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 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

Still Getting Certified: Red Cross Blended Learning Training Classes

Many jobs require up to date lifesaving skills because they address health emergencies every day – people such as health care providers, first responders, and lifeguards. Others, including teachers and babysitters, are entrusted with precious young lives that could require aid on a moment’s notice.

Those of us who don’t face health emergencies every day can also benefit from Red Cross training. With a wide array of Lifeguarding, Caregiving and Babysitting, and Swimming and Water Safety courses the Red Cross can provide you with the training and skills you need to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

COVID-19 has really changed the way many things are done with safety a top priority for many. This can mean limited social or in-person interactions. Thankfully, the Red Cross has done a great job of creating different formats for their training programs to better suit everyone’s needs and desires. Updated virtual and blended classes are offered, meaning you can be certified in First Aid, CPR, AED use, babysitting, and even some aspects of water safety are now offered completely online. In-person courses and blended classes, meaning partially online and an abbreviated in-person portion, are also offered.

It was important to be to be trained in CPR & First Aid because at any given time, there could be an individual who becomes unconscious faces a life-threatening injury and knowing what to do and not feeling like a helpless bystander is rewarding. The hope is that you will never have to use your training in real life, but if it were to happen, it’s important that you are trained and ready. So I decided to get ready.

I chose to do a blended course to get certified in Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED so I could really get a feel as to how the classes are run and how they were able to modify a portion of the learning to be online. To my surprise, the online portion was very informative. They included images and videos to help you truly understand how to perform CPR on an adult/infant and give you scenarios of a real-life emergency so you can see how everything is done. I am now well versed in the “Check, Call, Care” mantra. They also had quizzes to ensure you are retaining the information and understanding it to the fullest. Having the training program be split between online and in-person shortened the course as well. Instead of having to go to a class that could last up to 6 hours, the class I attended was only 1.5 hours. The online part is also done on your own at your own pace, probably taking around 2 hours to complete.

Joe, the instructor of the class, was highly adept at keeping the class informative and fun. He made sure to help everyone individually if they needed assistance with CPR compressions, he was there if we had any questions, and so much more. Not only was he of great aid, the CPR manikins that we practiced on were also very helpful. When practicing chest compressions, red lights would illuminate inside the manikin as a guide to know if your compressions were firm and fast enough. The goal was to always have its forehead light up for the duration of the CPR. That would ensure that we had a steady rhythm and were also going deep enough on each compression. Everything needed for the training course was provided. We did not need to bring anything other than ourselves. We also had the opportunity to help each other out. I was partnered up with 2 other individuals from the class and we would take turns on the manikins while also giving following the guidebook to make sure our CPR techniques were correct.

The American Red Cross also ensures that we are all still following CDC guidelines when it comes to COVID including wearing face masks and spacing us out in the room. When learning what to do when someone is choking, the class has been altered to be contact-less and we practiced pelvic thrusts and back blows with chairs representing the victim or on ourselves.

The changes, though slight, made the class feel safe while still learning all the needed information. Upon successful completion, a 2-year digital certificate is issued to all students. I would recommend a blended course to anyone looking for training but also wanting to minimize their in-person interactions. Being trained in what to do in an emergency can help you feel empowered to help save a life.

Find out more about blended learning and all the Training Courses the Red Cross has to offer at

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

Illinois Region Volunteers Responding to December 11 Midwest Tornado Outbreak

Our thoughts are with everyone whose lives were changed forever by the horrific and deadly tornadoes that touched down overnight across the center of the country.

The American Red Cross Illinois Region volunteers were put into standby mode early Friday in preparation for expected severe weather. At least 24 catastrophic tornadoes ripped across five states in the dark of night, impacting people in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. Numerous homes and other buildings are destroyed and more than 275,000 customers are without power.

Illinois Region volunteer Steve Wise of New Lenox, IL is the first to deploy out of state to Kentucky to help lead the Mass Care response.

Right now, the Red Cross and our partners are working around the clock across these states to help
those in need and make sure everyone has a safe place to stay, food to eat, critical relief supplies,
emotional support and comfort.

