Feeding Bloomington-Normal: American Red Cross of Illinois teams up with United Way of McLean County to feed thousands during coronavirus pandemic

The American Red Cross has been a longtime partner of United Way, dating back to the 1950s. So, when they saw an opportunity to jump in and help feed thousands in the Bloomington-Normal community during the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t waste a minute. The American Red Cross of Illinois is assisting, logistically, to feed folks, offering their vehicles and volunteers to help pick up food from stores, pack food in warehouses and deliver it where it needs to go.  

With the help of the American Red Cross of Illinois, United Way of McLean County (UWMC) has established a successful COVID-19 Community Care Fund, addressing urgent needs. Food access and food insecurity were two of the biggest issues. Since March 30th, UWMC and existing initiatives in the community have provided meals to school district food programs, including five school districts, purchasing over 900 pounds of fresh produce from local farms for LeRoy, Unit 5, Lexington, Olympia and Ridgeway. They’ve also purchased bread and chicken broth from Meijer and Kroger to help feed over 500 families a week.

Lynda Hruska is the Executive Director of the American Red Cross serving Central Illinois. She says this partnership has been impactful to the volunteers.

“It has really been a way for our volunteers to be a part of this incredible work that this team is doing. Often times in a disaster, we’re in the lead role. We’re sheltering, feeding, and in this one, we are using volunteers to plug in to a community-wide project. It’s been very heartwarming to be part of this huge network seeing different people playing different roles and truly making a difference.”

Aside from school food programs, the Red Cross and United Way are partnering with existing initiatives to purchase boxed meals from local restaurants to support their employees and distribute those meals through local non-profits. As of May 8th, they’ve served more than 44,575 meals!

And of course, nothing goes to waste. The Red Cross volunteers go back to the warehouse and pick up any unused perishables and deliver them to Home Sweet Home Mission so they can be utilized without waste.

But UWMC and the Red Cross agree the effort doesn’t stop here. This team has continued to look at not only the initial food insecurity issue, but other human issues that are facing the community as a result of this pandemic. With help from partners in the community, they’ve provided and distributed over 500 food boxes, locally, and more than 300 face masks to distribution volunteers, to keep them safe and protected during this project.

The need continues. The Red Cross is here, and will be here, to help our communities.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

National Nurses Week: Tina Johnston Reflects on Four-Decade Journey as Red Crosser

Most people would say 44 years is a long time to be with one company. But for Red Cross Volunteer Nurse, Tina Johnston, her time with the Chicago chapter has been well spent.

She started in 1976 as a staff nurse in Nursing and Health Programs, teaching mother and baby care, supervising student nurses, teaching families how to care for loved ones at home, even blood pressure clinics. After years on staff, she transitioned to a volunteer nursing role, and it’s been that way ever since.

“Hearing stories about nurses that went to war and nurses that did all these wonderful things, I wanted to have a career outside of what seemed to be the careers at the time, which were teaching and secretarial work,” Tina says. “I didn’t want to do either of those things.

Her nursing journey started long before the Red Cross. In 1957, Tina graduated from LA County Hospital’s nursing school in California, got married, and later moved to Washington D.C., earning her bachelor’s degree from Federal City College in 1975. One year later, she and her family moved to Illinois.

“The local hospital would only hire me for nights, and I didn’t want to work nights,” Tina says. “There was an ad for a nurse for the Red Cross, and I applied. I went on an interview and they hired me.”

She hit the ground running with the Disaster Health specialists team. Since then, Tina has traveled across the U.S. and internationally to provide disaster relief, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the Mississippi floods in 1993, Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, and 9/11. During 9/11, Tina led the health service group that traveled to New York City, working with patients in the hospital and their families. The work included medical care, but personal care as well. She remembers one woman in the hospital asking if anyone could wash her hair, so she could get the grit from the buildings out of it. The Red Cross paid the bill.

