Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: “Imagine walking in their shoes”

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who recently deployed to North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Florence. There, he helped run a mega shelter for people affected by the storm in September, 2018. Steve is now sharing some of his experiences.

For a good portion of us – we don’t experience an event that changes our life as we know it.

We often see tragic stories about home fires – some of which that claim the lives of people including young ones.  Or we watch from afar how communities affected by major storms like Hurricane Florence – suffer utter destruction that will require years if not generations for people to recover from.

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A screengrab of Steve’s phone as he monitored the storm while in North Carolina.

Image for a moment – walking in their shoes.  How do you think that you and your family could survive such an event?  Would you know where to turn to for help?  Would you have the drive and heart to get through such a life changing event – or would you need help from others to get through it?

When the American Red Cross responds to such disasters – whether it be individual in nature or on a mass scale – we often hear stories that make our hearts cry.  It is so common to hear those impacted tell us that their home is gone and that they don’t have the means to start anew.  This is where the generosity of Volunteers and Donors comes in.

Many people that suffer from such life changing events – need us.  Whether it be our time, hands, or donations – we must be willing to be there for them and help them out.  If we are not…what do you think that their chances of recovery would be?

Take a moment and put yourself in their shoes.  I would bet that all of us would hope that there are others willing to help us out.  Think about donating to the Red Cross – Hurricane Florence Relief Fund.

Written by Steve Wise, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Disaster Volunteer


Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: Inside a Red Cross shelter

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who has helped with many disasters including tornadoes, floods, fires and more. Now he is sharing some of his experiences on what it is like to be a Red Crosser.

Many of us have heard of the many Shelters that were put up in response to last year’s Hurricanes and now this year’s Wildfires.
In such Shelters you will find people of all backgrounds and races. They will be young and old…in good health and in very poor health. They will come with some belongings that they were able to grab before leaving their home. Or they may come with very little…and only have what they are wearing on their back.
They may come with family members…so thankful that they are all safe. They may come with their pets who are an integral part of their family. Or they may be alone and by themselves – desperately seeking someone to comfort them.
They may come and want to tell you stories of how they escaped the flood waters or fires that engulfed their home. They may know that if and when they go home – they most likely will find utter destruction. Or they may not know how bad it could be or possibly how lucky they are. Which will weigh heavily on them until they are able to see with their own eyes.
But now it is up to us as a Shelter Worker or Volunteer…to hear them, comfort them the best that we can…to give them the time that they need to share with us…and to help in whatever way that we can to get them on their road to recovery.
It is common for our Shelter Residents to be sleeping on cots next to people that they do not know. But as the days wear on…these strange faces will soon become their neighbors…looking out for each other. They will form bonds with each other – and most likely us as well.
As a Red Crosser – we unfortunately will see some very sad sights in a Shelter which will weigh heavily on our hearts. It is not uncommon to see one of our fellow Red Crossers sitting and crying with the arms of another Red Crosser around them. But we must push on and do our best to stay strong…because there are so many people that are counting on us for our help.

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: The Resiliency of a Community

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who has helped with many disasters including tornadoes, floods, fires and more. Now he is sharing some of his experiences on what it is like to be a Red Crosser.

It is truly amazing to see and watch a Community recover from a disaster.  Whether it be a tornado that devastates blocks and blocks of a town – or a fire that destroys many units of an apartment complex – you will see how a community comes together.

Large disasters can affect so many people – and often times those that will struggle greatly to recover from it.  They may not have the means or resources to repair or replace what they lost so quickly and without warning.  So, they depend on others – and often their own community to help them out.

Being out in a hard-hit community like in Marshalltown, IA – it was common to see neighbors helping neighbors.  Whether picking up debris from the many trees that were blown down, to helping repair items torn from a house – you would see a group affair.

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Drone view of the destruction in Marshalltown, IA after a tornado in July, 2018.

For those that were lucky and not impacted – you would see them donating food, clothing, or simply their time however they could.  Local residents volunteered in many roles, often requiring them to be on their feet all day.  They went out of their way to help their fellow resident – and were back the next day to volunteer some more.

We stood up a Resource Center (MARC) to help those in the community that had damage to their homes.  Twenty plus organizations came to provide free assistance – many of which were from outside Marshalltown.  They listened to, may have cried with, and did whatever they could to help out the many families that sought their help.

Such stories are repeated time and time again when tragedy strikes.  Learn to be prepared not only for any disaster that may come your way – but also be prepared to help out your neighbors when they may need you the most.

