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

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.