Tina says, “It’s about the contact with the clients, their problems, the things they need for us to solve, and being able to reassure them. You get so much variety. You see so many things. The good, the bad and the ugly. But most of the time it’s the good and the very good.”

It may be 44 years since she’s started, but if you know Tina, she isn’t slowing down. Before COVID-19, she was still going into the office two days a week to manage the health service team, organizing trainings, and working from home the rest of the week. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s staying busy, too, with plenty of phone calls at home. Oh, and did we mention she has five grandchildren? She’s very proud.

Four decades as a nurse, you can imagine she’s seen it all, but Tina says being a Red Cross Nurse has opened her eyes to the good in the world.

“There are a lot of really good people in the world, and there are needy people in the world,” Tina says. “And there are needy people that are just as anxious to help other people as they are to get help for themselves.”

The Red Cross is always looking for eager volunteers to fulfill our mission. If you’re interested, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Fritzie Fritzshall honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Global Citizenship Hero

As a Holocaust Survivor and the President of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, Fritzie Fritzshall has devoted her life to combatting hatred, racism and intolerance.  At the tender age of 13, after her family was arrested at gunpoint in what was then Czechoslovakia and endured the horrific train to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Fritzie was separated from her mother and two brothers, whom she would never see again.

Based on a tip from a fellow prisoner, Fritzie lied about her age and said she was 15. She was sent to a grueling labor camp and was the youngest among the 599 women prisoners. She made a promise to the 599 women that if she was ever released, she would tell the story of the one million who died at Auschwitz and the 11 million that died during the Holocaust. 

After almost two years in the camp, on a death march from Auschwitz, Fritzie ran into a forest, and was then liberated by the Russian army. After the war, she came to the United States where she was reunited with her father and moved to the Chicago area. 

Fritzie never forgot her promise to the women of the camp. In 1978, when a neo-Nazi group threatened to march in Skokie, the home of an estimated 7,000 Holocaust Survivors, Fritzie knew that she had to speak out. She, along with other Survivors made it their mission to educate children about this dark time. Fritzie recalls, “As Survivors, we were scared. We came to this beautiful country where there was not going to be any hatred or anti-Semitism and so the threat of the march frightened us.”

 “Several Survivors got together and decided we needed to teach and call attention to that dark, dark time that we lived through, and … we started the initial storefront (Holocaust) museum on Main Street in Skokie,” Fritzie remembers. This storefront evolved into the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center of today, where Fritzie is President. The museum has over 400 volunteers, and over 70,000students annually visit the museum to learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Under Fritzie’s leadership, Illinois Holocaust Museum’s “Abe & Ida Cooper Survivor Stories Experience” has taken the preservation of Holocaust Survivor stories to an unprecedented level. This exhibit takes audiences through one of the darkest moments in human history enabling visitors to have life-like conversations with interactive, high-definition holographic survivor recordings. Years from now, long after the last Holocaust Survivor has passed, their stories will survive, thanks to groundbreaking three-dimensional technology.

To participate, Fritzie had to endure five grueling days, answering thousands of probing questions about her Holocaust experience– a truly selfless act. Now, her 3-D representation can reply to approximately 30,000 questions thoughtfully and with emotion. Today, Fritzie is a leading public voice of conscience in Chicago. She fights hatred by tirelessly telling her harrowing story of survival and by articulating her insights on current issues, including the rise of antisemitism and the refugee crisis. In 2019, Fritzie returned to Auschwitz with Cardinal Blasé Cupich telling her story to millions of Chicagoans in a 4-part Television Special. Though Fritzie had said she would never return, increasing antisemitic sentiment and hate crimes, along with an opportunity to create interfaith dialogue made her reconsider her decision.

For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.

You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.

Georgina Adan, Patty Gonzalez & Maricela Wesby Honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Blood Services Heroes

Maricela Wesby, Patty Gonzalez and Georgina Adan are members of the Northern Trust Latin Heritage Leadership Council and serve on its community service committee. Through the council, they coordinate blood drives at Northern Trust. In the last three years, they have organized 17 blood drives and collected close to 700 units of blood. Their dedication and determination have had an impact on many in our community.

From left to right: Maricela Wesby, Georgina Adan and Patty Gonzalez

Each of these women has witnessed their loved ones battling severe illnesses that require life-saving blood products. And one particular young woman has touched them all very deeply.

In January of 2015, Patty and Maricela’s 13-year-old niece AnaVictoria was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The women recall that AnaVictoria was always full of life, hope and kindness, and this diagnosis came as a surprise to AnaVictoria and her family. AnaVictoria received many blood products during the course of her treatment. While her transfusions helped her in her fight against leukemia, in 2017, AnaVictoria suddenly relapsed and passed away. “I felt like I wanted to do something to help, and blood donation was the ideal thing because she received so much blood throughout her treatment,” says Patty. Maricela remembers that because of the generosity of complete strangers who donated blood, the life of her niece was extended for two more years after the initial diagnosis. “The blood transfusions would give life to AnaVictoria,” recalls Maricela.

AnaVictoria’s beautiful memory propels Maricela, Patty and Georgina’s mission to collect blood. The women are determined to make a difference in the lives of people fighting cancer and other illnesses. Blood cannot be manufactured and can only be donated by generous community members, so the women want to help others understand the impact that donors have on patients and their families, “I don’t think people understand that they are extending someone’s life like in the case of my niece. I really believe she was with us longer because of all that blood she received. So, I share this with people and tell them, you are actually saving lives,” adds Patty.

After increasing the number of blood drives held at Northern Trust, what’s next?

In March of 2020, Northern Trust is moving to new offices on Wabash Avenue and the three women plan to expand the Latin Heritage Leadership Council’s blood drives to all of the building’s tenants. “I do feel that I’m helping people by doing this. So, it’s definitely a great cause,” explains Georgina. “And AnaVictoria’s memory, pushes us to increase our goals, do more drives, and educate our staff.”

For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.

You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.

Jahmal Cole Honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Community Impact Hero

Jahmal Cole grew up poor. There were not many positive role models in his neighborhood. He was accustomed to those around him going to jail for drugs, gangs and other crimes. Jahmal recalls growing up with food stamps, “I never knew that food stamps were not real money until I tried to put one in a [soda] machine and [it] broke,” recalls Jahmal. Together he and his siblings, didn’t know how poor they were because, as Jahmal explains, they didn’t have a point of reference beyond their neighborhood. This Jahmal terms the “poverty of imagination.”

Raised in Waukegan, Jahmal spent some of his youth homeless and attended an alternative high school. He hoped that his basketball skills could save him and knew he needed to attend college to improve his chances. Jahmal made his way to Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska. “I didn’t know the difference between division three, two or one. All I knew is that I had been accepted to college and I had a chance to go to the NBA.”

Initially, at Wayne State, Jahmal played for the basketball team, but was failing in his classes. However, his basketball coach wouldn’t give up on him and with his guidance, Jahmal was able to graduate with a 3.78 GPA. Ironically, he didn’t recognize his coach was trying to put him on a path to success. On the contrary, he blamed the coach for not making it to the NBA, which motivated him to write his first book. That book, Jahmal explains, led him to volunteer at the Cook County Jail where he met young inmates that were also making excuses for bad choices. “That’s when I realized that my coach wasn’t teaching me basketball, he was teaching me to change my philosophy, and was the biggest role model in my life,” says Jahmal. “He helped me out when I didn’t have a frame of reference to show appreciation, but he knew I had potential,” muses Jahmal.

Motivated by volunteering at the Cook County Jail, and seeing many inmates without role models, Jahmal recognized that most had never left their neighborhood and were caught in the ‘poverty of imagination.’ In 2015, Jahmal founded a non-profit organization known today as My Block, My Hood, My City to expose underprivileged youth to a world beyond their neighborhood.  My Block, My Hood, My City subjects young people to different cultures, careers, people and businesses including culinary arts, STEM, finance, volunteerism, and much more. Each exploration allows them to see the vast range of opportunities available, providing a vision of life beyond their neighborhood.

Jahmal also recognized the impact that a positive and beautiful surrounding neighborhood environment can have on kids, so he also collaborates with community block clubs to beautify their communities.

My Block, My Hood, My City is also committed to educating low-income communities about financial literacy. According to Jahmal “in North Lawndale there 13 currently exchanges and no banks.” Jahmal recognizes that helping their residents understand the banking system and develop good financial habits can empower them to build a better future, and hopefully break the cycle of poverty in which they live. “Things won’t change until we change…start on your block, start in your community. What is something simple you can do to positive impact change? Start with something simple,” concludes Jahmal.

For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media. Follow #RedCrossHeroes @chicagoredcross on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Instagram and follow ‘American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern IL’ on  LinkedIn .

You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.

2020 Heroes: The American Red Cross Honors Everyday Extraordinary Individuals

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is honoring fourteen extraordinary individuals from the Chicago and Northern Illinois area for their outstanding acts of heroism, dedication and service to the community.

The 2020 American Red Cross Heroes include the following class of exceptional individuals.

Georgina Adan, Patty Gonzalez & Maricela Wesby, of Chicago are the Blood Services Heroes. Georgina, Patty and Maricela understand how precious blood donations are for patients fighting for their lives. In 2017, Maricela and Patty lost their 15-year-old niece, AnaVictoria to leukemia. Her illness and the impact of blood donations on her young life, motivated the women to organize blood drives to help patients like AnaVictoria. Together, the three women have coordinated 17 blood drives at their workplace, Northern Trust, and have collected almost 700 units of blood, helping hundreds of patients.

Jahmal Cole of Chicago is the Community Impact Hero. Despite growing up in poverty, Jahmal was determined to build a better life for kids facing the same challenges that he encountered. In 2014, Jahmal founded My Block, My Hood, My City, a non-profit organization that partners with schools to expose underprivileged youth to a world outside their neighborhood. Through the ‘Explorers Program’ My Block, My Hood, My City takes young people on field trips in Chicago and across the country to experience different cultures, careers, people and businesses including culinary arts, STEM, finance, volunteerism and more. Each exploration allows them to see the vast range of opportunities available, providing a vision of life beyond the neighborhood. My Block, My Hood, My City also partners with community organizations to beautify neighborhoods and create more positive surroundings for young people and residents.

Kaleem Malik, M.D. of Burr Ridge is the Disaster Services Hero. When not serving patients in disaster zones, Dr. Malik works as an emergency room physician for the DuPage Medical Group. A physician for 25 years, Dr. Malik is also a volunteer for Humanity First USA, a non-profit organization that provides medical disaster relief to vulnerable global communities. Over the past 17 years, he has responded to countless disasters. Most recently, Dr. Malik led one of the first international teams of medical professionals sent to the Bahamas after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian. This response put to the test all of Dr. Malik’s disaster relief skills, as his team worked extremely difficult conditions to restore to working order a badly damaged medical clinic on Abaco island.

Lauren Trylovich of Chicago is the Emergency Medical Assistance Hero. Last October, Lauren, an emergency phone operator and paramedic at the Chicago Office of Emergency Management, answered a call from a woman whose sister was unresponsive. After inquiring about the sister’s condition and assessing the critical situation over the phone, Lauren realized that lifesaving CPR needed to be performed immediately. With no time to waste, she calmly gave CPR instructions over the phone to the caller, who had never been trained in CPR. Because of Lauren’s careful and clear instructions, the caller successfully administered CPR until emergency help arrived, saving the life of her sister.