Fire and Ash: ‘Volcan de Fuego’ Leaves its Ongoing Mark of Terror on the Beautiful Nation of Guatemala

Cameron Macpherson spent summer 2018 interning with the American Red Cross Communications and Marketing team. Guatemala experienced the volcano eruption just weeks prior to Cameron’s start date at the American Red Cross and this news shaped his thinking around disaster response. This article reflects Cameron’s learning, both during trips to Guatemala as well as while interning at the Red Cross.

By: Cameron Macpherson

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Volcan de Fuego

On June 5, 2018, the deadliest volcano Guatemala experienced since 1902 erupted just 27 miles from its capital, Guatemala City.

That day will forever be impressed upon the memories of many, including me. Having spent time in Guatemala over the years, I have made perhaps some of the most special, lifelong friendships that I will ever make. I would visit an orphanage located in the small town of Santa Apolonia, Guatemala and am still friends with the people I met there.

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On the day of the eruption, I quickly opened up Facebook—it was crucial that I message a longtime friend of mine and former resident of the orphanage who lives in Guatemala City. He’s studying biochemistry at a local university. I needed to be certain that he was not affected, and if he knew whether or not the orphanage was affected as well.

Even in this connected age, contact with the orphanage is relatively tough, but I messaged as many people as I could in Santa Apolonia. What followed was the terrifying wait where all I could do was hope that everyone remained unaffected. When my friend eventually responded to me that Volcan de Fuego had not reached him nor had it reached the orphanage, I rejoiced.

Later that day, people at the orphanage responded with the same story. I am blessed, and continuously grateful that no one I know has been injured, missing or worse. Many were not as fortunate, however. Volcano de Fuego has taken 110 lives, injured 300 and 332 people are still missing.

Some memories do not fade. One day that came to mind during the disaster was not one of neither hope nor sadness, but of a valuable lesson.

Seven years ago, during my first trip to ‘the Hogar’, I was a fourteen-year-old boy with tenacious yet misguided aspirations forthe trip.

Similarly, my perspective of the people in the town of Santa Apolonia and the orphanage was incredibly single-minded leading up to the first day.

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I saw them as people in need. “I was merely there to help them,” was my thought process. The day of the volcano, it was not the adorable faces of the younger kids, nor the warm hospitality and love I had felt since the first minute that came to mind, rather, it was what happened roughly an hour after my arrival during a soccer game with some of the older boys that I remembered.

Growing up, I had a passion for the game of soccer and thought that bringing my Nike soccer ball would be an appropriate gift to the boys, as well as provide a way to connect with the kids and compensate for my poor Spanish speaking ability. Upon reaching the paved courtyard, I spotted three older boys sitting and joking on a bench in the corner. With my limited Spanish vocabulary, I walked over and asked if they wanted to play, and they looked at each other for a moment then warmly smiled and agreed.

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These guys were good … I mean excellent. They passed the ball back and forth in the middle of the game with using only their heads, they used clever moves one only sees on television, they did difficult ‘give and go’ passes and it all seemed effortlessly done.

Somewhere around ten minutes into the game, the ball came to me. I looked up and saw the metal bars the kids had set up as the goal. I aimed, planted and took the shot. It may have been a decent effort, hard to remember, all I really remember was the pain of having the skin on the bottom of my big toe torn off by the concrete. Seriously, do not know what I was thinking wearing flip flops to play soccer in the first place. That, however, is beside the point.

Before I could even process what happened, the three oldest boys in the game; Luciano, Manuel, and Noe helped me up and took me to a nearby room. After sitting me down, Noe bumped me on the shoulder, then joked with me about my poor choice of ’zapatos’ then patted me on the back. Simultaneously, others had already gone to grab warm water, rubbing alcohol and a bandage. The pain I initially felt disappeared in an instant. From the moment I sat down in the room, the three of them joked with me about Messi and Ronaldo, how my name means shrimp in Spanish when spoken aloud and they asked me about my siblings. When I looked down at my toe, it was cleaned off and bandaged up like nothing ever happened.

Feeling somewhat angry and disappointed at myself, I was convinced that more harm than good had been done and that was that. In retrospect, however, I was oblivious.

Oblivious to the fact that the kids shouting my name were simply shouting, ‘shrimp’, oblivious to the effect that concrete and friction causes on a bare toe, and most importantly, oblivious to everything about the orphanage: the people in it and perhaps even Guatemala in general. In a material sense, the kids there had far less than the average American. But, my understanding deepened and I saw that the kids approached life and connection in such a beautiful way. My time at the ‘Hogar’ had taught me something profound yet so simple about what it means to be human.

Everyone has a pivotal moment. For me, that day sparked a journey to become a person who does not view service as an action to give to those I deem less fortunate, but views service and helping others as an end in itself, not the means to the end.

Over the past seven years I have helped build and expand their farm, irrigation system, built a playground, helped the kids write their own stories, organize workshops for math and writing, and even organized a ‘world cup’ for a couple of years (flip-flops were strongly discouraged), along with many smaller projects. The theme was the same for every project, however, I gained more than I gave. And what I gained is something I cannot quantify.

Those kids are now my brothers and sisters and there have been countless ‘flip-flop’ moments since then that make me challenge myself to live up to their standard of morality, of friendship and of humanity.

Nearly two million people in Guatemala have been projected to be in danger from ash fallout. The long terms effects of this could be (another) national catastrophe for Guatemala.

The Volcano that I have seen for years now during my visits, is causing far more harm than it did just a few days after the eruption. The ash covers nearly half the country.

On the day of the eruption, the American Red Cross mobilized around-the-clock rescue teams. The Guatemalan Red Cross is currently assisting in finding the 332 people still missing and is now accepting requests for cases in which family contact has been lost due to the eruption.

Please locate your nearest Red Cross chapter if you are looking for a missing relative by clicking this link. If the person missing is a U.S. citizen, please get in touch with the U.S. Department of State, instead. If you wish to help survivors and the search effort, please donate to Cruz Roja Guatemalteca (the Guatemala Red Cross) which is administrating blood drives, providing supplies and medical aid to survivors, as well as assisting in the search effort. You can also donate to the American Red Cross, which is also actively helping in the crisis through its Restoring Family Links program, as well as assist in providing Disaster Health Services, Disaster Mental Health Services, and Disaster Spiritual Care support to family and friends of victims of this disaster and others in the United States.

Helping the healing in Parkland, FL

The nation’s eyes were turned to Parkland, Florida recently after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018. Thirty-three people were shot and 17 of them died. As a Red Cross social worker with a background in trauma counseling and crisis intervention, I deployed to Florida for 5 days to work with the peers and families of those students so tragically killed.

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During a disaster or a terrible event like this, workers like me help to meet people’s complex emotional needs. I provided support, psychoeducation (therapy that helps survivors understand what they’re experiencing) and connected other students and parents in the community to local resources and referrals to help in the long term. 

Most of my time in Florida was spent on an outreach team. We visited people in hospitals, schools and homes through this outreach. I also provided support at two memorials held for the victims and at the Family Assistance Center that was set up at the Parkland Community Recreation Center.

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Part of this outreach included a group of 5 golden retriever comfort dogs from the Naples location of PAWS. Pictured with me is Woody. These comfort dogs brought another level of relief, and I actually brought them on many of the home visits. They really help soothe the soul.



Here I am with one of the service dogs, Woody.

To call this event tough or sad doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was flooded with such a mix of emotions during this experience. All at once I felt sad, angry, proud and inspired. I am sad for the loss of life and all the families that may never feel complete again. The survivors will never be the same and still face a long road to recovery ahead of them, which can be difficult and complicated.

I’m also angry that something like this can happen in a place we consider safe — school. My husband is a teacher and this scares me to my core. I feel proud of the students and the change-makers that have now taken an impressive stand. We’ve seen their actions and heard their words on TV and I’m so impressed by their maturity and ability to speak up, even after being the very community affected most deeply by this tragedy. To see them work toward bringing change is inspiring. I’ve also seen unlikely friendships form and massive amounts of support come out of this ugliness. They’ve shown the world they are resilient and the Parkland community has grown stronger as they work together to process the impact of this despicable act.

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 Diana Loch is the Regional Recovery Manager for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.

 Looking for support? Call the Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-958-5990 or text: TalkWithUs to 66746

American Red Cross Disaster Summit 2017

American Red Cross Disaster Summit 2017

“It takes a community of resilience to build a nation of resilience,” said Winfred Rawls, Deputy Director and Emergency Officer at the Illinois Department of Public Health. He stood on stage looking out at over 200 community members at the American Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Summit. Thought leaders from across the Midwest had gathered to build community strength in the face of bioterrorism. 


Attendees gather to learn about Private Sector Response to a Bioterrorism Event.

The 8th Annual Disaster Preparedness Summit focused on the Bioterrorism and the Impact of Public Health in Community Recovery and Resiliency. The Summit taught community members about the need to prepare for the threat of bioterrorism and the ways public and private sectors are doing so. Speakers and attendees were encouraged to share their experiences and ideas to further improve our preparedness plans.  

The University of Chicago Medicine’s Brenda Battle welcomed all attendees to the conference held on DePaul University’s campus in Lincoln Park. “We must look to the future so we can be prepared,” she expressed with determination.  

One group of panelists discussed bioterrorism preparedness and response planning in Illinois. Dr. Kate Ballering of Hasset Willis & Company (HWC) defined bioterrorism as “the intentional release of pathogens to cause illness or death in people, animals or plants.” Ballering reported on humanity’s long history of using biological disease as a weapon, and the very real possibility of a bioterrorism event in our future. Other panelists informed attendees about alert or prevention systems currently in place. Emma Ratajczak, BioWatch’s Jurisdictional Coordinator, explained that the BioWatch system monitors and tests the air surrounding major American cities, including Chicago, for intentionally released harmful pathogens. This federal system can provide an early warning for a bioterrorism attack. 


Panelists on stage discuss response planning in Illinois.

A second group of panelists examined the private sector response to a bioterrorism event, and agreed on the importance of private businesses having community partnerships. Christopher Shields of the Chicago Department of Public Health also stressed the need for collaboration within our community by declaring that, “Diseases do not know boundaries. Diseases move so our jurisdictions are all in the game together.” 

During a specialized breakout session, speakers outlined the effectiveness of Illinois’ response to the Ebola outbreak, and the different ways to treat a Highly Contagious Infectious Disease. At a second breakout session, Anthony Williams, mental health therapist and chaplain of the Illinois Army National Guard, explored the psychological impact of disaster. Williams pointed out that the survivors of terrorism event can have lasting psychological and emotional scars that may remain long after infrastructure has been rebuilt. Williams asserted that mental health treatment cannot be overlooked in times of disaster because a community is only as strong as the people within it. 



Anthony Williams during Psychological Impact of Bioterrorism Breakout Session.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jeremy W. Francis closed the conference by honoring the first responders lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack. “That day nothing else mattered. Not even their own safety mattered more than saving a life,” Francis reflected on this selfless reaction. He encouraged our community to take action and be more prepared now than we were then. Francis emphasized that through positive organizational culture paired with increased awareness and training, we can improve our preparedness and mitigate impact or loss from any future terrorist attacks. 

As attendees began to file out, Lisa Mallory-Nance from the Cook County Department of Public Health lingered in the hall to continue conversation about the next steps we can take together. She voiced her takeaway from the Disaster Summit, “Today we fostered a sense of urgency. An urgency to prepare for the possibility of a bioterrorism event that is not as far-fetched as we may once have believed. Just because it has not happened yet, does not mean the work and systems that have been developed are not useful. We have built and must continue building these relevant systems.” 


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Thank you to all of the attendees, speakers and sponsors for coming together to continue strengthening our community at this year’s Disaster Summit. 

Written By: Lucia Varlotta, American Red Cross Communications Intern



Roller Derby’s Make em’ Bleed Kicks Off In Chicago

Known for being a tough contact sport, roller derby has a soft spot for giving back.


August 13th kicked off World Roller Derby week with the sport’s 82nd birthday celebration at Coliseum Park in Chicago where the sport was invented by Leo Seltzer, a Chicago native. World Roller Derby week pays homage to its Chicago roots while giving back to the community. During the celebration, donor registration was open to attendees for the blood drive “First Blood.”

The “First Blood” blood drive will be hosted at the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois on Sunday, October 29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Roller derby athletes will be there in full uniform (skates too!) signing autographs, taking photos, handing out buttons, giving temporary tattoos and hosting some fun giveaways. You can register to donate by going here and entering the code DERBY to find the Chicago drive or you can call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-773-2767).

Roller derby is giving back nationwide! In collaboration with Brown Paper Tickets and the American Red Cross, roller derby will be hosting a series of blood drives across the country, called Make em’ Bleed. Over the past 4 years, this collaboration has collected more than 900 units of blood.


By: Rebecca Pilipchuk, Marketing & Communications Intern at the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois