CPR because seconds matter and it’s up to you to make a difference,” said Elias.

If you’re interested in learning lifesaving skills through the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/takeaclass for information.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Communications & Marketing Manager

Volunteer reflects on Red Cross memories after achieving huge milestone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*All photos taken before the pandemic

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Recognized for lifesaving actions

A typical work day for Matt Brewer and Dalton Cordier at the Illinois Association of Realtors office in Springfield, Illinois, turned into a lifesaving day.

On September 12, 2019, Dalton witnessed one of the drivers from the association collapse while completing a delivery.

Trained in American Red Cross Adult First Aid/CPR/AED, he realized the severity of the situation and called 9-1-1 along with alerting colleague Matt Brewer.

Matt, who served as a volunteer firefighter in New Berlin, Illinois, started to perform chest compressions. Both stayed with the driver until emergency crews arrived and continued to provide care for the driver, who survived.

Matt says he was initially shocked by what happened despite serving as a firefighter but he and Dalton are thankful they were able to help.

“I was very humbled, the whole experience was very humbling for sure,” he adds.

During a recent South Central Illinois Board of Directors meeting both men were recognized for their courageousness.

Matt was awarded the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action. The award is given to people, who step up in an emergency and help save or sustain a life.

Dalton was awarded the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit. This is the highest award given by the American Red Cross to a person or team of individuals who save or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course.

His certificate bears the signature of the President of the United States, who is the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross, and the signature of the chairman of the American Red Cross.

Both Dalton and Matt exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

To learn more about American Red Cross Training Services and to find a first aid training course in your area click here.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang

Lauren Trylovich Honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Emergency Medical Assistance Hero

When Amena Karim’s sister, Rasheda Kahn, became unresponsive, she immediately called 9-1-1 and the emergency phone operator, Lauren Trylovich, answered her desperate call for help.

Lauren first asked Amena to describe her sister’s condition and the situation. Amena told the dispatcher she was clammy, not moving and was breathing ‘like she was snoring.’ Trylovich was able to successfully assess Rasheda’s condition and knew the labored breath meant that time was critical. Lauren told Amena, “Ma’am, listen to me, this is very important – somebody needs to start CPR on her right now.”

Lauren continues, “We were able to then go to work, essentially, and position her sister for CPR.” She then started to provide Amena with instructions on how to perform CPR:

Trylovich: “So she’s flat on her back?”

Karim: “Yes, she’s turning blue.”

Trylovich: “All you have to do is put your palms on the center of her chest, push down hard and fast – just like how they do it on TV.”

With Lauren’s instructions, Amena was able to stabilize her sister until paramedics arrived, without any prior experience or training in CPR. “She empowered me to help my sister, but also, she was very empathetic and effective,” Amena said about Lauren.

“This call was memorable because Amena remained calm and took every direction I gave her on the phone,” said Lauren. Her calm, quick thinking demenor made the differnce in helping to stabalize Rasheda and save her life.

Lauren is a trained paramedic and as been working at the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications for four years – taking intense calls like Amena’s. On a regular eight-hour shift Lauren will get 200-300 calls – cardiac arrests, shooting victims, stabbings and injuries are all part of her day to day response. Lauren says “I rely on my training as a paramedic each day. I visualize the response (over the phone), because I have actively handled live emergencies firsthand.”

A few months later, Amena would have the opportunity to express her gratitude to Lauren on the phone and later in person. As for Lauren, when asked how often she gets a call from someone who wants to thank her, Lauren said: “Never. In my entire career, this has never happened.”

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.