Lieutenant David Chmelar and Firefighter/Paramedic Chad Tinsley of St. Charles are the Firefighter Heroes. On June 30, 2019, Chmelar and Tinsley responded to a rescue on the Fox River. Three people were stranded on a disabled boat that was getting dangerously close to the dam. The situation became dire, as a severe storm and strong winds kept pushing the disabled vessel towards the dam, and the boat’s anchor wasn’t holding. Chmelar and Tinsley immediately jumped into action. Despite the challenging weather conditions, they were able to reach and rescue two adults and one teenager trapped on the disabled boat. Less than a minute after the rescue, the boat went over the dam and capsized. Thanks to Chmelar and Tinsley, three lives were saved that day.

Fritzie Fritzshall of Chicago is the Global Citizenship Hero. A survivor of the Holocaust, Fritzie has dedicated her life to combatting hatred, racism and intolerance. As President of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, she is ensuring future generations learn about the Holocaust so that history will not repeat. At the age of 13, Fritzie, her mother and two brothers, were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and only Fritzie survived. In 1978, when a neo-Nazi group threatened to march in Skokie, Fritzie made it her mission to educate children about this dark time in history. She has dedicated her life to tell her story and the stories of the many others who did not survive. Today, Fritzie is a leading public voice of conscience in Chicago.

Robert King of Chicago is the Good Samaritan Hero. As Robert was driving home from work last April, he noticed an accident on Lake Shore Drive. Robert pulled over to check on those involved, including a green and white ambulance that had been “t-boned.” One of the men in the ambulance asked King if he could drive them to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, to which he immediately agreed. Once the hospital staff was in his car, King learned that among his passengers was a transplant doctor and inside the coolers they were carrying precious cargo; organs that they had secured from a recently deceased patient. The organs were awaiting patients already prepped for surgery at Northwestern Hospital. King’s selfless act helped save more than one life that day.

Detective Phil Hemmeler of Palatine is the Law Enforcement Hero. Last summer, Detective Hemmeler was having lunch when he heard on his two-way radio of a nearby car crash in the mall where he was eating. The detective rushed to the scene where he saw a car had crashed and was wedged into the brick wall of an empty retail space. To complicate the situation further, the force of the impact also had set the vehicle on fire. The car was penetrated so far into the wall that it proved impossible to pull the driver out. Concerned that the flames would further engulf the car and driver, the detective was able to use a tow strap from a bystander and attach the strap to his police vehicle to pull the car out of the building, saving the man’s life.

Rochelle Crump of Hazel Crest is the Military Hero. Rochelle, an Army Veteran who served in the Women’s Army Corps during Vietnam (ERA), has dedicated her life to helping women service members and veterans. Having witnessed the difficulty facing female veterans upon returning home, in 2005, Rochelle founded the National Women Veterans United (NWVU). In 2015, the organization opened the only Military Women Veterans Center in Illinois. The NWVU provides support services such as navigation of the VA benefits system and wellness support programs to address health needs. The organization’s volunteers also assist with housing, homelessness and help veterans wanting to open their own business. The goal of the NWVU is to make sure female veterans get the assistance they deserve and ensure female service members are remembered in history. 

Iván Escobar, R.N of Chicago is the Nurse Hero. On September 28, 2019, Iván, an emergency room nurse, was in a car with his teenage son going to pick up his mother for a family party when he heard shots fired. At the same time, Iván noticed a white SUV come to a sudden stop as a result of the shots. He decided to check on the car’s occupants and quickly found that the driver had been shot between the eyes. Iván’s emergency response skills kicked in and he grabbed a teddy bear he found in the car to help stop the bleeding. Also, in the car, were the man’s wife and three-year-old daughter, three innocent bystanders on their way to a party. Iván continued to put pressure on the wound and stayed with the man and his family until paramedics arrived. The man was able to make a full recovery.

Rosie Quinn of Chicago is the Youth Hero. At the age of two, Rosie was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease alopecia which resulted in the loss of her hair. Dealing with constant questions from strangers, Rosie learned to embrace her baldness and her difference. In 2016, Rosie and her mom founded the non-profit, Coming Up Rosies, which encourages children affected by alopecia and other illnesses to embrace their differences and find confidence. Rosie creates ‘Smile Kits’ which contain supplies to create artwork, which Rosie and her mom then print on scarves and capes. These items are returned to the original designer so they can wear them with pride. Since 2016, Coming Up Rosies has donated 1,500 smile kits to 20 hospitals and rehabilitation centers in Chicago and the nation.

For the past 18 years, the Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross has honored each class of heroes at its Heroes Breakfast, typically attended by nearly 1,000 individuals. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross is unable to host this event in person but will honor this class of heroes via traditional and social media coverage.

We invite you to follow us @chicagoredcross on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to learn more about the stories of these Everyday Extraordinary Heroes in the weeks to come.

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser – Blue Sky Efforts – February 2020

The Regional Sheltering Team recently conducted five classes with External Partners in Shelter Training. 

Three local organizations – Benedictine University, Hoffman Estates Emergency Management and the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – reached out to the Red Cross and requested Shelter Training for their people.

Five Red Cross Instructors over the last month – traveled out to their locations and instructed their people in both Shelter Fundamentals and Shelter Operations Simulation.  A total of 120 people were trained in these classes. 

Steve Wise and Lauren Zimmerman (RC Sheltering Instructors) – and Sarah Marcucci / Emergency Management Coordinator for the Village of Hoffman Estates

Such efforts help the Red Cross extend both our Partnerships and our reach in times of need.  If there ever was a local large-scale disaster – there easily could be the need to stand up numerous Shelters across the Greater Chicago and Northern IL Region.      

A big shout out goes to those Red Crossers who helped out with this instruction – Terri Cunningham, Lauren Zimmerman, Jackie Speciale, and Danny Portman.  Thru their efforts – we now have External Partners to call on for Sheltering Assistance.

If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, please go to redcross.org/volunteer to join us.

This picture was taken at the Shelter Training held at the Hoffman Estates Police Department last Saturday, February 1st. A total of 37 people attended this training.

Written By: Steve Wise, Disaster Volunteer

Illinois River Valley Chapter Volunteers Receive Special Awards from City of Kankakee

Congratulations to two local volunteers with the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley, Marty Knight and Darlene Cipcich, for being awarded special recognition by the City of Kankakee.

Marty Knight (L) and Darlene Cipcich (R) with their awards presented by Kankakee Fire Department Captain Michael Casagrande

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020 they were presented with the Kankakee Fire Department Community Partners Award of 2019 at the city council meeting. They were given these special awards for their dedication and commitment to service through the American Red Cross and continuing to partner so strongly with the Kankakee Fire Department through home fire responses and smoke alarm installations.

The awards were presented by Kankakee City Council and Captain Michael Casagrande, who was also recognized in 2018 by the Red Cross as the Firefighter Hero for his work with smoke alarm installations.

Marty has been volunteering for over 10 years and Darlene over 7. Together, along with other local volunteers the Red Cross is always at the ready to respond to disasters of all sizes.

Thank you Darlene and Marty for your great work as reliable and compassionate volunteers!

Written by American Red Cross communications manager Holly Baker

Volunteer Neal Levin Celebrates 50 Years with the Red Cross

The Red Cross of Chicago and Greater Northern Illinois is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers who have been working with us for years. We want to congratulate one of those volunteers on his 50 year anniversary, Neal Levin! 

Neal being recognized for his milestone of 50 years by American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois CEO Celena Roldan (L) and Chief Disaster Officer Adam Runkle (R)

Neal Levin is a retired nurse who currently supports the Disaster Health Services as a lead volunteer for the Greater Chicago chapter, especially focused on narcan training for our workforce and likes to volunteer when we open shelters locally. 

