American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Celebrates 12 Local Heroes at Annual Breakfast

On May 1, 2019, the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois hosted its 17th Annual Heroes Breakfast.  It was a warm and inspiring event, filled with hundreds of people, all gathered to celebrate the actions of twelve local heroes.  The morning’s honorees were those that acted with bravery, selflessness and courage and left an indelible impact on the lives of so many. Read the background on each of the 2019 heroes this year here.

Some of the 2019 Heroes pictured with CEO Celena Roldan

Walgreens was the signature sponsor of this year’s event.  I had the opportunity to speak with Richard Ashworth, the President of Pharmacy & Retail Operations of Walgreens.  He reflected on the “community aspect” of the Red Cross and Walgreens, in that they are both active and prominent in local communities across the United States.  He said that “when something happens in this country, whether it be a fire or whether it be a tornado or a hurricane, the local activation of the people that live in that community to rebuild and to bring back, that’s something that was near and dear to Walgreens’ heart and the partnership with the Red Cross is what really makes that happen.”

Honorary Chair Richard Ashworth speaking to a private reception ahead of the 2019 Heroes Breakfast

Megan Bugg, recipient of the Youth Hero Award, was one of one of the twelve heroes that were acknowledged.  She was recognized for her major contributions in raising awareness and funds for childhood cancer.  At the age of 13, Megan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, known as Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS).  The next few years were very challenging, as she faced many difficult treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.  Megan decided to take her struggle and turn it into a spotlight for childhood cancer.  She spoke to the Illinois General Assembly and at CureFest in Washington D.C., as well as helped coordinate fundraisers at her school.  As a result of her efforts, Megan helped raise over $164,000 for the research of childhood cancer and brought federal funding issues surrounding the illness to the fore.  Currently, only 4% of federal funding goes to childhood cancer research.  When accepting her award, Ms. Bugg, said that she is “so grateful to the Red Cross for noticing [her] work and letting [her] spread the word.”  Megan continues to bring awareness to this incredibly important issue and says that she is “not going to quit, ever.”

Megan Bugg speaking after accepting the Youth Hero Award

The morning was filled with stories of heroes, like Megan.  Officer Mark Dallas, the Law Enforcement Hero, stopped a would-be mass shooter at Dixon High School in Dixon, IL.  Officer Dallas exchanged fire with a shooter at the high school, where 182 students were practicing for their graduation ceremony.  Just before the shooter entered the gymnasium where the students were rehearsing, Mark was able to stop and ultimately apprehend the suspect.  Remembering that day, Officer Dallas says that he “felt like a dad to all those kids” and that “by the grace of God [he] was able to help.”

Law Enforcement Hero Officer Mark Dallas

Like Officer Dallas, Mary Carmody, Military Hero, has made the needs of others one of her life’s top priorities.  She created the Midwest Veterans Closet, an organization that provides much-needed assistance to veterans.  Mary’s establishment gives free food, clothing, job and computer training, household items, and even automobiles that have been donated, to those have have served or are currently serving in our nation’s military, helping 550 people per month.  Without Mary, these veterans would often times have nobody else to turn to for help.  When delivering her remarks on being the honoree of the award, she kept the focus on the veterans.  In a touching moment, Mary asked all of those who had served to stand and spoke directly to them, saying “thank you for my freedoms… and I think I can speak for everyone when I say thank you for all of our freedoms.”

Some of the heroes including Detective Sergeant Paul Clampitt (left) and Military Hero Mary Carmody (right)

This year’s recipient of the Heritage Award went to Rick Waddell for his astounding dedication to philanthropic and charitable endowments, as well as leadership in society.  As CEO of Northern Trust, Rick continued the company’s belief in giving back.  He has used his position to bring his associates together to engage with the community.  Mr. Waddell is also active in the Nature Conservancy, advocating for environmental change and speaking with the youth in underprivileged communities.  Northern Trust and the Red Cross share a long history of partnership.  Rick told me that what he finds so special about the Red Cross is that they are “there when people have the most need – whether it’s a natural disaster, armed forces services members and their families returning home, the American Red Cross, since the 1880s… [has] a brand about them that people trust when they need it most and they deliver.  And I just think when you have that trust and that ability to help people when they are at their lowest moment, it’s an incredible organization and an incredible service that the American Red Cross provides.”

