Why I Run for Team Red Cross

Why I Run for Team Red Cross

I remember the exact spot I was standing when I checked my phone on July 20, 2015 and read the text: “headed to Lake Forest ER, please pray.” Right then I knew something big was happening; change was coming, but I had no idea what an impact it was going to have on my life. I drove right from work to the hospital.

Stage 4 cancer. You could physically feel the ache in the room. My grandma, the center of our entire family was diagnosed with the unimaginable. For 17 weeks we watched the brave woman we knew battle this unrelenting disease. Throughout the entire process, I was in denial—this wasn’t happening, she would beat this, it’s not that bad. But it was bad. I watched the strongest person I know, become physically, emotionally, and spiritually weak.

My cousin Nolan, a US Marine, left three days before we found out about the diagnosis for Okinawa, Japan, where he would be stationed for the next two years. Every day, my grandma would open her iPad and say to the picture of my cousin on the screen saying, “Hi Nollie, I hope I can see you just one more time.” Her one, final wish was to have all her family together just one more time.

The American Red Cross made that wish a reality. My aunt and uncle contacted the Red Cross on Friday, Nov. 20, to explain the situation hoping to set up a time within the next several weeks to get Nolan back to the United States. Instantly they got a response that Nolan would be on a plane the next Monday and would land in Chicago on Tuesday.

On Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, we rushed my grandma to the ER once again where she would leave hours later; sent home on Hospice for her final days. Nolan landed the next day reuniting with my grandma and my entire family. That day was the best she looked in months.

Then she began slipping away from us, beginning her journey to heaven. Those days are the best and worst days of my life. The best, in the sense that I have never felt such a strong, united bond with my family. We laughed together, we shared stories of the past, we cried, we sang, and we prayed. On Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, at 6:50 a.m. my grandma left her weak, diseased body and entered the Kingdom of God.

There are no words I could ever say to express the gratitude I have for the American Red Cross. They gave my family a priceless gift that truly is irreplaceable.

This year I have the honor and privilege to run the 2016 Chicago Marathon with my mother and best friend. I am excited and somewhat nervous to push my body both physically and mentally beyond anything I have ever done.

I am not doing this for myself, but in hopes to give back to an organization that helped me and my family in our darkest time.

Runners who are interested in participating in the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon can join Team Red Cross, the official race team of the American Red Cross. General registration for the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9 is closed, but limited spots are still available through charity partners like the Red Cross until Sept. 15. Team members pledge to raise at least $1,500 to support Red Cross humanitarian programs and services. Register to join Team Red Cross online or email stephanie.patton@redcross.org. For more information about Team Red Cross click here.

Janelle Johnson, 25, of Lake Bluff, Illinois is a first-time marathon runner and member of Team Red Cross running in the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9.

Golin Volunteers Thank Navy Veteran for Service

19957827133_8554473c28_o(HINES, IL) – John Williams thought he would grow up to be a butcher in his dad’s meat market. Instead he proudly chose another uniform, becoming a sailor in the United States Navy.

Williams enlisted when he was 19 years old and “got to see the world” serving two years from 1962-1964 as a radar technician. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier in San Diego, CA in Nov. 1963 when he heard the news President John F. Kennedy was killed. Williams remembers how the ship turned solemn, but found support among his fellow military members.

Now a patient at the Hines VA Hospital in Hines, IL more than 50 years later, Williams gets supports from those who value and honor his service, like the volunteers from Golin who joined the Red Cross Aug. 10 to hand out comfort kits of items like soap and socks to veterans on the hospital’s 7th floor.

“To sit and talk with veterans who made such a huge sacrifice to our country is a wonderful way to show you care and thank them for their service,” said Molly Sawyer, a Golin volunteer.

Story by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manger, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Photos by Gerry Holmes, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois        

Services to the Armed Forces program: National Military Appreciation Month

Sergeant Jacinda with her grandmother: Red Cross helps military families connect during emergencies

Sergeant Jacinda with her grandmother: Red Cross helps military families connect during emergencies

From its early days, the American Red Cross has provided full support to the members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families. Jonathan Aguilera attests to these efforts whole-heartedly. Jonathan is the proud father of Jacinda Aguilera who is a Sergeant with the Army National Guard and who also served in Afghanistan before being stationed in El Paso, Texas after she suffered injuries. Recently Jacinda’s grandmother Ursula unexpectedly fell ill, her prognosis was grave and her doctors didn’t feel she had much time left.

After hearing about the Red Cross services from fellow soldiers in similar situations, Jacinda asked her father to reach out to the organization. Jonathan then contacted the Chicago chapter late one night and received a prompt response. He was extremely impressed by the efficiency with which the Red Cross handled the response. Within mere two hours of the call, the paperwork for Jacinda’s emergency leave was processed and sent off to her supervisors in El Paso, Texas. In addition, the Red Cross kept the worried father posted on every step of the process by doing follow-up calls and providing him regular updates. Shortly, Jacinda was on a flight home and could meet her grandmother before she passed away.

“We should be grateful to have such a source to connect us with our loved ones during family emergencies. We really appreciate the services you have provided to bring my daughter home in time to see her grandmother one last time,” said Jonathan.

Through its  Services to the Armed Forces program, the Red Cross supports our service members in the military by connecting them with their families during emergencies,  providing them resilience training to deal with the challenges of deployment, and linking their families with local community resources.  But the service most commonly used connects a deployed service member to their family in times of emergency.

These services have their roots in the beginning of the Vietnam War when 365 Chicago Red Cross volunteers were providing relief at 107 Red Cross stations.  During this time, the American Red Cross implemented a unique program called “Voices from Home” where individuals recorded messages for service men overseas. The programs were met with an astounding number of requests and helped establish the Red Cross as the major military aid institution in Chicago. Like the Aguilera family, Red Cross helps military personnel to communicate with their families far away.

The American Red Cross Emergency Communications Center is available to help 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to relay urgent messages containing accurate, factual, complete and verified descriptions of the emergency to service members stationed anywhere in the world, including on ships at sea and at embassies and remote locations. For more information visit: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/military-families/emergency-communication-services

Tonight when you go home and spend quality time with your family and friends, take a moment to pause  and remember our fellow Americans who are risking their lives and serving the nation, domestically and internationally, so you can enjoy these days of freedom. The American Red Cross salutes the Armed Forces of the United States of America and all members serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard as well as all veterans and their families during the National Military Appreciation Month this May.

Written by: Amisha Sud

National Volunteer Week–Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway in Milan ,1918When you read one of Ernest Hemingway’s works it might not strike you that he was once an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross! As we celebrate National Volunteer week, we would like to highlight the contributions of our devoted volunteers to the Red Cross mission particularly, of renowned American author Ernest Hemingway.

During World War I, Chicago-born Ernest Hemingway responded to a Red Cross recruitment effort in Kansas City and signed on to become an ambulance driver in Schio, Italy and then as a canteen worker at the Piave River until he was wounded. While Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines, an explosion seriously wounded him. But regardless of his injuries, Hemingway carried an Italian soldier on his back to a first-aid station, for which he received the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valour.

The Italian government cited with the award that, “Ernest Miller Hemingway of Illinois Park (Chicago) Lieutenant of the American Red Cross responsible for carrying sundries to the Italian troops engaged in combat, gave proof of courage and self sacrifice. Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, and with an admirable spirit of brotherhood before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded in the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated”.

He spent five days at a field hospital where he allowed other soldiers who were more seriously wounded by the same explosion to be treated before he was and remained with them until they were all evacuated. He was then transferred for recuperation to the Red Cross hospital in Milan for six months where he also found his first love in Red Cross nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky.

But Ernest Hemingway’s association with the Red Cross went beyond his voluntary work. Hemingway always admired the work of the organization, and when he returned home from the war he often wore his Red Cross uniform proudly around town. Ernest Hemingway’s Red Cross enlistment was one of the most influential experiences of his life and his development as a writer and a thinker. It also provided much of the source material for his work ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and his writings about Italy and the Great War. His involvement with the Red Cross led to some of the finest American literature on the Great War.

Ernest Hemingway represented all the values of a Red Cross volunteer—bravery, sacrifice, service and compassion for others. The Red Cross always respects the incredible hard work put in by all our volunteers all over the nation. Thousands of volunteers are out there every minute helping the community with emergency disaster response, providing life saving health and safety training and constantly trying to meet the immediate need of blood. The Red Cross celebrates the efforts put in by all supporters everywhere through National Volunteer week. Visit our website http://www.redcross.org/il/chicago to find out ways in which you can volunteer.

Written by: Amisha Sud

A Simple Thank You Isn’t Always Enough

Volunteers of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago proudly said, “Thank you for your service, sir,” while they handed out hundreds of wallets and other services to unnamed veterans during the Veteran Stand-Down Event on Chicago’s Southside. The Veteran Stand-Down event that took place on June 22, 2012 assisted homeless veterans with food, clothing and other essential necessities. These heroes also received health screenings, Veteran’s Affairs and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other services, such as health care, housing, employment and substance use treatment.

One of the many veterans in line waiting for services was George Griffin, who was helped by the VA for his drinking and drug addiction. George admired the work that the American Red Cross had done for him when he had a house fire. As George recalled his encounter with the Red Cross, he was joined by his brother, Maurice Garrett, a fellow veteran who served six years in the military.

Like George, the American Red Cross had made a lifelong impression on Maurice. Maurice wasn’t able to communicate with his family about his whereabouts after he returned to the US from active duty abroad.  His mother was deeply concerned and contacted the American Red Cross for assistance. The American Red Cross was able to locate Maurice and reconnect him with his family. “[The American Red Cross] got me a ride home,” Maurice said fondly.

The brothers were not only thankful that the American Red Cross was there to help them but also to the other organizations that came out that day. The American Red Cross was able to be a part of their lives once again in another way that they hadn’t imagined. This dynamic duo even talked about someday volunteering with the American Red Cross so they can make an impact on someone else’s life like the other volunteers had done to theirs.

-Written By Amisha Sud and Lindsey Warneke

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

As we open our hearts to our heroes…

I have lived my entire life proud to wave my nation’s flag. While none of my immediate family is serving in the army, my family does have direct ties to the U.S. military. Both of my grandfathers, my uncle and father served our country. My Papa Richard, for example, served our nation during WWII in the 8th air force, where he worked as a mechanic. For almost two decades I thought that he never fought in any campaigns; I was under the impression that he was never faced with the true horrors of war. However I recently found out that I was wrong. To me, my grandfathers, uncle and father are heroes. In a time of chaos and destruction they were willing to fight for something they believed in and that is truly overwhelming to me. I feel extremely blessed to be a part of them.My family represents a small fraction of thousands of men and women who have served the United States of America. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend an event at Soldiers Field where Mayor Daley and Senator Dick Durbin honored all the veterans who served the U.S.As the speakers talked on, I felt tears swell in my eyes. I was overwhelmed with happiness, pride and sadness. I couldn’t believe how humble and extraordinary these people are. They have more courage than I could ever acquire. And they have been through more than I will probably ever go through in my entire life. They represent so much and have given us more than many thought possible. One veteran said, “We never thought of ourselves as heroes.” That, to me, is remarkable. I wondered how he could not think of himself as a hero.

 

That is exactly what all of the veterans and current soldiers are. To me they are more than heroes.

As the keynote speaker took the stage he said, “Freedom is not free.” Freedom is so delicate. It is something many take advantage of. Sometimes we don’t realize what we have. Above all else, it is freedom that the many men and women who serve our country fight to protect. Freedom isn’t free. Lives are risked every single day to ensure that it is protected.

Both Mayor Daley and Senator Dick Durbin mentioned that just within this week two young soldiers, one of whom is my age-20, lost their lives. I thought to myself, why? After an entire day of thinking I still don’t have an answer. Those two men were really boys. They were only 20 years old and showed had courage to witness war the tragedies of war. That speaks unbelievable volumes. The world has a funny way of showing you what you are thankful for. And I am thankful for them. Their strength encompasses me with pride and gratitude. Thank you to all of our veterans and those who serve our country today and every day. You are our true heroes.

Help the Chicago Red Cross say thank you to all those who serve us through our Holiday Mail for Heroes program. Between September 7 and December 10, the public is invited to send a “touch of home” through holiday cards that contain messages of cheer and appreciation. “Sending a greeting card is a small effort that makes a big impact for our American heroes during the holiday season,” said Erin Counihan, Disaster Services Respondent at the Chicago Red Cross. “The American Red Cross serves and supports members of the military, veterans, and their families by providing emergency communications, comfort and assistance each day. The Holiday Mail for Heroes program continues the Red Cross tradition of service to the armed forces.”

Holiday cards should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Please be sure to affix adequate postage. Cards must be received no later than December 10.

Cards received after this date will be returned to senders. For reasons of processing and safety, participants are asked to refrain from sending “care packages,” monetary gifts, using glitter or including any inserts with the cards.

Visit redcross.org/holidaymail for a full list of recommended guidelines and best practices on the Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

Additional ways to become involved with the campaign include connecting with fellow card senders through Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/redcross and Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/redcross using the hashtag #holidaymail.

Visit www.chicagoredcross.org/SAF to learn more about the Chicago Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.

The Red Cross Thanks and Recognizes Our Heroes

Don’t ask me why, but growing up I was always a history junkie. I blame it all on my 4th grade teacher because after reading Number the Stars I read every historical fiction book and watched every movie about World War II. To this day, when I think of the courageous, brave, and capable soldiers who stood in the face of danger and fought in the front lines of World War II, I envision Jude Law in Enemy at the Gates or Byron Henry from Winds of War. It wasn’t until Wednesday October 20, 2010, when I met Michael C. Bilder of General George Patton’s Third Army, author of “A Foot Soldier for Patton,” that I put a new face on these heroic soldiers I had grown up reading and learning about. It was as if all the characters I had read and watched popped out and introduced themselves to me.

Mr. Bilder served with the 5th infantry Division and fought in all five of the Third Army’s campaigns; fighting in France, Luxembourg, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. While stationed in England in 1943 Mr. Bilder received training from the American Red Cross as a “combat lifeguard” in preparation of D-Day. A combat lifeguard, while wearing 60 lbs. of equipment, must jump 25 ft. into a pool covered with burning oil. Once in the water, he had to shed his helmet, rifle, and rucksack and swim 75 yards underwater. Mr. Bilder used his newly acquired skills to dive after fallen GIs, unhook their equipment, and get them back to surface. It is for this that the American Red Cross decided to award him with the Lifesaving Award for the Professional Responder; for saving numerous GIs from drowning, including those who were previously wounded.

The American Red Cross’s Lifesaving Award is not the first award Mr. Bilder has won; in fact it is just one in a pile of impressive achievements and awards from numerous countries (one from Luxembourg, France, Czech Republic, and two from the USA). However, while all the other medals he has won (apart from his first Bronze Star Medal) have been given to him because of the number of lives he took during batter, The American Red Cross’s Lifesaver Award “is the most meaningful because it represents the lives I have saved, not taken.

Finally the day had come, all my reading was done and I was on my way to meet the heroic Mr. Bilder. As I walked into his house, saw him sitting on a big green padded lazy boy chair. When I introduced myself as an intern for the Red Cross a huge smile spread across his face and he said, “The Red Cross! The Red Cross gave me my stripes. I should be honoring them, not them me.”

As the day continued I came to realize that being a soldier isn’t about being a hero or getting awards, it is about serving your country, your people, and everything you believe in. Mr. Bilder went to Europe and fought a war far from our soil because he felt it was his duty, just as soldiers are doing today in Iraq. It is our duty as Americans to not only honor them and their courageousness, but never forget the battles and struggles they have fought to protect our liberty, democracy, and country. What they have done to protect us.

As Mr. Bilder said “I have always done amazing things I suppose, but I am really just a regular Joe.”

More pictures of our visit with Mr. Bilder

 

We have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, and the soldiers in the armed forces is one of them. We are inviting the public, until December 10, to send a “touch of home” to the armed forces through hoilday cards; a small effort that goes a long way and impacts the hearts of our American Soldiers who can’t be home with their families this holiday season. Please, get involved and send your holiday cards today:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces reaches out to returning Marines.

On August 14th 2010 I attended a briefing held by Cindy Price at 2711 Mcdonough Street in Joliet. The purpose of the briefing was to educate Marines returning from a deployment about all the services the Red Cross offers to them, and their families. Cindy was very friendly and professional as she talked to the Marines about the many services the Red Cross has to offer. The marines left with a vast amount of knowledge about the Red Cross programs including psychiatric help, life insurance for veterans, and guidance on coping with pre and post deployments. To find out more about the Chicago Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces visit www.chicagoredcross.org/military

Watch as Cindy talks about the Get To Know Us Brief
http://www.youtube.com/get_player

Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces at the Jesse Brown Stand Down Event

My name is Lucas Centeno and I am an intern with the Chicago Red Cross in their Services to the Armed Forces division. When I was serving in the U.S. Army the Red Cross helped me when I was overseas, and my mother called the Red Cross to get a hold of me because my father was ill. The Red Cross did an amazing job of keeping me and my Commander up to speed with my dad’s condition, and it was an amazing relief for my mom to know that she could get a hold of me thanks to the Red Cross. I personally thank them too.

The Services to the Armed Forces division of the Red Cross offers Armed Forces members and their families services in pre and post deployment readiness, as well as counseling and communications for emergency situations.

I was so happy to attend my first event with the Red Cross, helping local homeless veterans. From the moment I walked in the door I was on the go non-stop with the nearly 50 volunteers and staff from the Red Cross. We helped to put up tents for the different stations, as well as preparing and serving food, and distributing clothing to the 150 veterans who attended. I felt like I was back in basic training but without a drill sergeant hollering in my face. We also helped to serve food to the 150 homeless veterans.

I got to work for an hour with Cindy Price, a local volunteer with Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. She is the most amazing person you could ever meet. I shared my stories of Iraq and the military with her. Though she was tired and doing three thousand things at once she took the time to tell me in an interview about what she does and why she loves the Red Cross.

Not only did we at the Red Cross make a difference to those veterans in need but I also got to know so many amazing volunteers and staff from the Chicago Red Cross. I am so honored and blessed to be working with the Chicago Red Cross and their SAF division. There are more upcoming events that the Red Cross SAF will be directly involved with and I will definitely keep you posted.