Volunteer Spotlight: RJ Castro

American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois volunteer, RJ Castro, will be unveiling a bronze statue this June. RJ has been sculpting “Captain Abraham Lincoln, Black Hawk War,” a seven foot version of a smaller sculpture that was given to the Lincoln Presidential Library in 2015. The sculpture will be unveiled June 23, from 1-3 pm at the Black Hawk War Monument, 14109 W Blackhawk Rd, Pearl City, IL.  We encourage everyone to check it out! Pictures of RJ and the smaller copy of the sculpture are shown below.

 

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Remembering Bonnie Knight

The Red Cross of Chicago would like to share loving memories of Bonnie Knight, who passed away Friday, March 30, of this year. Bonnie Knight was an exceptional volunteer who served alongside her husband, Marty Knight, since 2010. She originally focused on disaster relief but quickly transitioned into volunteering in the Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) department, her true passion.

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Bonnie is pictured here with her husband, Marty, volunteering at the Manteno Veterans Home.

 

Bonnie and Marty went above and beyond in their participation in the SAF program. Each month, they drove 140 miles round-trip from their home to the Chicago Military Entrance Processing Station. There, they spoke with newly enlisted service members and the members’ families. They prepared soldiers for the difficulties of entering the military, and also prepared families for a life where their loved one has moved away from home and into the armed forces. They also taught the families how to use the Red Cross emergency communication service in the event of an emergency at home.

Bonnie and Marty served as SAF Leads for the Manteno Veterans Home and Prince Home, a position that included shopping with veterans for items like winter clothing. Bonnie also volunteered as a Site Lead at the 2017 Warrior Games, where wounded Service Members participate in athletic events.

As Bonnie’s health grew worse, she maintained an indomitable passion and a positive outlook on life. Michelle McSweeney, formerly with the SAF program, said, “We often got pictures of Bonnie and Marty with the veterans while they were passing out the items, and every person – especially the veterans – has a beaming smile on their faces. Bonnie always had such a bright and positive personality and smile on her face.”

Thank you, Bonnie, for helping us serve our military, their families, and veterans. Your service will not be forgotten.

College kids and community members give blood at DePaul

The American Red Cross hosts many blood drives throughout the Chicago and northern Illinois area every week. Recently, a drive was hosted at the DePaul’s Ray Meyer Fitness Center and brought out students and Lincoln Park community members alike. Some donors, like DePaul junior Sophia, were giving blood for the first time. Others, like Ri who lives down the block, give regularly.

Sophia signed up to give blood last minute when her friend Desirae, who donates regularly, invited her to tag along. Sophia went in confidently and came out feeling good and excited to donate again.

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Giving blood across the room from Sophia was Ri. Despite her fear of needles, Ri began giving blood when she turned 18. She remembers her father needed surgery to remove part of his small intestine when she was a child, and that procedure required a blood transfusion. After he recovered from surgery he began giving blood, always making sure to bring his daughter Ri along in hopes of teaching her the importance of giving back. Clearly, the lesson stuck because Ri gives blood every ten weeks.

Checking everyone in before they gave blood was volunteer Dennis Strode. Dennis began volunteering at blood drives last year after he spent five years battling lymphoma and needed multiple blood transfusions. To give back, Dennis travels all around the Chicago area from Orland Park to help out at different blood drives.

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Dennis

Donating blood is an easy way to make a big difference to someone else. It’s something many people can spare, yet there often isn’t enough to go around for all the people who need blood. Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. By donating regularly, your blood will help ensure that there is enough on the shelf when it’s needed. Just one donation can save up to three lives. To donate, all you have to do is be at least 16 years old or 17 with parental consent, weigh at least 110 lbs and be in good general health. Everyone goes through a mini-physical and medical history before the donation, and are given lots of snacks, water and juice afterwards. The entire process takes about one hour.

The Red Cross blood drives at the Ray are held in a small room in a corner yet, the drives always fill up with lots of donors wanting to give back. It is because of these donors and volunteers giving up their time to roll up a sleeve that patients are able to receive lifesaving blood transfusions.

If you’re interested in finding an upcoming blood drive near you or learning more about how to host a blood drive, visit www.redcrossblood.org

Written by Hannah Nicholson, Communications & Marketing intern for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

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.

 

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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

2017 Chicago Marathon and Runners Brunch

2017 Chicago Marathon and Runners Brunch

Every year in October the Chicago Marathon is held in the downtown area, this year around 45,000 runners participated in the run. This year 110 runners joined Team Red Cross, helping to raise money for American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois. Before the marathon, the Red Cross held a brunch for the runners in thanks for volunteering their time to the Red Cross. Some of the runners shared why they are not only running but running for Team Red Cross.

Steven Paluck, a runner in this years race, says, “I am running to save lives and help those in need. I chose the American Red Cross because of all the incredible support they provide for those in need. I am alive today because of the selfless donations of blood donors. When I was a child I was very sick and needed multiple donations. After that, I was involved in a vicious dog attack and relied on blood donations again. I am honored to be a part of such an incredible organization that provides life for those in need.”

Pascal Schweitzer says he ran for the Red Cross because, “I like what the Red Cross is doing. I am familiar with the international Red Cross, and I know it is a big, global organization. I trust [its] values and [its] positive impact on communities.”  

Many of the runners that teamed up with the Red Cross wanted to not only run but make an impact on the world while running. Joshua Powell explains saying, “this is my fourth marathon and my first with the Red Cross. I had originally planned to physically go to Greece to help with the refugee crisis there, but it did not work out, so I now am supporting [Red Cross efforts] by running.”

For some, the race was a family effort, Ann Di Paola wanted to run for the Red Cross after witnessing the tragedies that have occurred and the generosity of the people that have responded. She then convince her brother, Jose Di Paola who had previously biked to raise money for Colorado Children’s Hospital, to run with her. Juan DiPaola joined in on the conversation adding that he, “joined the Red Cross [team] because I know that they have helped millions of people and I want to be a part of it.”

Tragedy was the main motivator for Ryan Wisniewski as he explains in his interview saying,“I decided to train for a half with the inspiration of my mentor, Rosanna. She encouraged me to push myself, and so I did. I signed up for my first marathon before I even ran the half, but before I could run either, Rosanna passed trying to fight a house fire. I know the Red Cross would have helped her. I also witnessed the Red Cross help victims of the Boston bombing first hand being in Boston since 2012.”

So much of what the Red Cross is able to accomplish is due to the help of the amazing volunteers, many of which help on a daily basis. For Madeline Kinnaird the wonderful Red Cross volunteers are what largely impacted her choice to join Team Red Cross for her 5th marathon. She explains by saying, “I chose the Red Cross this year because I have gotten to know some volunteers through a telethon I participated in earlier this year, and it is a great organization.”

If any of these stories have moved you, you can join the by visiting Redcross.org and applying to be a volunteer. You can help the Red Cross support people affected by hurricanes by visiting redcross.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters.

Written By: Kelly McCasland , American Red Cross Communications Intern,  and Jessica Hayashi, American Red Cross Communications Volunteer

ABC7 Hurricane Harvey Telethon

In the wake of the Hurricane Harvey disaster, ABC 7 partnered with the American Red Cross to host a telethon and raise money for the relief effort. During the telethon on Thursday, August 31, people showed up with an overwhelming amount of support.

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Harvey was a category 4 hurricane when it hit Texas on August 25. Texas experienced record-breaking rainfall; the storm along with the subsequent flooding have so far resulted in more than 70 deaths.

Alicia Morris is a volunteer specialist with the American Red Cross and this is her fourth telethon with the organization. “This is above and beyond what we could have imagined… we’ve had an overabundance of people wanting to step in and help and the calls have been coming in since 4:30 this morning.”

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So many people showed up to work the phones, that volunteers waited on standby. By the end of the in-studio telethon at 10:35 p.m., there was more than $4 million in donations; that is four times more than what’s been raised in previous Red Cross telethons.

Morris said people have been inspired to help because of “the nature of the disaster. People are seriously affected by the hurricane and the coming events… people in Dallas and now Louisiana need our help.”

Julie Galiotto was one of the volunteers answering phones. She and a coworker came to volunteer, “we jumped at the chance to support the organization and the relief efforts… I believe in the mission and the work that they do.” Another volunteer, Ed McKeown, said, “I’m really here as a volunteer because I want to help and I’m here to help… it’s just another way to contribute. They’re our brothers and sisters down there.”

 

 

Even celebrities and local politicians volunteered, such as Rahm Emanuel and Diana Rauner. Local celebrity chef Stephanie Izard with Girl and the Goat answered phones for the afternoon, “Everyone says, ‘I wish I could give more,’ but just anything helps. Whatever you can give… There was one woman who had called and said I’m sorry I can only give $20.”

All-Star athlete Bo Jackson also stopped by. When Tracy Butler invited him, he changed his schedule so he could be there, “this is my way of giving back and helping these victims.”

 

 

With all the work already done, Texas is still focused on recovery. Flood levels have yet to subside and people continue flocking to shelters. Morris said of the current situation, “I have family in Texas, luckily they’re way far out but they’re seeing the devastation. I hope this response continues because this is going to be a long recovery period.”

Galiotto sends her help and good wishes to the victims, “I hope that they never have to experience this again. And I am happy that the American Red Cross is there to help.”

The telethon was part of the Walt Disney Company’s larger Day of Giving event in which the company raised money and awareness across it’s various television programs and platforms. In total, Disney raised more than $15 million for the Red Cross. The mouse himself even donated $1 million.

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Written By: Eleanor Lyons & Laila Orazova, American Red Cross Communications Intern

 

8th Annual Disaster Preparedness Summit

8th Annual Disaster Preparedness Summit

For the eighth year, the American Red Cross hosted its annual Disaster Preparedness Summit. This year, the summit focused on the topic of bioterrorism and featured various speakers and panel discussions.

Many of those in attendance were hoping to gain something they could take back to work with them. Kin Lee works in business continuity and disaster recovery, and said he is “looking for what I can find out here and apply to my business.”

Latesha Tubbs is an emergency management coordinator and she found a lesson in communicating on a large scale, “how to do a uniform message to the public and how important that is. Even in words you use, like terrorism and how that can spark fear in the public.”

Higher education had a large presence in the day, even aside from the fact that the summit was held on the DePaul University campus. College professors and administrators attended on behalf of their students and institutions.

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University of Chicago Medicine’s Brenda Battle welcomes guests.

David Ibrahim works at the University of Illinois at Chicago. According to him, UIC has been engaging more and more with the American Red Cross in the past six months. He believes higher education should be part of emergency planning and response, “we’re center hubs, we have facilities that can help with mass evacuation, we have a lot of resources that we can provide.”

Another professor, Charles Stewart, voiced similar thoughts when speaking about the benefit of these events, “the community as a whole, we all have to be at the table to come up with a plan and a solution.” Stewart is a current professor at Southern Illinois University and a retired First Deputy Fire Commissioner. His students are in public safety and he uses his background to prepare them for what he calls the “what ifs” of emergencies.

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Disaster Summit attendees meet.

One of the popular sessions of the day was a panel on bioterrorism preparedness and response planning in Illinois, featuring representatives from different levels of government such as the Illinois Army National Guard and the Chicago Department of Public Health. Ibrahim thought it was great “for them to speak to the response infrastructure through state officials and see how they’re in constant communication.” Meanwhile Tubbs enjoyed the topic, “My favorite was the last presentation, the panel… It brought a lot of attention to bio-watch, a subject that’s not really covered in biomedicine.”

The day’s topic went over well with attendees who applauded the timeliness of the issue. Nurses, professors, and business men found direct applications to their careers from the information at the Disaster Preparedness Summit.

Written By: Eleanor Lyons, Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer