Hispanic Heritage Month: Red Crosser Brittany Reynoso Reflects on Cross-Cultural, Cross-Generational Connections

Brittany Reynoso joined the Illinois Red Cross staff as a Regional Philanthropy Officer earlier this year. In this role, she manages a portfolio of donors and works with them individually to understand their philanthropic goals; together they connect their giving interests with all that the Red Cross does. Prior to joining the development staff, Brittany was a virtual volunteer with the Red Cross in the western U.S.: “I wanted to learn more about the Red Cross, the breadth of the life-saving work that’s part of the mission, and the different lines of service”. When a position opened in Chicago, the fit was perfect!

Hispanic Heritage Month is a special time of year for Brittany to reflect on her own heritage. Her grandparents are from Jalisco, Mexico and she takes great pride in that culture. “It’s so vibrant and I’m very proud of it. It’s an important part of my identity every day, but this month is a reminder to share our cultures and heritage with friends and loved ones.” One of Brittany’s favorite ways to celebrate is listening to live mariachi music in Chicago, and sharing that unique musical experience with friends. Throughout the year, she enjoys the Mexican influences in the Pilsen neighborhood, including the National Museum of Mexican Art. Visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibit with her family this summer at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art (College of DuPage) brought the Mexican painter and history to the forefront and was amazing, says Brittany.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to appreciate other Latin cultures and recognize those communities. Brittany recently visited an Argentine market and restaurant with an Argentinian friend, to experience what makes their culture distinctive. A multi-cultural and ethnic city such as Chicago allows for that exposure.

“This month is also the perfect occasion to spark conversations among elders and hear what stories they lived, a time to connect to family and carry on those stories in the U.S.”, says Brittany. She plans to travel to Jalisco next year with her grandparents, and looks forward to reconnecting with her family’s history and heritage.

To become a Red Cross volunteer and make a difference in your community, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Hispanic Heritage Month: Erika Ochoa Serves Others Through AmeriCorps, Reflects on her Cultural Heritage

Erika is an AmeriCorps/Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) member with the American Red Cross, and completes her 11-month term this September.

Before joining the Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC) in Chicago, Erika always connected to a community of people helping out, whether locally, nationally, or globally. She found a perfect fit for humanitarian work with the Red Cross.

As an IDC member, Erika experienced firsthand much of what our organization does on the ground: providing disaster relief for home fires in Illinois, teaching preparedness classes virtually, staffing COVID-19 vaccination sites with the City of Chicago’s Department of Public Health earlier this year, and assisting with client recovery casework. The most eye-opening experience for Erika was working with residents affected by floods in Tennessee. While deployed there, she went door-to-door with other Red Crossers to offer immediate assistance to those in need. “It was great to see how the Red Cross organizes and mobilizes on-site so quickly, while also working toward a bigger goal,” says Erika.

Erika (left) during her deployment to Tennessee

In addition to celebrating the completion of her AmeriCorps service, Erika will also celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month over the next several weeks. Erika’s father is from Huatabampo, Mexico, and that cultural heritage is important for her family to observe in the U.S. Some of her favorite traditions include Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in November, which commemorates the life and death of family members and loved ones and making tamales in Mexico for various holidays.

Thank you, Erika, for all of your impactful work as an Illinois Disaster Corps member this year. We are also grateful that you will continue as a volunteer with the Red Cross!

Click here to find out about how to serve your community through AmeriCorps.

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Hispanic Heritage Month: Illinois Red Cross CEO, Celena Roldán, Helping Inspire the Next Generation of Leaders

As the CEO of the American Red Cross of Illinois, Celena Roldán oversees the operations of the Red Cross in 88 counties, including four counties in Iowa and four counties in Missouri. She plays an essential role in helping the Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day.

However, for Celena, this job comes with an even greater responsibility. As a woman and as Latina, she understands that she is also a role model to many young professional women, “I often work with young women just entering the workforce, and I believe it is part of my job to be their champion and to help them to see the many possibilities for growth that already exist in themselves,” says Celena.

She remembers an eye-opening interaction that she had with young Latinas, a few years ago, after speaking at a conference.  An experience that was a reaffirmation of the responsibility that she has a professional woman, as a Latina, and as a leader. “Several young Latina women came up to me teary-eyed and said, ‘You have no idea for what it means to us to see you in this position.’ At that moment, I realized how unbelievably powerful it is for women to have a mirror image of themselves to know they can also be a leader. This is a tremendous responsibility to help them envision and script the possibilities that lie within them,” explains Celena.

As a young Latina, Celena recalls the great impact and influence that mentors have had on her throughout her professional career, and how their advice and encouragement helped her grow and develop professionally. However, there are two very special people who have had the most influence in Celena’s life, her parents, Ida and Hipólito Roldán. “I remember seeing my parents, who both came from very humble beginnings, live their lives with servant hearts.”  Her dad was the first employee of what became one of the largest organizations in the Midwest providing housing to families in need of a home. Her mother, Ida, a bilingual psychotherapist has been a champion providing critical mental health support in diverse communities.

Celena says that both her parents encouraged her to find her own path and way to serve others. A social worker by trade, she tells us that her parents told her the road would often be challenging, and that seeing the vulnerability and suffering in humankind can be heartbreaking. But they also reminded her that we are put on this earth to help support a person, a child in need and do our part to build stronger communities.

Celena with her dad, Hipólito Roldán, during this year’s ABC 7 Great Chicago Blood Drive

During her first year at the Red Cross, Celena started the Latino Engagement Outreach team with her counterpart in Los Angeles, Jarrett Barrios. This team has been vital in reaching vulnerable communities with volunteers that speak their language. “Sometimes in these communities, people think the Red Cross is a government organization. It’s our goal to break down these barriers and misconceptions to reach people with humanitarian assistance,” adds Celena.

Since joining the Red Cross, Celena has deployed multiple times to bring relief to communities impacted by disasters. In 2017, she traveled to Puerto Rico with her mother, who volunteers with the Red Cross. Once there, she saw the devastation that Hurricane Maria has caused to her beloved Puerto Rico. While her mother provided disaster mental health counseling to many on the island, Celena worked with community partners to provide access to critical services. She also went through communities with a megaphone offering clean water. “This experience deeply impacted me and reinforced the love I have for my culture and my people…Seeing the island that I loved and grew up visiting, devastated, was very difficult.”

Celena and her mother, Ida Roldán, as they deployed to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017

For this Latina, serving others is her purpose in life, and helping form the new generation of women leaders, is a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly, “While I am proud to be a female leader of the Illinois Red Cross, I have the great honor of working alongside people who I consider to be superheroes. They answer the call at al times of the day, every day, here at home and across the country. I hope that my team views me as simply someone who can help them move beyond dreaming into doing. Someone who inspires them each day to find the right course, get to the best answer and do the right thing as a humanitarian. For me, setting a good example and not being afraid to get into the trenches and do myself, what I ask others to do, is the best way I know to empower and inspire the next generation of leaders.”

In the summer of 2020, Celena deployed to Oregon where she led the Latino Engagement Team during the wildfires.

This is your time to join other humanitarians like Celena. Become a member of our amazing and dedicated team of volunteers today by visiting redcross.org/volunteer. You can make a different in the lives of so many impacted by disasters. You can also help by donating at redcross.org.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet AmeriCorps Team Member, Natalia Mora

While volunteering with the Mexican Red Cross to help with the 2017 Puebla earthquake relief, Natalia describes how she immediately realized that she wanted to become more involved in helping her community. Following her work with the Mexican Red Cross, Natalia wanted to gain more experience in nonprofit management and says that helping others gives her a sense of fulfillment.

After completing her college degree, Natalia joined the AmeriCorps team with the Illinois Red Cross. Recently, she deployed to Louisiana and Texas to assist with Hurricane Laura relief efforts. Soon after her arrival in Louisiana, she noticed the work that needed to be done was significant. “I went to Lake Charles and saw the damage. I knew that there was an opportunity for me here to make an impact,” says Natalia.

Natalia with her Illinois AmeriCorps Team

She began by assisting the Disaster and Emergency Services primarily with logistics including checking staff rosters, and helping to distribute food and supplies to impacted communities hardest hit by Hurricane Laura.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

In addition, Natalia also performed casework, which she said was particularly significant for her. “A big moment for me was when I performed casework in Spanish for the first time ever. It was rewarding to be able to help someone in my native language,” explains Natalia.

Natalia who wants to continue working with those in need, including the immigrant community is very proud of her culture and explains what  Hispanic Heritage Month means to her “ My culture and traditions are deeply rooted in who I am, and I am proud of how much my heritage has to offer to this country. This is a time to appreciate and embrace the beautiful culture, history, accomplishments, and traditions of many countries and to share that with our communities.”

If you would like to volunteer with the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/volunteer. To learn more about AmeriCorps click here!

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Justin Wang.

Tanya Toribio: Delivering Volunteers to Those in Need after a Home Fire

Tanya Toribio is a disaster program specialist with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. In that role, Tanya works closely with volunteer services to ensure that the organization has the volunteer workforce to respond to home fires.

Born in Florida and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada by Mexican parents, while attending college in Reno, a friend who was a disaster program manager for the Red Cross encouraged Tanya to become a volunteer with the organization, “I grew up volunteering…so I always enjoyed helping people. And then when I did my first [disaster action team] DAT call…I was hooked. I was like, wow! this is such a great feeling.”

Tanya helps a person to sign up for a free smoke alarm installation

After college, Tanya joined AmeriCorps for a year, helping advance the mission of the Red Cross by teaching disaster preparedness to underserved communities in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During her time with AmeriCorps, Tanya deployed to North Carolina to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Florence. In North Carolina, she worked with displaced residents in the shelters and make sure people were aware of resources available to them. She tells me the story about a family that she met at one of the shelters and that only spoke Spanish and how relieved they were when Tanya was able to let them know about the long-term assistance that was available to them, including resources that they could access through FEMA. Tanya was able to connect them with representative of that organization that spoke Spanish, and that was able to continue assisting them with the recovery process.

Tanya is first generation Mexican American, and she sees Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportunity to highlight the different contributions Latinos have made to the country, particularly the many cultures that they represent, adding to the diversity of the United States.

You can find more information about volunteering with the American Red Cross here. To sign up for an appointment for a free smoke alarm installation at your home, visit www.getasmokealarm.org.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Isamar Moctezuma: Recruiting Volunteers for Those in Need

Born in Illinois and raised in Mexico until the age of 12, Isamar Moctezuma came to the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois two years ago. As Senior Recruitment Specialist for Volunteer Services, Isamar is responsible for recruiting new volunteers and bring awareness about the American Red Cross.

Isamar Moctezuma

For Isamar working for the Red Cross was a natural choice, “Something that appealed to me in the Red Cross is that we train our volunteers to take the services that we have and trainings that we have and share them within the community…helping to build stronger communities.”

Isamar is also a member of the Red Cross Latino Outreach committee, and as part of this effort, she helps educate the Latino community about the Red Cross and the services the organization has to offer.

Being able to speak Spanish has allowed Isamar to bring comfort to people affected by disasters as was the case with evacuees from Puerto Rico arriving in Chicago.  During her second week with the Red Cross, Isamar was one of many Red Cross staff and volunteers providing comfort and information to those who came to Chicago seeking refuge after Hurricane Maria, “ It was very impactful to see what the Red Cross does by being there, supporting them,” remembers Isamar. Adding that just being able to communicate with someone in Spanish meant so much for the evacuees after being through such a stressful event in their lives.

At the end of our interview we talk about Hispanic Heritage Month, and the importance of this celebration for her. I am not surprised when Isamar reminds me how proud she is of her Latino roots, and all that Latinos have overcome and accomplished. She concludes by encouraging other Latinos to get involve with organizations like the American Red Cross to help their communities better understand of the mission of the Red Cross.

If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the American Red Cross, you can find more information here.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Raul Mora: Collecting & Delivering Blood to those in Need

Raul Mora is the manufacturing director in blood services. I meet Raul on the first floor of the American Red Cross headquarters in Chicago for our interview. He is sitting in front of his computer and greets me with a smile. Raul tells me that he has spent most of his career in blood banking, including 19 years with the Red Cross and enthusiastically says,  “…it means a lot to me that we are helping the community, [that] we are saving lives day in and day out.”

Whenever I meet Raul in the office, he often speaks to me in Spanish. He learned the language from his parents who were both from Mexico. He talks proudly about them and tells me a story about his dad when he first immigrated to the United States, “He lived in New York with one of my uncles, and someone stole his visa and his passport, so my dad joined the 82nd Airborne so that he could make right and get his papers in order. My dad was a paratrooper in the late 50s.”

Raul Mora

Raul is very proud of his Mexican roots and sees Hispanic Heritage Month as a celebration of the many contributions Latinos have made to the country, and adds that it is a celebration of all the Latino community has accomplished. He talks about the sacrifices that his parents made to raise him and his six siblings, and with certain melancholy in his voice he tells me about his father’s dreams and aspirations of one day returning to Mexico with the family to start a business. Even though this never became a reality for his dad, for Raul it is a reminder of how hard workers Latinos are.

As a Red Crosser, Raul understands the importance of helping those in need and building stronger communities. He realizes how crucial volunteers are to the humanitarian mission of the organization and explains, “…disasters don’t take a break. They are constantly happening, and the only way we can help people is through people.”

You can help by becoming a blood donor. Make an appointment today to donate blood by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).  

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Harold Cubillo: Delivering Relief to Those in Need

Harold Cubillo, born and raised in Costa Rica, joined the American Red Cross three years ago. When asked why he chose to work for the American Red Cross, Harold promptly replies that he loves to help people then adds ,“I love to work in a team of people that are united by the common desire to help others.”

Harold provides instructions to Red Cross volunteers during free smoke alarm installation in Freeport

As Lead Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois, Harold is used to responding to fires and flooding in the chapter. However, he recalls the time he was deployed for three weeks to Saipan after the devastation brought to the island by Typhoon Yutu.

“People were just so kind, so grateful. [They] were willing to put themselves aside, even though they were suffering themselves to help others,” says Harold. He and his team provided most needed relief supplies, including water to those impacted by the typhoon.

Harold and a team of Red Cross volunteers prepare to go out to help the community in Saipan

The time that he spent in Saipan will live in his memory forever, says Harold, as he encourages others to volunteer with the Red Cross, “If it is in your DNA to help others, to put a smile in people’s faces, and if you can put yourself aside and worry about somebody else, this is the right organization for you.”

As we are about to conclude our conversation, we discuss Hispanic Heritage Month which for Harold brings great memories from his childhood, growing up in Costa Rica, particularly because on September 15, Costa Rica celebrated its independence from Spain. “It’s a moment to think about your culture and the values that your ancestors instilled in you. The values of hard work, humility, sacrifice, respect, integrity, love, and always united around the nucleus of the family,” concludes Harold.

You can find out more about volunteering with the American Red Cross here.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager