The Red Cross at Fiesta del Sol

The Red Cross at Fiesta del Sol

At Fiesta del Sol this weekend there were sights, delicious smells, music, and reconnecting with fellow global Red Cross colleagues. Outside of being a beacon of cultural amusement and celebration, Fiesta del Sol attendees were able to access valuable information by spinning the Red Cross trivia wheel on a variety of topics like fire safety, disaster preparedness, and first aid training. Additionally, attendees were able to sign up to be blood donors and volunteers, and learned about the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.

“This weekend was about community,” stated Brian McDaniel, Executive Director of the Illinois River Valley Chapter. “I met families and individuals who expressed genuine interest in volunteering, learning first aid, or having the Red Cross help them locate a missing loved one through our Restoring Family Links program. Connecting the community to valuable resources is what we set out to do this weekend and I can confidently say that Fiesta attendees who saw us in Pilsen received that and more! We can’t wait to be back again next year!”

Held over the course of four days in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood, Fiesta del Sol provided live entertainment, great food, a soccer tournament, activities for children, art exhibits, performing arts, carnival rides, and different Expositions. Through a wide range of sponsors and vendors, attendees were also able to obtain information and guidance on topics such as housing, immigration consulting, Covid-19 vaccinations for all ages, live painting art-performances, college workshops, and more.

“We were incredibly proud to be at Fiesta del Sol,” stated Celena Roldán, American Red Cross of Illinois CEO. “Participating in events like Fiesta del Sol not only brings us closer to the people we serve, but it gives us the opportunity to recruit great volunteers to our team as well as blood donors – as there is always a need for blood. Additionally, with our participation at Fiesta del Sol, we are able to provide community members with information on services and resources available at the Red Cross that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to receive.”

Celena Roldán, Chief Executive Officer for the Red Cross of Greater Chicago, third from the left, pictured with Red Cross staff and volunteers.

Red Cross staff and volunteers had a great time serving Fiesta del Sol attendees and continued its work of sharing the Red Cross mission ‘al cruzar la calle, a través del pais, y alrededor del mundo’.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

You May be the Lifeline for Patients with Sickle Cell Disease

You May be the Lifeline for Patients with Sickle Cell Disease

The need for blood is constant. We’ve all heard this repeatedly over the years and in crisis shortage levels earlier this year. However, for sickle cell disease patients, blood transfusions are oftentimes part of their routine on a weekly or even daily basis. Now imagine being told that matching blood was not available.

For Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller, this scenario is one she’s been managing alongside her sister who suffers from sickle cell disease for decades. And there have been many instances where her sister was hospitalized waiting for that matching blood supply to help her live. Cook County Commissioner Miller endeavors to address this need so that sickle cell patients don’t have to face this scenario…hopefully ever.

“It has to start at birth with testing to learn whether or not we are sickle cell disease carriers. And we have to talk about this disease and raise awareness at all levels—our communities, our doctors’ offices, our families,” stated Cook County Commissioner Miller. “My sister is 40 years old, and she grew up thinking she would never live to see her adult years. She grew up not knowing anyone else who was living with sickle cell—she felt isolated. For her and all other sickle disease patients I am driven to raise awareness and encourage the African American community to show their support by donating blood.”

Pictured are Cook County Commissioner Miller and her sister, Imani Scott.

The Red Cross is committed to maintaining a diverse blood supply to ensure the right product is available at the right time. Red blood cell transfusions are higher among hospitalized Black patients, yet only about 4% of blood donors are Black. Because some patients are more likely to find a compatible blood match from a donor of the same race or ethnic group, it’s important for individuals of all races and ethnicities to give.

“I invite my African American Community to join the group of recurring blood donors. Your gift gives life,” stated Cook County Commissioner Miller.

Donna Miller is a Cook County commissioner, representing the board’s 6th district.

Let us know you are attending the blood drive. Book your appointment here, https://rdcrss.org/3tgnKnX.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Meet Don Cusack, Military Veteran and Active Red Cross Volunteer

In 1999, Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month. At the Red Cross, we pause to recognize and celebrate our employee and volunteer military community and we’re proud to recognize and highlight one of our very own … American Red Cross of Greater Chicago volunteer, Don Cusack.

Don served in the U.S. Army for 41 years as an Intelligence Analyst. Inspired by his wife, Don was motivated to volunteer with the Red Cross and since 2017, he has deployed 12 times to disasters like Hurricanes Irma, Florence, and Ida and countless number of floods and tornadoes. At a very young age, Don felt the calling to service and even now, during retirement, he remains at the ready.

Why did you join The U.S. Army?

Joining the Army was born out of a competitive streak. Following my father’s footsteps, I have two other brothers who joined, and I thought to myself, “If they joined and made it, so can I!” That competitive streak led me to The United States Army Airborne School, also known as Jump School, which is one of the most difficult trainings you can imagine. Jump School is a 3-week intense training program … of the 800 of us that started, 400 didn’t make it after only 2 weeks! After many miles of running and five required jumps from moving aircrafts, I successfully completed Jump School and became a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. It is this type of competitiveness and determination that brings out the leader in us which gives us the motivation to step forward and help and care for people when they most need it.

Why after a 41-year military career, did you decide to volunteer with the Red Cross?

I volunteer with the Red Cross for self-satisfaction and my continued desire to serve and help people when they are facing the most vulnerable time in their life. I find that the training and experience I received during my time with the Army gave me leadership skills that are applicable beyond one’s time in the military. I am happy, and grateful, that my military training, to this day, is useful during disaster responses.

How has your military training been applied throughout your volunteer time with the Red Cross?

My military training has allowed me to take leadership roles when responding to disasters. Maintaining a level head and keeping priorities in order have ensured that I successfully direct and help people which at the end of the day, it’s what it’s all about. As volunteers we take our experience and apply it to help people. That’s why I volunteer. Not for fame or glory … simply to serve people when people most need it. And I’ll keep doing it until I can and hope that others find the inspiration to do the same.

We know that gratitude is not what motivates service. The employee and volunteer veterans and service members of the Red Cross are continually motivated by duty, honor, love of country and fellow citizens. And just like Don, there is a deep-seated responsibility, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, to be ready and prepared to take off when disaster strikes.

Don and fellow volunteers installed free smoke alarms during a Sound the Alarm Event in Joliet, IL

The Red Cross is grateful for the many military veteran volunteers like Don that come forward to dedicate time and talent during local, national, and global disasters. Thank you for your humanitarian service to our country and freedom.

During National Military Appreciation Month, and every day of the year, we listen, we remember, and we acknowledge their service not only during times of crisis in the world, but at all times.

When he’s not volunteering with the Red Cross, Don likes to travel to Hawaii with his wife, Linda, enjoys time with his four sons and their families including three grandsons and one granddaughter.

Services for Military and Veteran Families

The Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service. The American Red Cross provides critical services with a caring touch to men and women in all branches of the United States military, active-duty personnel, reservists and members of the National Guard, and their families. Through our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, the Red Cross serves service men and women, veterans, and their families.  From the day they enlist to providing emergency communications while they are deployed to serving at VA Hospitals across the country, Red Cross volunteers are standing by.

The Red Cross has been serving the military for more than 140 years and has deployed alongside military in every U.S. conflict since the Spanish-American War.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

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