He also supports deployments by leading the Health Professional Direct Deployment program, taking health workers who are new to the organization and getting them ready to deploy within a week. 

Neal started with the Red Cross on New Year’s Day in 1970. At the time, he was a student at the University of Illinois studying to be a Registered Nurse. He walked into his first meeting at the Red Cross being greeted by one of the guys he went to high school with, and immediately felt comfortable. He would end up staying on to respond to home fires, work as a Driver, Driver Trainer, Disasters Health Services Lead, Disaster Health Services Responder, Regional Health Professional Deployment Coach, and Vice Chairman of Disaster Transportation. 

Through his experience with many different activities at the Red Cross, he was able to mentor other volunteers. One of them being, Tina Johnson, who is our current Regional Health Services Lead. When Tina first started volunteering, the chapter was not doing much in the health services department, so together Neal and some other volunteers worked to build out a client-focused program, which is still used today.

“I found Neal valuable because he was a part of the Disaster Response Team and was always willing to share his knowledge of the chapter structure and experiences on scene with the clients” Tina Johnson, Regional Health Services Lead said.

What has kept Neal volunteering with the Red Cross for so long has been the fact that he can make a difference. “You see people at their most vulnerable. You connect with them. I know I can give them a blanket or water or even a warm hug. It sounds selfish, but it helps me as much as it helps them,” he said.

There have been too many memorable moments for Neal in his 50 years with us. One of the most special moments was when he met his wife, Marcia, here at the Red Cross. Along with that moment, a few more of his most memorable moments have been working on the Flight 191 crash, Eddy Schwartz’s Toy Drives, the Plainfield Tornado, helping with the Earthquake in Mexico City, and the Robin Community Shelter. “Every year there was flooding in the Robin community, and we would open a shelter for the people there. It was usually the same people every year. It got to the point where the kids would run up to me yelling, “Neal! Neal!” 

Neal was also featured in several marketing materials to recruit Red Cross volunteers with his first wife, and even a United Way campaign.

One thing that Neal Levin would like everyone to know that the Red Cross is always there. “If there is a fire or disaster, they are not without shelter, food, or clothing. You won’t see it on the news, but the Red Cross is there.” 

Happy 50th Anniversary, Neal!

Written by Disaster volunteer Alysen Andrews

Isamar Moctezuma: Recruiting Volunteers for Those in Need

Born in Illinois and raised in Mexico until the age of 12, Isamar Moctezuma came to the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois two years ago. As Senior Recruitment Specialist for Volunteer Services, Isamar is responsible for recruiting new volunteers and bring awareness about the American Red Cross.

Isamar Moctezuma

For Isamar working for the Red Cross was a natural choice, “Something that appealed to me in the Red Cross is that we train our volunteers to take the services that we have and trainings that we have and share them within the community…helping to build stronger communities.”

Isamar is also a member of the Red Cross Latino Outreach committee, and as part of this effort, she helps educate the Latino community about the Red Cross and the services the organization has to offer.

Being able to speak Spanish has allowed Isamar to bring comfort to people affected by disasters as was the case with evacuees from Puerto Rico arriving in Chicago.  During her second week with the Red Cross, Isamar was one of many Red Cross staff and volunteers providing comfort and information to those who came to Chicago seeking refuge after Hurricane Maria, “ It was very impactful to see what the Red Cross does by being there, supporting them,” remembers Isamar. Adding that just being able to communicate with someone in Spanish meant so much for the evacuees after being through such a stressful event in their lives.

At the end of our interview we talk about Hispanic Heritage Month, and the importance of this celebration for her. I am not surprised when Isamar reminds me how proud she is of her Latino roots, and all that Latinos have overcome and accomplished. She concludes by encouraging other Latinos to get involve with organizations like the American Red Cross to help their communities better understand of the mission of the Red Cross.

If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the American Red Cross, you can find more information here.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager