Blood Drive in Honor of River Helmuth

River Helmuth was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. She was born at full-term and shortly after her family found out about her condition.

When River was two and a half months old, she developed a cold and spent 73 days in the hospital where she underwent open heart surgery and multiple blood transfusions. About six months later, River returned for another heart surgery.

Today, River is doing amazing and started kindergarten this year. Her mother Stephanie says she may need another surgery in the future.

Now her family is hosting a blood drive in honor of River. The family realizes the importance of blood donations because of River and other members in their family that have received blood transfusions, including River’s grandfather who received blood after a traumatic car accident years ago.

“Our hope for the blood drive is continue to raise awareness for the need, that’s always there, it’s not just today or tomorrow,” Stephanie adds.

River’s blood drive will be held on Saturday, September 18 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sullivan American Legion, 8 E. Strain Street in Sullivan, Illinois.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Illinois & New York Volunteer Reflects on 9/11

Tell Sheil has been a a Red Cross volunteer for nearly 50 years. In that time she has helped countless people as a registered nurse and health services volunteer and as a disaster mental health volunteer.

Of all her time with the Red Cross, responding to 9/11 stands out most prominently. Tess calls both Illinois and New York home and was working in a school in New York the day the Twin Towers were hit. She recalls the day in the video below.

In the years that followed, Tess has carefully preserved items from that response and reflects on them often.

Tess has kept this poster for 20 years; a memento of the morale that pulsed through the city as people banded together.

A pin to commemorate the date.

A certificate of appreciation from the American Red cross for her work serving on that day.

Magnets and regular cards from the Health Registry Staff

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month: College Grad Lives Life Fully Even with Sickle Cell Disease

As a child, Lyric Porter always knew her life would be a bit different than those around her due to being diagnosed with sickle cell anemia as a baby. Sickle cell anemia causes red blood cells to become hard and sticky and look like a C-shape, or a “sickle” rather than the normal round, healthy blood cells. According to the CDC, the sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. Also, when they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems such infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.

Because of this diagnosis, Lyric says she didn’t always have the “privilege of being average” and remembers rolling a traveling oxygen tank with her to kindergarten and a compilation of other memories comprising a childhood strikingly different than most of her peers. That includes hospital stays and regular blood transfusions to manage the intense pain caused by sickle cell anemia.

A glimpse of Lyric’s many hospital visits including one NYE due to sickle cell anemia.

She went to a children’s hospital and even sickle cell camp where she saw other kids held back from life and activities due to sickle cell anemia. Seeing this, Lyric made sure to still try and do all the things regular kids did like playing sports, taking dance classes and more.

She is now a 20-something college graduate living life to the fullest in spite of a lifetime of pain and struggle with the disease. Raised in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, she ventured to Florida A&M for college earning a degree in Broadcast Journalism in 2019.  

Now she continues to be an advocate for sickle cell warriors, and encourages others to donate blood. Volunteer blood donors who help stock the shelves at hospitals are vital to people like Lyric who battle sickle cell disease in their everyday life, and the need for blood is constant for sickle cell and beyond. She says she is grateful to the many donors whose blood she has received over the years.

She also wants to raise awareness about sickle cell and wants to help kids who have it not to see it as an obstacle too big to overcome. 

“I just want children with sickle cell to know that they can have a life outside of being sick,” she said.  

Lyric has now put her job search plans on hold to see if she can get a stem cell transplant at the University of Chicago, a procedure that could change her life.  

Lyric Porter overcame many health challenges with sickle cell and navigated a new health system outside of her home state to attend college and earn her degree. She is now a proud graduate of Florida A&M University.

There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

Sign up to give blood at an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and make a difference to the patients in need of blood.

Click here to make your next donation appointment.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Learn more about Sickle Cell Disease here.

Multi-Agency Resource Center for People Impacted by Tornado This Weekend

An image from a past MARC with the Red Cross showing people interacting with Red Cross volunteers. *Masks will be required at the Woodridge MARC.

Contact:    

Joy Squier | Chief Communications Officer | Joy.Squier@redcross.org        

630.220.9468 (c) 312.907.0520 (24/7 Media Line)      

Multi-Agency Resource Center Opening for People Affected by Tornado

Multiple organizations will be on site to provide assistance

CHICAGO, IL (June 25, 2021) – The Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) of northeast Illinois (which includes the American Red Cross), along with the State of Illinois are hosting a multi-agency resource center (MARC) for residents impacted by Sunday’s tornado in Naperville, Woodridge and surrounding areas.

