Placing Humanity back on the Map

Placing Humanity back on the Map

Over the course of just a few hours on a Friday afternoon, 20 volunteers in Chicago helped map the future of emergency response efforts across the world without having to step foot on an airplane.

In an age where we heavily rely on GPS, digital technology and Googling for instant results, it’s a shock to many thCloseUp mapat much of the world does not officially live on a map. This makes it especially difficult for first responders to navigate (literal) uncharted areas when they need to deliver help quickly.

In the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois’ fifth “Mapathon,” on December 11th, a handful of public volunteers alongside employees from Discover worked together to map out a town in Kenya, where traffic accidents are one of the most common and deadly disasters. Without reliable maps, it makes it very hard for organizations like the Kenya Red Cross  to accurately track where most accidents happen and how to create plans to prevent them in the future.

“It’s actually pretty relaxing! And it’s way more satisfying spending time doing this instead of playing Candy Crush,” Discover employee Keenan said while plotting a new road on the grid.

The concept is simple: the American Red Cross together with the British Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team formed Missing Maps—a project to put more than 20 million people onto a free and editable map of the world.

Anyone with internet access can help trace sections of a community using satellite imagery as a guide on a digital map. Zero technical training, course requirements or traveling is required. Mapping experts then double-check volunteer work to make sure it’s accurate, and the maps become usable.


It’s also a convenient solution to one of the most frequent questions people ask the Red Cross after an international disaster happens: “How can I help from where I am?”

American Red Cross volunteers continue to map communities in response to several disasters like the Nepal and Haiti earthquakes and the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in West Africa.

A few volunteers even said they’d continue the Mapathon at home.

“I’ll definitely be telling my friends about this,” Keenan added. “I get now how important maps are in the world.”

Story and photos by Katie Wilkes, Regional Marketing Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

To participate in the Missing Maps project, or to organize a Mapathon of your own, contact Jim McGowan or Ryan Bank at 


Red Cross supports World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day event was celebrated on June 20 worldwide but few probably realized this and went about the usual daily activities of work, school or chores. But one day can hold a different meaning for refugees who are forced to flee their homes overnight because of war, natural disaster, violence and other humanitarian emergencies. World Refugee Day celebrates and honors the courage and determination of these men, women and children as they are displaced from their homes to seek safety and shelter.

The American Red Cross joined several other humanitarian and refugee resettlement agencies to bring a day of fun and play for refugees who have seen unimaginable conditions of living. The American Red Cross supported the event by playing a significant role in providing health and safety resources to all refugees in attendance. They joined their resources with other agencies present to support this occasion, marked with a soccer tournament, music and food, juggling classes and soccer skills training for children and women’s potting.

Red Cross Health Services volunteer Nancy Brooks-Edison was on hand to provide first aid and other health support to players in the tournament. The rest of the Chicago Red Cross team handed out emergency preparedness kits to all refugee families. The team came prepared to guide them about keeping their families safe in emergencies through pictographic flyers written in seven languages— Arabic, Burmese, French,  Spanish, Kinyarwanda (a dialect spoken in Rwanda), Somali and English— and graphically conveyed messages to several refugees with varied language needs.


Volunteers help at the Red Cross table for World Refugee Day.

In addition to its role as the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross supports  refugees all over the world in another very significant way. Through its ‘Restoring Family Links’ program, American Red Cross helps put separated refugee families in touch with each other in cases where they are separated by war or natural disaster. Red Cross caseworkers around the U.S. help families locate missing relatives, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations in nearly every country around the world.  Annually the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world.

The Red Cross provides these services and Red Cross Messages (RCMs), written personal communications sent between family members separated by conflict or disaster.

The other agencies present at the event were RefugeeOne, World Relief, Heartland Alliance, ICIRR, Pan African Association, the Bhutanese Community Association of Illinois, Exodus World Service, Catholic Charities and more. It was remarkable to see different cultures coming together and sharing their stories.


Red Cross Volunteer Amisha Sud and Amal Alsandok attend the World Refugee Day event in Chicago on June 20.

One beautiful story came from Amal Alsandok. When she arrived in the United States from Jordan two years ago with her husband and daughter, Amal was firm on supporting her family on her own. With the help of Uruk Human Services, an agency empowering women from the Middle East, Amal was able to turn her 15-year passion for painting into a small yet flourishing business of handicrafts, candles and paintings.

Her story is no different that young Kemso Cuota’s who is about to graduate from high school. She is extremely enthusiastic about starting college next year. Kemso came from Ethopia with her brother and mother last May and wants to pursue the field of science with dreams of becoming a doctor.

This event was one of the many ways that the Red Cross supports this cause and provides resources. After attending the event for several years, The American Red Cross looks forward to support this determined group of people next year as well.

-Written by Amisha Sud

Giving Blood to Give Back

Blood Photo

Katerina Svigos showed up to work at Groupon on an arctic Friday morning, blocked out time in her calendar and put her name on the list. This wasn’t, however, any ordinary list.  This list was to save someone’s life – just like the person who saved her cousin’s. Katerina signed up to give blood.

In October of 2012, Katerina nearly lost her cousin. He was outside at a party and fell from a fourth-story balcony. He survived, but the fall broke his back and both of his legs. He was rushed to the hospital that very night where he received three blood transfusions the first weekend he was in the hospital. Recalling the severity of the accident, Katerina said soberly, “it was the 3 blood transfusions that saved his life.” This was her first time giving blood. “I wanted to give back,” she said.

Katerina’s gift is unprecedented. That’s because there is no replacement for blood and every 2 seconds someone in the United States needs it. The Chicagoland region currently uses 6 times more blood than it collects. But on Friday, February 1st, 81 Groupon employees signed up to give blood and the Red Cross collected 71 units. The successful drive not only created the potential to save up to 213 lives, it gave people like Katerina the opportunity to give back in a way that no other type of donation can generate.

Katerina said her cousin is stable now, working on his recovery and is maintaining a positive spirit. She told her cousin that she gave blood because of him.

“He is so thankful,” she said, “he realizes it is other people that saved him.”

Written by: Bridget Ballek

Get Blown Away by giving a donation!

      “Hey, good girl.
        With your head in the clouds.
        I bet you I can tell you, what you’re thinkin’ about.”
                                                   -Carrie Underwood, Good Girl
You’re thinking about buying your Carrie Underwood ticket for her Blown Away Tour, just like me!
I am a huge fan of Country music and this year I can enjoy one of my favorite artists while donating to a great cause.
Carrie Underwood announced she will be donating one dollar to the American Red Cross for every ticket purchased. So while her fans are enjoying her concert they will also be helping out the American Red Cross disaster relief.

One dollar doesn’t seem like much but; do you know how many people the Wireless Center in Moline and the United Center in Chicago can hold? A total of about 35,000 people, which is about $35,000 in donations!! And to think that’s just her concerts in Illinois.
The American Red Cross responds to a disaster every nine minutes and these donations can help out in a big way.
Just to give you an idea…
$25 – Provides five blankets at an emergency shelter
$75 – can cover a doctor’s visit for an individual injured in a disaster
$350- will provide emergency food and shelter for 25 disaster victims for one day
$2,500- deploys one emergency Response Vehicle and drivers to a disaster relief operation
$3,200- is the average yearly maintenance and fuel for one Emergency Response Vehicle
I can’t wait to be one of those dollars!
But don’t worry! If you’re not a Country music fan, you can still help the American Red Cross by making a donation of your own. Your donation can help the Red Cross fulfill its mission of helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.
So whether you’re getting Blown Away at the Carrie Underwood concert or just sending a private donation you will be helping the American Red Cross help your community.

Written by Dana Morones

AmeriCorps Volunteers Help Carry Out Lifesaving Mission of the Red Cross

AmeriCorps has been a long time partner of the American Red Cross that helps the Red Cross achieve it’s mission by paying special attention to the neighborhoods and communities that are in need of life saving services, but are least likely to be able to afford them. This federal initiative is carried out locally by full and part-time participants that focus on a mission that is quite similar to that of the Red Cross. AmeriCorps embraces:

•Getting Things Done by helping a community meets its education, public safety, environmental and other human needs through direct service
•Strengthening Communities by fighting illiteracy, building affordable housing and helping communities respond to disaster
•Encouraging Responsibility by fostering civic engagement through service and volunteering
•Expanding Opportunity by providing members with job skills, invaluable experience, and scholarship or loan repayment for school or job training

Members go through an extensive training process to provide service to society through community organizations. This week, I had the opportunity to meet new members of the AmeriCorps program that were in CPR training at the Rauner Center, the offices of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. Talking with Chris Schifeling and Anne Bowlby gave me a better understanding of their role within the Red Cross.

Chris spent two years working with Teach for America and wanted to continue to have “direct contact with communities in need.” The values of the American Red Cross and the politically neutral aspect of our mission statement stood out to him. He is looking forward to helping communities in Chicago that do not receive assistance and has truly enjoyed getting to know the other AmeriCorps members during his training.

Anne is very aligned with the service aspect of AmeriCorps and the Red Cross. Prior to her training at the Chicago Red Cross, her only experience with the Red Cross was through blood donations. She believes in the “trickle down effect” that important training programs from the Red Cross can have on communities, and encourages those who are looking to do service to “lend a hand wherever you can.” She knows that the practical implication of skills learned from AmeriCorps and the Red Cross will help her “give back to [her] community.”

AmeriCorps members are invaluable in our attempt to enact the mission of the Red Cross. The AmeriCorps program is dedicated to bringing Red Cross safety and health programs to underserved neighborhoods, schools and communities throughout the State of Illinois. AmeriCorps members help us with health and safety programs that include CPR, first aid, HIV/AIDS awareness, community disaster education, youth programs and more. Through our partnership with AmeriCorps, the Red Cross is able to reach youth, minorities, low-income communities and senior citizens.

Get involved in the life saving mission of the Red Cross and AmeriCorps and make a positive impact in the community you live in. Visit to sign up for classes, view safety tips or to make a donation.

Stand Down 2011

Coming into my summer internship with the Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, I had an idea of the type of work I’d be doing, but I didn’t realize the impact it would have on others. Three months later, I am very aware of how much the American Red Cross helps our servicemen, women, veterans, and their families. From assisting them before, during, and after deployments to delivering coffee, toiletries, and clothing to the Jesse Brown and Hines VA Hospitals. We also attend various military and community events informing families of the Red Cross services that are available to them, such as our emergency communication service that helps connect families in the U.S. to their loved ones servicing overseas. The Red Cross is always there.

Having the opportunity to work with, and learn from, the members and families of the armed forces, the staff at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, the volunteers and employees of the local VA Hospitals, and other service organizations is such a blessing. They are kind, selfless, passionate, fun group of individuals who inspire me with their work everyday.

All of the events and projects I worked on have been interesting and worthwhile, the most memorable was Stand Down 2011. This event for homeless and low-income veterans was an extremely satisfying, eye-opening, and fun three days. It began with setting up in General Jones Armory, which required sweeping, mopping, setting up tables, and sorting through the clothing, food, and donated items. On day one over 700 veterans came to register, that is when I understood the importance of our pre-event preparations. Day two included free eye and medical exams, haircuts, legal, housing, and job assistance. The Red Cross also provided attendees with two hot meals, live music, and most of all a sense of camaraderie. On day three, after breakfast had been served, we handed out huge bags of supplies, which included brand new boots, shirts, socks, underwear, toiletries, bagged lunches etc. The level of appreciation and smiles on their faces was so gratifying, and I will look forward to volunteering at this event again.

While interacting with veterans and families at Stand Down and other deployment events is exciting and rewarding, there is also a lot of behind the scenes work that the Manager of Operations Support, Erin Counihan, does to be able to provide the support of the Red Cross. Many tasks have to be performed before the event, but the most challenging for me was SAF casework. Calling families that had suffered a loss or had emergencies was difficult, but when they genuinely thanked me for being a part of a network that was able to get their father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or sister home from war in a time of need, I realized the importance of the SAF program. Our current and passed service men and women and their families have made so many sacrifices for our freedom, and being able to help them in their time of need and show them our appreciation is truly a gift.

Written by: Jodie Lieffring

My Year of AmeriCorps Service

The past year has been amazing! When I walked through the doors at Headquarters on September 1st, 2009, I had no idea what was in store for me during my term of AmeriCorps service. I have come out of it a changed and stronger person. Through long hours, exhausting work and excellent supervision, I have grown into the person I am now.

It began with my supervisor, Jackie Dempsey, who supported, guided, listened and encouraged me and my AmeriCorps co-workers to accomplish what many people thought impossible. We taught American Red Cross safety classes in under-resourced areas without many of the materials that regular instructors had and with an almost non-existent budget. In addition, we performed extremely well while being paid below minimum wage.

After a whirlwind of training in the first three weeks of September, 2009, I was now an instructor of a variety of programs. I was now responsible for conducting outreach to set up classes, teaching the classes and completing all necessary documentation. This was difficult at times because people were less interested in taking a CPR class than they were interested in paying their bills. Even though I taught all classes for free, many people could not attend classes or simply did not show up. This made for a very humbling year. I was still able to interest plenty of people and taught many full classes.

Another aspect of the position was service projects. Individually and as a group, service projects were taken to new levels. A transitional living home named Grace House in Decatur, Illinois got renovated, children learned about all of our kid safety programs, Anixter Center had their courtyard revived with planters and plants, winter coats were donated, canned food was donated, comfort kits were made and many other lives were impacted.

In the end, close to 7,000 people were certified by AmeriCorps members in American Red Cross classes and over 35,000 people were taught in non-certification classes. I know I have changed tremendously and so have my co-workers. This has been an amazing experience and I am so glad that I was a part of it. Thank you AmeriCorps and the American Red Cross!

Written by Jason Schultz