Heritage Award Recipient Rick Waddell giving a speech

Local heroes, like those honored at the Heroes Breakfast, make outstanding contributions to their fellow human and to society every day.  Acknowledgment of the sacrifices and contributions of these heroes is so important and something that is very meaningful for the Red Cross.  Our sincerest gratitude goes out to this year’s class of honorees!

See all of this year’s hero videos on YouTube here.

Nominations for next year’s heroes is now open.  If there’s a hero in your life, nominate them here!

For more information on how to become a volunteer for the Red Cross, visit

Written by Red Cross Communications Volunteer Vicky Arias


A Volunteer’s Heartache- Steve Wise

Yesterday I was part of a Red Cross Team that responded to a home fire in Aurora.  This fire was so devastating especially once we learned it claimed the life of a child.

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If you are a Red Crosser or know of one – you will know that home fires happen way too often.  And they change the lives of those so negatively impacted…in an instant.

Some people who are so affected – will bounce back from it through the help of family, friends, insurance, etc.  But with others…they will never ever be able to recover and will not be able to go back to the life that they once lead.

On average…seven (7) people – mainly children and the elderly – die each day from a home fire.  In addition, thirty-six (36) people suffer injuries as a result of a home fire each day.

The majority of us cannot describe the feeling of what it is like to lose a family member as a result of a home fire.  And most of us share the attitude that it will never happen to us – it always happens to someone else.  But such events do happen – and often they happen when we least suspect them…and often without any type of warning.  Red Crossers know first-hand – that way too many people do not have working smoke alarms in their home.

Take time today…and impact someone’s life today.  Check and make sure that your smoke alarms are working.  If you don’t have any installed – then get them installed NOW.  And push your family members, friends and neighbors to do the same.

Also check out the Red Cross “Sound the Alarm – Save a Life” campaign.  You can help out by Volunteering or Donating.  A small action on your part – can do so much for a family so needing.         

Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Disaster Action Team Volunteer Steve Wise.

Prepare with Pedro spreads safety message to P.H. Miller School kindergarteners

This February, more than 150 kindergartners at P.H. Miller School in Plano, IL took part in “Prepare with Pedro,” an American Red Cross program established to teach children about safety in a fun and engaging way.

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With disasters on the rise, more people and households are being affected every day, and kids are among the most vulnerable during and after a disaster, which is where Prepare with Pedro comes in. Developed by the Red Cross, Prepare with Pedro is a whole curriculum series dedicated to helping children understand what to do in emergency situations.


Laurel Mateyka, P.H. Miller School’s principal, and Amy Griffing, a S.T.E.M. teacher at the school, welcomed the American Red Cross into their classrooms to introduce children to the Prepare with Pedro fire safety storybook. The storybook is a fun new way for young children to learn about fire safety as Pedro learns about how to stay safe during home fires from his friend, Mia. The storybook ensures that children understand basic fire safety tips, such as the sound a smoke alarm makes, when to test smoke alarms, how to get out safely during a fire, and how to develop a fire escape plan. Children also learn how to cope with the stress that emergencies can cause and are encouraged to continue to learning with their families afterwards as each student receives their very own copy of the storybook!


Prepare with Pedro answered many students’ questions. The kindergarten students spent several weeks talking about how to prepare for different types of weather. Throughout the unit, students brought up questions about fire. They wanted to know more about fire and how to prepare.


“When my principal, Laurel Mateyka, told me about the Red Cross Program, Prepare with Pedro, it seemed like a perfect way to address students’ lingering questions,” Griffing said. “Pedro answered many questions about what to do in an emergency without scaring the students.”

After hearing the Preparing with Pedro story, students understood what to do in a fire emergency. The presentation cleared up several misconceptions about what to do in a fire drill.

Before the story, several students thought the beeping sound the alarm made was a signal for a lock down drill. Some students thought they should hide in the basement.

Pedro taught students not to hide when a fire alarm goes off, but to quickly “get low and go.” After the story with Pedro, students understood smoke detectors also tell you to get out of a house and not just school buildings.

“Now that students have heard and understood this message, I can feel more comfortable knowing that my students can take care of themselves in a fire emergency,” Griffing said.

The American Red Cross’ visit marks the first time the program has been offered in Kendall County making it a great opportunity for students at P.H. Miller School. Virginia Hopley of Safe Families AmeriCorps and Kelley Kudulis, a Red Cross volunteer, presented Pedro to the excited classrooms of children.