The Red Cross has provided more than 160 blood products to hospitals in response to these devastating
tornadoes. We remain in touch with our hospital partners throughout affected areas and stand ready to
provide additional blood products as needed. Sign up to give soon by going to

In the Illinois Region, volunteers are assessing damage reports and supporting our neighboring regions responding in Edwardsville, Illinois. A shelter was opened in Virginia, IL for residents without power seeking a safe, comfortable place to stay.

More tornado safety tips for before, during and after here.

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

Volunteers Respond to Large Fire in Keokuk, Iowa

Early in the morning of December 9, 2022 volunteers with the American Red Cross Serving the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois were called to a large fire at the Westbrook Terrace apartment complex in Keokuk, Iowa.

The entire 16-unit apartment building was destroyed as it went up in flames, immediately putting 34 people out of their homes.

Pushed by high winds, the fire quickly spread into the roof support space and swept across the entire building. Firefighters from the Keokuk Fire Department and Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Department battled the flames and brought the fire under control but not before the majority of the roof structure was destroyed, making the building not suitable for living.

The Red Cross is working with our community partner the Salvation Army to provide immediate assistance as we transition to navigating the next steps to make sure people affected have longer term lodging and further assistance. Red Cross volunteer caseworkers responded to the scene to make sure every person had resources for the upcoming days and the weeks to come.

Red Cross volunteer Carl Tortorige provides resources and information for a victim of the Dec. 9 fire in Keokuk, IA

Red Cross Volunteers from Quincy arrived on scene with an Emergency Response Vehicle and provided client intake services, immediate financial aid, and comfort kits for the displaced residents.

Give Back in More Ways Than One

Blood donors and volunteers needed at the upcoming ABC-7 Great Chicago Blood Drive!

Coming up on January 12 & 13 is the ABC-7 Great Chicago Blood Drive, one of the nation’s LARGEST blood drives and you can be a part of it! The American Red Cross is looking for people to sign up to give blood. Donors will receive a limited edition ABC-7 Great Chicago Blood Drive t-shirt (while supplies last) and will be a part of helping to save lives this winter. Sign up for an appointment by clicking here.

A Red Cross phlebotomist helps a blood donor through their donation.

Can’t donate? Consider being a volunteer! With 5 locations across 2 days, there is a shift for you! Even if you have never volunteered for the Red Cross before, we need over 200 volunteers to help make this drive a success as it has been in the past.

Shift Times: 6:30am-11:00am, 10:45am-4:00pm, 3:45pm-9:00pm

January 12th

  • Navy Pier – 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

January 13th

  • Foglia YMCA – 1025 N Old McHenry Rd, Lake Zurich, IL 60047
  • Hyatt Hotel – 1800 E Golf Rd, Schaumburg, IL 60173
  • Georgio’s Banquets – 8800 W 159th St, Orland Park, IL 60462

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks will be provided to all who volunteer throughout the day and each volunteer will receive a FREE t-shirt!

Two Red Cross volunteers assist at the 2021 Great Chicago Blood Drive.

Virtual training, safety protocols and Q&A sessions will be held in late December/early January.

Register here!

If you have additional questions, please email us at

American Red Cross of Illinois CEO Celena Roldan at the Field Museum in January 2021. This year’s Chicago location will be Navy Pier!

A volunteer poem

Brian Kenney started volunteering with the American Red Cross in Texas in 1992. In his 15 years or so of active volunteering he has taken on many roles, but the one he has enjoyed the most is being a Disaster Services volunteer. 

He explains his favorite part of volunteering is to give people experiencing disasters comfort during difficult times and to stand with them to be the hope in their darkest moments. 

Brian shares that his most memorable volunteer moment with the Red Cross was in 2000 in Minooka, IL when a mother came to him after a flood asking for help with her daughter who would not stop crying. He calmed her down and engaged her imagination. With the help of ‘Mr. Fear’, he helped her by telling her to squeeze his hand and that Mr. Fear left her and now went to him, making her less scared during this time.

“Volunteering gives you a whole new perspective on the world around you—the more I volunteer, the more blessed I am.”

Brian wrote a poem about insight to his experience volunteering with the Red Cross:

In the Midst of the Storm by Brian Kenney, DSC, Illinois, Region 4

I really can’t imagine the disaster victim’s plight, 
How in such a very short time their day’s been turned to night.

The world as they knew it has suddenly been taken away, 
Now they look to you for answers but there is nothing you can say.

Your outstretched arms may just be the answer for right now, 
As on your shoulder a shattered life rests and to you their problems they endow.

You embrace them ever so gently as the tears begin to flow, 
Both yours and theirs fall to the ground in amounts we’ll never know.

Now the tears that they’ve been pouring out  have seemingly reach 
their peak, They raise their head ever so gently and prepare to try and speak. 
So now you silently motion to them that what’s transpired is OK,
Because it’s been your privilege to be there for them this day.

You will never forget this meeting and what it’s meant to you, 
For rather than just helping one you discover it has helped two.

You wonder how the time flew by as you shared in another’s loss, 
Your life has made a difference through serving the Red Cross.

Thank you to all the men and women who give so tirelessly every day utilizing their time, energy, and talents to make a difference serving as American Red Cross Disaster Service volunteers. 

Brian Kenney, DSC

Thank you Brian for your amazing poem, continuous hard work and passion for working with the Red Cross and our mission. We are lucky to have you!

Team Red Cross: Running for a Cause


Every year, runners of all ages and abilities are invited to run the Chicago Marathon in support of the American Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. Sylvia Villares joined Team Red Cross in 2021 for the Chicago Marathon and shared with us her story, “I am from Puerto Rico originally—[Puerto Rico] had experienced many natural disasters recently such as Hurricane Maria among others—The red cross helped many people that were trying to communicate and couldn’t get water, food, shelter…I always say the Red Cross is everywhere, helping everyone who needs help.”

Cat, an ICU and clinical nurse also decided to run with Team Red Cross, “I’m running for many reasons. The pandemic was hard for everyone for different reasons—My running partner and I would get up super early and hit the running paths so I could talk and clear my head so my spirit could take care of those in need—This race training has been part of a healing journey.  I’m ready to represent resilience.  I’m ready to tackle 26.2 miles for myself,  for my partner and for those who didn’t make it out of this pandemic.”


We heard another inspiring story from Greg Maki who has trained for marathons twice in the past, “—I under-appreciated the dedication, perseverance and patience it takes to do—I am glad my training and perseverance found the Chicago Marathon and the Red Cross. I am so excited to run in a beautiful city with a great organization.”

All funds raised by Team Red Cross benefit American Red Cross programs and services throughout the Illinois region. Red Cross volunteers are able to provide care and comfort to those in need because of the generosity of people like you!

Thank you to all of our runners on Team Red Cross this year. We encourage anyone to join Team Red Cross in running the Chicago Marathon next year on Sunday October 9, 2022. Sign up here!

Written by Brianna Orto, Communications and Marketing intern.

Blood Drive in Honor of River Helmuth

River Helmuth was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. She was born at full-term and shortly after her family found out about her condition.

When River was two and a half months old, she developed a cold and spent 73 days in the hospital where she underwent open heart surgery and multiple blood transfusions. About six months later, River returned for another heart surgery.

Today, River is doing amazing and started kindergarten this year. Her mother Stephanie says she may need another surgery in the future.

Now her family is hosting a blood drive in honor of River. The family realizes the importance of blood donations because of River and other members in their family that have received blood transfusions, including River’s grandfather who received blood after a traumatic car accident years ago.

“Our hope for the blood drive is continue to raise awareness for the need, that’s always there, it’s not just today or tomorrow,” Stephanie adds.

River’s blood drive will be held on Saturday, September 18 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sullivan American Legion, 8 E. Strain Street in Sullivan, Illinois.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Illinois & New York Volunteer Reflects on 9/11

Tell Sheil has been a a Red Cross volunteer for nearly 50 years. In that time she has helped countless people as a registered nurse and health services volunteer and as a disaster mental health volunteer.

Of all her time with the Red Cross, responding to 9/11 stands out most prominently. Tess calls both Illinois and New York home and was working in a school in New York the day the Twin Towers were hit. She recalls the day in the video below.

In the years that followed, Tess has carefully preserved items from that response and reflects on them often.

Tess has kept this poster for 20 years; a memento of the morale that pulsed through the city as people banded together.

A pin to commemorate the date.

A certificate of appreciation from the American Red cross for her work serving on that day.

Magnets and regular cards from the Health Registry Staff