Women’s History Month: Lyn Hruska

Lyn Hruska joined the American Red Cross nearly 25 years ago, in 1997.

Lyn has served in numerous important roles during her time with the Red Cross, starting as executive director in Bloomington. Little did she know, that was just the beginning of her career with the organization.

“I joined the Red Cross, thinking it would be an opportunity that might last a couple of years. But, obviously, 25 years later, you can see that once you are immersed in the Red Cross mission, you can’t leave,” she said.

Currently, Lyn is executive director of the Central Illinois chapter, which serves more than 900,000 people in 17 counties. She enjoys being able to cultivate relationships with staff and volunteers in her chapter.

The chapter is where those really strong connections and bonds can happen, and where people are serving their own communities.”
-Lyn Hruska

Lyn has seen changes happen during her time with the Red Cross. But, she embraces the changes and says it is a critical part of how an organization succeeds in the long run.

“The Red Cross is all about change and that is why they are so successful, even on a grand scale. We have been able to change as change has been needed,” she said.

Among the many things Lyn has contributed during her 25-year tenure with the Red Cross, in 2020, she led the Red Cross partnership with the United Way of McLean County to support a community care fund feeding more than 500 families a week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, Lyn also leads two active Red Cross chapter boards in Central Illinois, one based in Bloomington and the other based in Peoria.

She has a heart for her team and has seen the power of compassion at work in the people who represent the Red Cross, during everyday operations and during times of extreme need.

“The reason I am still at the Red Cross after 25 years is our volunteers and community partners. These are people who truly want to help. We see the best of people during the worst of times. These individuals want to be part of that.”
-Lyn Hruska

Lyn and her husband live on a corn and soybean farm, west of Normal in McLean County. She rescues cats on their farm, socializing them and helping them get healthy so they can find new homes.

You may find Lyn on a tennis court as well. She has played since high school and continues to play local club competitive tennis.

Thank you, Lyn for your dedicated service and commitment to the Red Cross and its mission!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Month: Getting Involved and Making a Difference

Shelly Oliver started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018, shortly before Hurricane Michael made landfall in the U.S. She has traveled to Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and elsewhere to provide disaster relief after hurricanes, wildfires and other disaster scenes.

Shelly lives in Macon County, near Decatur and responds locally to home fires and other incidents, providing immediate assistance to people who have been impacted by disasters. She also helps install smoke alarms as part of our Sound the Alarm program.

“I like the disaster response work, being on scene with the clients. You take these people with you. I call to check up on them and they will call me sometimes,” she said.

Despite the challenges presented during the COVID pandemic, Shelly still has been able to assist in a virtual setting, and she is glad to have had to have been able to serve during this time.

“I love the virtual intake process because I am still able to meet with the clients, even though it has not been in person during the pandemic,” she said. “When we do intake over the phone, we’re able to connect a little deeper because we have more opportunities to talk after the initial response.”

Shelly has been a great asset to the Illinois region and beyond. Her positive attitude and strong work ethic have helped people in numerous situations during her time as a volunteer. For Shelly, it is something she enjoys doing.

“I love everything about Red Cross. I wish I had known what the Red Cross did a long time ago, I would have gotten involved long before I did. Four years ago, I had no idea all they did; it just amazes me.”

If you would like to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer, please click here.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Month: Family Hosts 5th Blood Drive in Honor of Seven-Year-Old

Photo credit: Kelly Harrigan

A seven-year-old is now responsible for five successful blood drives. This week, nearly 50 units of blood were collected in honor of Anthony, a child who has relied on donated blood to keep him alive.

Anthony’s blood drive at the Mount Prospect Police Department also served as a celebration. He recently turned seven years old, and he just celebrated his two-year anniversary of being cancer free.

Anthony was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) in 2019. It is a rare blood disorder in which the blood does not clot normally. This can cause excessive bruising and bleeding, due to the blood not clotting as it normally should. Anthony has received weekly platelet transfusions, because of this condition. He also needed nearly 20 rounds of chemotherapy treatment, while fighting leukemia.

Anthony’s mother, Kelly, has been coordinating blood drives since then, as a way to help other people who need blood and platelets. She is grateful for everyone who participates and plans to hold two more events, later this year.

As for Anthony, he is doing well and one of his favorite things to do is ride the bus – with his mom. We celebrate his good health and thank his family for their continued efforts to support the mission of collecting lifesaving blood!

Please visit redcrossblood.org to schedule an appointment to donate blood, to volunteer at blood drives or to host a drive of your own.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Month: Service to the Armed Forces

The American Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans, their families and caregivers cope with the challenges of service, providing more than 513,000 services each year through a worldwide network of volunteers.

Military and veteran communities face unique circumstances. The Red Cross offers a variety of resiliency workshops with effective tools for the whole family to help improve communications, face challenges and manage stress. These programs are free, confidential and offered in person or online by licensed mental health professionals.

The “Coping with Deployments” program helps military families to manage stress and communicate effectively while their service member is deployed. Participants learn how to help their children cope with stress, in addition to building a family communication plan and discussing psychological tips on handling separation. These workshops are available in person or as a self-guided online course.

Reconnection workshops are designed to help service members, veterans, their families and caregivers learn how to cope with military-specific challenges and are available for adults, teenagers and children. These discussion-based workshops encourage participants to share their experiences and practice resilience-building activities to help reconnect with family members, work environments and communities.

Mind-body workshops focus on how emotional, mental, social and spiritual factors can directly affect physical health, and provide tools to stay grounded and refocus during times of stress. One workshop teaches participants foundational techniques like mindfulness, breathing and stretching, which are proven to lower stress and improve well-being. Another workshop guides participants through techniques for personal and professional growth, such as drawing, journaling and meditation. These workshops were developed and reviewed by a team of experts in mental health, mind-body practice, military culture, and complementary and integrative healing.

The Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network offers peer-based support to those providing care to wounded, ill or aging service members and veterans. This is a global network created by caregivers for caregivers, supporting one another to decrease feelings of isolation and increase feelings of connection, hope and well-being. The network also supports veterans who are caregivers.

The Red Cross works with military aid societies to connect eligible military, retired military, veterans and their families with financial assistance in times of hardship. This assistance can include funds for emergency travel, food and shelter and more.

Volunteers are needed to support the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission. Please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a volunteer. Also, visit redcross.org/saf to learn more about how the Red Cross serves members of the military and their families.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Celebrating Black History Month: Employee Spotlight on Tia Jackson

Tia Jackson is a business operations specialist and started working for us as an executive assistant in 2016. In her current role, she manages operations at American Red Cross facilities in Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield and Decatur and she is responsible for making sure facility needs are met.

“I like being able to help the Red Cross and people who are working in the buildings and it makes me feel good when someone tells me a facility is clean and in good condition,” she said.

Part of Tia’s role is recruiting, training and working with volunteers. She is quick to compliment them for being great partners in what she does on a daily basis.

“Volunteers are very helpful to me, because they can be my eyes and ears in the buildings when things need to be fixed. It’s satisfying when volunteers feel they can come to me and talk about any issues they’re having and talk about their accomplishments. It’s great when the team and I can get together and work through things and talk about fun things, too,” she said.

Five years after starting here, Tia says she enjoys her role and is looking forward to what the future holds.

“Business Operations is a great team and it’s amazing working for the Red Cross,” she said.

Tia lives in the Peoria area with her family and loves to travel. Her favorite travel memory is from a trip to Mexico, when her husband proposed to her.

You might find Tia wearing green and gold, because she is an avid Green Bay Packers fan – a team she roots for in honor of her uncle, who was a lifelong fan.

Thank you, Tia for all you do!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Chase Eller Presented with Lifesaving Award for Helping Young Child

Chase Eller was awarded the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for helping a young child choking at a restaurant. The national Lifesaving Awards are issued by American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. to highlight whenever lifesaving skills are used.

Chase was presented with the award during a recent Red Cross South Central Illinois Chapter Board of Directors meeting.

“Chase’s quick action exemplifies courage and bravery of helping someone during an emergency,” said Dawn Morris, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving South Central Illinois. “This young man went above and beyond to help a child in distress and for that he is very deserving of the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action.”

Since the Lifesaving Awards revival in 2018, the Red Cross is proud to announce we have awarded, 1,507 individuals worldwide and as a result they have helped to save 730 lives.

To learn more about the Red Cross Lifesaving Awards and to find resources including learning a lifesaving skill visit redcross.org/takeaclass.

Written by Communications Manager Drew Brown

Juneteenth: A Historic Day Inspiring Me to Keep Learning

Juneteenth was a day I had never heard of before, until I moved to Texas while I was a teenager. I didn’t hear about it in history class but more so word-of-mouth, among other Black students and on the radio.

Juneteenth is a day that recognizes the ending of slavery in the United States. It has been observed on June 19, since 1866. On that day one year earlier, enslaved people in Texas learned of the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery, though the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two and a half years earlier in 1863.

In 1980, Juneteenth officially became a holiday in Texas and has since been recognized by 45 other states.

With the day becoming a holiday in Texas during the 1980’s and me not learning about until the 2000’s, it made me wonder is history regional? Or am I not doing enough learning on my own?

I’ve learned to give myself grace when it comes to not knowing everything about Black history. But I open myself up to listening and embracing the stories about this historic day.

I’ve noticed over the years Juneteenth has gained more attention nationwide with celebrations even in my own community here in Illinois and now it has been declared a national holiday!

When I hear the words diversity & inclusion it’s important for me to see it beyond paper but also within the weavings and actions of an organization from outreach, leadership and those we serve. I’m glad I get to witness that every day at the Red Cross.

Written by Regional Communications Manager Drew Brown

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

Samantha Alvarez: Delivering Donors Dollars to Those in Need

Samantha Alvarez has been with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois for over four months. Samantha grew up in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Her dad, who was also born in Chicago is of Puerto Rican descent, and her mother immigrated to the United States from Honduras 30 years ago.

Samantha’s work as Lead Development Specialist for Foundation and Individual Giving involves providing support with donor relations, particularly with the Tiffany Circle. Her work with the Red Cross is close to her heart, “…all the work that the organization did to provide relief to Puerto Rico spoke volumes to me, and when the opportunity arose, I was like, this is the place that I definitively want to be a part of…that’s what motivated me to join the Red Cross.”

Samantha Alvarez

As we begin talking about Hispanic Heritage Month, Samantha’s face lights up. This month, she explains, means a lot to her. “…having this month to recognize Latinos and recognize the impact made is something that I just have so much pride in…this month signifies so much for me as a Latina, to celebrate all that we have done, all that we’ve accomplished, all that we have overcome, and all the work that we hope to do,” says Samantha.

As a Latina and as a Red Crosser, Samantha considers that it is her responsibility to let others in the Latino community know about the work of the Red Cross and what the organization does. She believes that it’s through education and empowerment that communities can make strides.

HOW YOU CAN HELP You can help people affected by disasters like storms and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Call, click, or text to give: visit redcross.org, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. To donate by check or to a specific cause, please complete this donation form by printing and mailing to your local Red Cross chapter. 

Story written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Volunteer with the Red Cross Illinois River Valley Chapter Discovers Treasures from the Past

These days Red Cross volunteer Kathy Ford might be mistaken for Indiana Jones, with some minor differences. Instead of wearing a fedora, Ford sports a baseball cap. And, her archeological finds aren’t in some far away land, they’re at the Illinois River Valley office in Romeoville.

Two years ago, Ford came across a treasure trove of Red Cross artifacts when she was clearing out a chapter office. Among all the old computers and office furniture, Ford spied a plastic bag stuffed with items. Reaching inside she pulled out a jumpsuit uniform once worn by a Red Cross nurse in the 1970s. Digging deeper, she found something even older: nurse uniforms from World War II.

WWII nurse uniforms

“I’m nosy. I can’t help myself,” says Ford as she discovered even more items including a steamer chest filled with scrapbooks, photographs and old newspaper clippings about the Illinois Red Cross. 

Volunteer Kathy Ford looking at a scrapbook
1954 Northern Illinois tornado aftermath

Many of Ford discoveries are now on display in a conference room at the Illinois River Valley chapter office in Romeoville office for the American Red Cross. The rest are still in a storage room, waiting to be exhibited. Among the finds: a hand-knit military sweater from the 1940s, full page newspaper advertisements about the Red Cross, a tiny handmade nurse doll that might have been pinned to a uniform and photos of a devastating tornado that swept through northern Illinois in 1954. My personal favorite is Red Cross nurse Winifred Bally’s passport during World War II. It has stamps from Iran, Egypt and Brazil.  “This is our history,” explains Ford. “When people see these things, they form an attachment to history, and it keeps them coming back.”

Handmade nurse doll
Red Cross nurse Winifred Bally’s WWII passport
Hand-knit military sweater

Ford and Illinois River Valley Executive Director Brian McDaniel want the historic display to extend into the future. They’re also planning to post pictures of current volunteers in action, along with photos of Red Cross Heroes. “We have over a century of heritage. You don’t want to forget about it,” says McDaniel.

Full page newspaper ad from 1940s

The Illinois River Valley Chapter welcomes help from an artist or an art student who could assist with a display wall in the Romeoville chapter office.  For more information contact McDaniel at brian.mcdaniel2@redcross.org.

Written by Red Cross Communications Volunteer Diane Eastabrook