Mateyka has been working on a community early intervention program that is wholistic, incorporating literacy and public health, making Prepare with Pedro a great fit.


“We pushed for Pedro to be at the school because all students go home with a copy of the storybook and are encouraged to read it with their grown-ups, which helps foster literacy development,” Jeremiah La Plante, American Red Cross disaster program specialist, said.


In addition to the message about fire safety, the American Red Cross encouraged reading skills to the kindergarten students.

Some of the students that took part in the program could not write their name, and many could not read at all. The program presenters encouraged students to try their best when reading.

“During the presentation, Pedro taught students a smoke alarm says ‘beep, beep, beep’ At the end of the presentation, Kelly, Jeremiah and Virginia challenged students to find these words in their new storybook,” Griffing said. “Students were so proud and excited to read the words ‘beep, beep, beep’ on their own.”

The students described the Pedro mascot as friendly and cute, and it will not be the last time he will be visiting P.H. Miller School students.

“We’ve been invited back next school year to teach fire safety and possibly the upcoming tornado safety storybook,” La Plante said.

According to Griffing, students shared their excitement and loved receiving their own Pedro book to take home to share their safety knowledge to friends and family.

“One student said, ‘I am going to have to read this book to my friend! She doesn’t have a smoke alarm at home,’” Griffing said. “It was great for me to see this student excited to read about fire safety and concerned about her friend.”

Interested in learning more about “Prepare with Pedro” or having a presentation at your school? Contact us by emailing Brian at


Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Communications Volunteer Jasminne Hernandez.

Red Cross Volunteer Morrie Bowie: Volunteering from the Heart

The Red Cross is built on the idea that offering the gift of compassion to those that are in need is a privilege.  By lending a helping hand, that privilege becomes hope for people that are frightened and suffering great loss.  For many, seeing volunteers from the Red Cross arrive after a fire has burned down their home or a hurricane has taken everything they have is a welcome beacon of relief.  One of those volunteers is Chicago’s own Morrie Bowie.  Hailing from the Wicker Park neighborhood, Mr. Bowie attended the University of Illinois, receiving a degree in Fine and Applied Arts, before going on to join the fire department.  There, Morrie worked as a firefighter for 28 years, putting out fires and acting as a scuba diver, building inspector, photographer, and even becoming a lieutenant.  He was also a helicopter pilot for the Chicago Fire Department Air Rescue Unit and a substitute teacher when he wasn’t working at the fire department.

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Morrie on his first deployment to Puerto Rico in 2017

Mr. Bowie is now retired, but his hero heart beats stronger than ever.  In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving devastation in its wake.  The destruction caused by the hurricane ripped apart homes, tore down infrastructure and left much of the island in ruins.  With considerable areas of land lying in wreckage, thousands were left displaced and fearful of what the future held.  During that dark time is when Morrie sprung into action, saying that the “public service guy in [him] wanted to do something.”  He looked at the Red Cross as a means to help.  He signed up to volunteer, went through the training, and deployed to Puerto Rico for one month.  After returning home, he saw that there was still a great need for assistance, so he deployed again, this time staying for four months.

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Morrie pictured here with David Eigenberg from NBC’s Chicago Fire and a member of the Chicago Fire Department duing a “Sound the Alarm” smoke alarm installation

While in Puerto Rico, Morrie lived in both Juncos and San Juan, at times in a leaky gymnasium,  with the only power coming from a generator.  He spent his days packing up trucks with food, water, and supplies that were then taken into communities and up into the mountains.  He also supervised assignments for three different warehouses, delegating what responsibilities should be placed with which volunteers.  Drawing upon his own Puerto Rican heritage and ability to speak Spanish, Morrie was able to understand the locals and communicate with them at a time when communication was absolutely crucial.  On one specific occasion, Morrie recalls a man who came to him for water.  He noticed that the man had a 10-gallon container in his car that he had been trying to fill, likely having to drive for miles, from location to location.  He was heartbroken at the effort that this man was having to put into getting something as basic as water.

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Disaster responders like Morrie offer guidance and help to people going through disasters like home fires

Mr. Bowie continues to serve others through his work at the Red Cross.  He installs smoke alarms, is currently a Disaster Action Team Lead, and volunteers Sundays through Thursdays, responding to 10-15 calls per month.

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When Morrie was still fighting fires, he said that he would wonder what happened to the people once the fire was put out.  He admires the Red Cross because, as he put it, they are “there when people have lost everything [and are] standing outside in their bare feet.”  He pointed out that they offer “blankets, a friendly face, an offer to warm up in the car, or [to] call someone for them.”


Morrie has been interviewed by many news outlets during his deployments, including NBC 5 while he was in Florida for Hurricane Michael

He summed it up by saying, “Thank God for the Red Cross for giving me a platform,” and going on to say “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.  I’ve always felt that everybody ‘owes.’  If you’re in tune to life’s simplest blessings, like a sunset, the laughter of children, flowers, friends, then gratitude is due.  The Red Cross has been my way of paying back.  And forward!  When people, clients and colleagues, thank me for volunteering, I say thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve others.  It’s such a good feeling.  The Red Cross is the only organization that does all the things we do.  Add to that it’s funded by donations and staffed primarily by volunteers and it’s clear that volunteering with the Red Cross is one of the most selfless things I can do.  It’s sometimes hard and requires a sacrifice of time, it may be cold and rainy and the middle of the night, but I never felt that it was time wasted and always warmed by a divine reward.  Red Cross has made my retirement years spiritually fruitful.  ‘Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to Mr. Morrie Bowie for all that he’s done and continues to do!

If you or anyone you know is interested in volunteering, visit     for more information.


Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Communications Volunteer Vicky Arias.

Emergency need: Donors urged to give blood and platelets now

The American Red has an emergency need for blood and platelet donors to give now to help ensure lifesaving medical treatments and emergency care are not delayed or canceled this winter. The Red Cross collected more than 27,000 fewer blood and platelet donations the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s than needed to sustain a sufficient blood supply, as busy holiday schedules kept donors away.

Right now, the Red Cross has less than a three-day supply of most blood types, and blood products are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in.

You can help!

  1. Make an appointment to give blood or platelets by downloading the free Blood Donor App, visiting orgor calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
  2. Let your friends and family know there is an emergency need for blood and platelet donors and ask them to #GiveNow.
  3. Bring someone to donate with you.

Your support can help ensure blood products are there for trauma victims, premature babies, patients going through cancer treatment and others who depend on transfusions for survival.

Four-year-old Branson was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer, in May 2018. His treatment plan has included many rounds of grueling chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and surgery to remove the tumor near his kidney and spinal cord.

Branson has received 12 blood and 11 platelet transfusions so far. According to his mom, Erica, “They have been so important to keep him as healthy, active and battle-ready as possible. This is the hardest thing our family has ever faced. However, there is hope in the generosity of strangers who are helping to heal my brave boy. Blood and platelet donations truly are the gift of life!”


Every day, volunteer blood and platelet donors across the country are needed to help save lives. Don’t wait to help. Give now.

American Red Cross Responds to 18 Fires in the Past Week

January 7, 2019 Disaster responders with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois responded to 18 fires from Monday, December 31 to today across the 21-county region including fires in Riverdale, Spring Grove, Freeport, Dixon, Rockford, Johnsburg and 8 of those fires happening in Chicago.

The fires in the past week affected 72 people including 53 adults and 19 children.


A Red Cross volunteer on the scene of a fire affecting 2 people in Johnsburg.

The Red Cross provided resources to help address the immediate basic needs of those affected such as temporary housing, food, clothing, comfort kits with toiletry items, information about recovery services, and health and mental health services. Additional information about these incidents, if available, may be obtained from the local first responding agency/fire department.

Responding volunteers are members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, a group of specially trained volunteers who respond to the scene of a disaster when called upon any time of the day or night.

HOW PEOPLE CAN HELP: The Red Cross depends on financial donations to fund our relief services. Help people affected by disasters big and small like Hurricane Michael and the California wildfires, or local home fires affecting Illinois residents by visiting, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.

DONATE BLOOD: The Red Cross also has a critical need for blood and platelet donations to help meet patient needs. The Red Cross asks eligible individuals to make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

The Red Cross responds to 3 to 4 home fires every day in Chicago and northern Illinois. The Red Cross recommends two easy steps to help protect your home and loved ones from a fire: get a smoke alarm and create a fire escape plan. For more Red Cross fire safety and preparedness information visit

About the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois:

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois serves 9.5 million people in 21 counties including Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross.





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