More than 20 public and private disaster relief agencies at the local, regional and national level will be providing resources and assistance to those affected as they plan next steps in their recovery. Those seeking assistance are asked to please bring proof of address and photo I.D.  Also, masks will be required.

WHEN: Saturday, June 26, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 27, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

WHERE: Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, 7200 Janes Avenue, Woodridge, Illinois.

Some of the agencies that may be represented include:

City of Naperville

Village of Woodridge

American Red Cross

Catholic Charities

DuPage Family Community Resource Center

DuPage Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

DuPage Senior Citizens Council

DuPage Disaster Services

Hope Therapy Dogs

Illinois Department of Human Services

Islamic Center for North America

Lutheran Disaster Services

Muslims for Humanity

Purple Manatee

Rainbow Therapy Dogs
Rotary Club of Woodridge

St. Vincent De Paul

Tears in Heaven

Tzu Chi Foundation

About the American Red Cross of Illinois
The American Red Cross of Illinois serves 12.4 million people in 88 counties in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri including Adams, Bond, Boone, Brown, Bureau, Carroll, Cass, Champaign, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cook, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, DeKalb, De Witt, Douglas, DuPage, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Franklin, Fulton, Green, Grundy, Hamilton, Hancock, Henderson, Henry, Iroquois, Jasper, Jefferson, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Knox, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, Livingston, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Marion, Marshall, Mason, McDonough, McHenry, McLean, Menard, Mercer, Montgomery, Morgan, Moultrie, Ogle, Peoria, Perry, Piatt, Pike, Putnam, Richland, Rock Island, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott, Shelby, Stark, Stephenson, Tazewell, Vermillion, Warren, Washington, Whiteside, Will, Williamson Winnebago, Woodford. Iowa: Lee, Muscatine, Scott and Van Buren. Missouri: Clark, Lewis, Marion and Ralls. 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 Redcross.org/Illinois or visit us on Twitter @RedCrossIL.

Black Fraternities Spread Awareness on Diverse Donors by Hosting Blood Drive at Eastland Mall in Bloomington

The Chi Beta Beta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; Nu Psi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; & Epsilon Chi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. hosted a blood drive on May 12, 2021 at the Eastland Mall in Bloomington, Illinois.

The blood drive partnership was to raise awareness about the importance of a diverse blood supply, for patients in need battling illnesses such as cancer and sickle cell disease.

Around 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease. Most are of African descent. The disease causes red blood cells to harden and form a C-shape (like a sickle). When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels and cause serious complications for patients. These complications can include severe pain, respiratory conditions, organ failure, and even stroke.

There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

The blood drive collected 37 lifesaving donations with seven first time donors.

“It feels great to surpass the goal and be able to have a positive impact on others and the community,” James Love, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, said. “I cannot wait to continue on helping with more drives in the future.”

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to schedule and appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications Manager Drew Brown

Shoni Anderson’s Leukemia Story Sparks ‘Team Shoni’

Shoni Anderson, of Mt. Zion, Illinois, was diagnosed with leukemia on February 1st, 2021 at 5-years-old. Her mother Becky Anderson says Shoni began complaining about pain in her leg, the family thought it was simply growing pains. As the pain became more frequent, Shoni was taken to the emergency room where doctors told them about her diagnosis.

Shoni comes from a large family, which includes six older siblings. While the news came as a shock to the family, they prepared to help support Shoni for her cancer treatments.

People throughout Mt. Zion have also rallied around Shoni in a tremendous way. The effort to support Shoni and the Andersons has been dubbed ‘Team Shoni’ in the community. A family friend decided to start a Facebook page with the name for those wanted to keep up with Shoni’s journey, which now has more than 1,000 members.

“It creates a feeling of love and peace, just the amount of people praying and lifting us up, gives us energy,” Becky says.

Becky added Shoni’s treatment will last for at least two years, which includes blood transfusions for any complications she may face.  The family hosted a blood drive in honor of Shoni at the Passion Community Church on June 2, 2021, to help patients in need of lifesaving blood.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please schedule an appointment visit redcrossblood.org to find a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications Manager Drew Brown

2021 Rockford Heroes: Michele Pankow and Joe Danforth, Making a Difference in Their Community

Division Chief Michele Pankow is being recognized with the 2021 Red Cross Disaster Services Hero Award. Michele is an everyday hero in the true sense of the word. As Division Chief of Operations at the Rockford Fire Department, Michele oversees the fire department’s 250 uniformed firefighters, and their responses to nearly 30,000 service calls each year. For 28 years, Michele has dedicated her career to disaster response by working through the ranks as a firefighter, emergency medical services operations chief, lieutenant, captain and district chief.

Michele also has an uncanny ability to manage and communicate across agencies, serving as the emergency services disaster coordinator for the City of Rockford and Winnebago County. When any type of large-scale disaster strikes, whether it be a tornado, civil unrest, or even a pandemic, Michele centralizes regional response and rescue agencies at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The needs for each event are different and must be assessed and acted upon quickly.

“The fire service has prepared me for this because I can piece it together in my head to think of how we function as a fire department,” Michele said.

Her actions during the COVID-19 pandemic are just one example of how Michele’s flexible and fast-paced thinking helped so many individuals in a crisis.

“Starting out, we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” Michele said. “Who knew we’d end up a year later this way? Early on, our focus was to support the Health Department on gatherings. There wasn’t really one thing with the pandemic. It was one thing after another after another.”

Michele and her team opened the EOC on March 12th, 2020 and have offered community assistance on many fronts including reaching out to school districts to feed kids who previously relied on school meals, distributing critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and now, supporting local COVID-19 mass vaccination sites.

In disasters both large and small, Michele’s connections to the American Red Cross are frequent. At the scene of home fires, she works with Red Cross responders to find immediate shelter for displaced families and individuals. In her disaster coordinator role, Michele partners with the Red Cross on large-scale and longer-term recovery projects. A recent example of this partnership is the 2019 flood in Rockford that damaged over 500 homes in the area. Emergency responders aren’t there only in the face of disaster.  They partner with the community to ensure a forward path to recovery, which is something that can take years of planning and committed teamwork.

“I really enjoy being a part of this,” Michel said. “I feel extremely humbled and extremely fortunate to be in the company of such good people. I’m constantly surrounded by creative, good, and innovative folks that want to help. It’s infectious. It’s contagious. Whether I’m in the Emergency Operations Center or at the fire department, I feel great being a part of that team.”

Michele shines as a role model on the job and outside of work. She volunteers with the Young Women’s Leadership Organization through the Rockford Public School District. There, she mentors students one-on-one about career opportunities and talks frankly about the challenges of her own career, including what she enjoys most, and how she made the choices to get where she is today. Michele has no shortage of inspiration to share.

“I feel great when we’re able to save a house or pull somebody out on an EMS call. Even just bringing down cleaning buckets to help someone clean out floors from a flood. Being able to help people, you’d be amazed how appreciative people are of the smallest gestures,” Michele said.

Written by Communications and Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Sergeant Joseph (Joe) Danforth is one of our 2021 Red Cross Law Enforcement Heroes. As a sergeant with the Rockford Police Department, Joe says the job comes with its challenges, but also comes with many rewards.

“It’s a fun job,” said Joe. “The most rewarding part about being a police officer is … knowing that a lot of people still need you.”

He has served the Rockford Police Department for 25 years. As a kid, Joe was inspired to become a police officer after watching Shaft movies and the TV series SWAT.

“To see those shows and to see black officers — I wanted to do that,” Joe explained.

Raised by a single mother on the west side of Rockford, he experienced gang activity in his neighborhood growing up and the effects that violence had on his community.

After joining the police force, Joe decided to stay on the west side of Rockford. He said that in order to better serve a community, it helps to live there and experience what they are experiencing.

“I grew up on the west side, so I was going to stay on the west side,” added Joe. “I’m from here. I’ve seen a lot of stuff growing up. I wanted to stay on the west side where my people were at.”

After working with the police force for a while, Joe wanted to do more. He noticed that basketball was keeping his son away from gang activity and wanted to spread this to other children. Joe decided to start a program that would help.

In 2005, he founded Rockford Five-0. It started as a youth basketball training program for kids that could not afford to be on a travel team.

“We help a lot of single parents’ kids, [and] boys with no father figure at home. In the beginning I just thought it was something you were supposed to do. I didn’t look at it as ‘I’m saving the world,’” said Joe. “I didn’t look at it like that at first,” he explained.

In the beginning, he struggled financially to provide everything needed to have a team, often having to pay for things himself. However, as time went on, the program grew and so did the volunteers.

Since starting the program, Joe has helped over 300 kids, some of whom have received scholarships for their athletic performance. One of his alums, his own son, Rockford basketball star Fred VanVleet, now plays for the Toronto Raptors.

Joe sponsors about 10-15 kids at a time, helping with meals, shoes, travel costs, tournament fees, and uniforms. He stays in touch with many of the kids that were in the program. Some have gone on to college at Kankakee, Carl Sandburg College, Illinois Valley College, and North Alabama.

“We try to find those kids that really want to do something. No matter what background you come from, [or] economic situation, we find a way to help you out. It’s got to be kids that really want to do something, that want more for themselves than what’s right in front of them,” said Joe.

The majority of kids start in the program around third or fourth grade, and usually remain throughout high school. However, the organization sees themselves as a family and once you enter, you never truly leave.

“If this sport can help kids stay out of gangs and stay out of trouble, and they’re dedicated to what we do, then I got you. But if you want to stay on the streets and mess around and not go to school, then I can’t mess with you. I never looked at it as an outreach program, but I guess it kind of is,” explained Joe.

Joe thanks his wife, Sue Danforth, for being his number one supporter, and for helping him and the organization be successful.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

2021 Red Cross West Central/Quincy Heroes

Roy Webb-Education Hero 
Roy Webb is the superintendent of Quincy Public Schools (QPS) in Quincy, Illinois, and one of our Education Heroes. Throughout the pandemic, he has worked alongside QPS families, staff, and the community to keep schools open for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Due to the pandemic, the spring 2020 school semester was switched to remote learning, causing sports and many events, including the in-person graduation ceremony, to be canceled. Instead, a virtual ceremony was held for the seniors and Roy personally delivered a special blue devil coin to every senior’s home. The coin is meant to remind students of the special memories made at QPS. 

As a superintendent, Roy believes in a hands-on approach when it comes to education. During the school year, you can find him visiting classrooms and games, and interacting with students and parents. He says leading the school district comes with tough challenges and criticism, but he aims to always make the best decision for the students and staff.  

“The best part of my job as superintendent is… getting to go see teachers at work, principals at work, and then seeing our students.  We have 6,700 students. I take great pride in the fact that most of them from pre-K all the way through our 12th graders at least know who I am,” said Roy. 

Roy was the recipient of the KHQA Hometown Hero Award in October 2020. In addition, he was named Administrator of the Year for the 2020-2021 school year by the Illinois Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. Now, he is a 2021 Red Cross Education Hero.  

When notified about his award, he humbly said he could not accept the recognition without emphasizing the amazing team that he works with every day. 

“I’m thankful for our Quincy team, from the school board, to the directors, to the principals, to the teachers, bus drivers, nurses, cooks, and educators. I am blessed to be in Quincy Public Schools. I feel that every day we have a very strong team and I appreciate all their work and support.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Joshua Smith and Marcus SweetenLifesaving Rescue Heroes  

Joshua Smith and Marcus Sweeten are two of our Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue Heroes. They are both students and resident assistants at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Marcus is a senior, majoring in history and Joshua is studying law enforcement and justice administration, as well as security management and administration. 

On September 15, 2020, a student was shot on campus. Joshua witnessed the shooting in the dormitory and was able to get the student to a safe spot, with the help of Marcus. The pair began performing lifesaving measures and following instructions from a 911 dispatcher.  They were able to administer first aid and keep the victim stable until first responders arrived on the scene. 

“The dispatcher instructed us to hold pressure on the wounds, count the wounds, see where all the blood [was] coming from,” recalled Joshua. “[I was] just going through the motions, checking arms, back, abdomen, and everything.” 

Marcus and Joshua said it was a surreal experience because all of this was happening while a shooter was still on the loose. 

“It was really hard to ever conceive of something like this happening, even when going through the situation. I didn’t really have time to process the situation until after the victim was taken from our care,” Marcus explained. 

The student who was shot survived. Even under extreme circumstances, both advisors stayed committed to their role by protecting their residents. 

Western Illinois University presented Joshua and Marcus with letters of commendations for their actions. In addition, the Red Cross is honoring both with the 2021 Lifesaving Rescue Hero Award. 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

2021 Red Cross South Central Illinois Heroes

Lori CamachoLifesaving Rescue Hero 

Lori Camacho is a hospice nurse supervisor at Carle Foundation Hospital, and one of our 2021 Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue Heroes. 

On October 22, 2020, Lori’s daughter and family came to visit. That morning, as her son-in-law opened the blinds, he saw a car in the 29-foot-deep retention pond outside Lori’s condo. Immediately, Lori went to help.  

“I first thought, is there anyone in the car?” Lori said. “I ran outside and asked. People said, ‘yes, there is a lady in there.’” 

When Lori got to the pond, without a thought of hesitation, she got in the water and swam over to the car. The woman was still sitting in the driver’s seat, as water quickly filled up that side of the car. Holding onto the open windows, she asked the lady in the car if she could swim. Unfortunately, she could not. 

“You have to come over to the passenger’s side of the car,” Lori told the lady. 

As soon as the driver moved to the other side of the car, Lori pulled her out of the passenger window. 

“I knew as soon as the water started filling up, I had to get her out of the car if there was any chance of her making it. That was just instinct there,” Lori said. “She had to come out, so I went to get her out.” 

Immediately after getting the driver out, the car began to sink to the bottom of the pond. The suction from the submerging car pulled the woman and Lori under with it. Lori was able to swim to the surface with the driver, and another neighbor arrived to help. After they were both safe, Lori waited with the driver, comforting her while she cried, until help arrived.   

Lori says the scariest part of the whole situation was not the fear that she would drown, but the fear that her family would be there to witness it. 

“I could’ve very easily died and so could she,” Lori said. “My two granddaughters, daughter, and son-in-law were watching, and the fact that I could’ve died in front of them [is difficult to think about.] …What tempers that a bit is that they saw me do something selfless. I didn’t think about anything, I just did it because it had to be done.” 

Lori went about her day after the incident, as she jumped on a Zoom meeting directly afterwards with her hospice team. The seriousness of the whole episode did not register to Lori until a police officer came to her door to talk to her. When she looked outside and saw the commotion, she realized, “Wow, something significant just happened here.” 

“I tend to shy away from the spotlight, but when I was talking to police afterward, one of the firemen had me stand with three other firemen and said, ‘Guys, today you’re with a hero.’” 

Later that evening, the woman’s husband stopped by, explaining to Lori that his wife had suffered a heart attack behind the wheel and regained consciousness when she was already in the water. He thanked her from the bottom of his heart.  

“I’ve been a nurse for 42 years. I’ve encountered a lot of stuff,” Lori said. “I’ve attended countless codes, that’s kind of what I compared it to. It’s like you go on autopilot, you get done what needs to be done, and you fall apart later.” 

Decades ago, Lori paid her way through nursing school by lifeguarding and took all of her swimming lessons with the Red Cross when she was a child. She used the lifesaving skills she learned to save this woman’s life.  
 

“I would tell everybody to take swimming lessons,” Lori said. “All my grandkids can swim, my kids can swim, it’s one of those things. It’s like walking and breathing. You have to know how to do it. Anybody can end up in that situation. Especially if you have children, you need to know how to get them out of the water.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco

Lynn EhmenEssential Services Hero 

Lynn Ehmen is one of our 2021 Red Cross Essential Services Heroes. Throughout the pandemic, she has dedicated her time to helping her community.  

Lynn is a mother of four from Springfield, Illinois and has always been inspired to help others. She grew up poor in her small country community and remembers how other people helped her family by offering boxes of food to drives at her school.  

Their generosity inspired Lynn to give back and decades later, she joined the Springfield Families Helping Families Facebook group. The group has allowed hundreds of people to connect to help each other during the pandemic. Families can reach out online for items like food, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and any basic needs.  

“It’s people asking for help and people giving help. That’s it,” Lynn said. 

She would check the page, keep track of people who needed food, and deliver meals to residents in her local area. After seeing the overwhelming demand, Lynn wanted to make the process easier for families. The gentleman who started the Facebook group built a small micro-pantry outside of his office. The pantry looked like a tiny house and was set up like a neighborhood library, except instead of books, it was filled with food. As Lynn got to know him, they became friends, and she started filling the pantries with food.  

“When I was filling it, and there were people waiting in line to use it, I thought, ‘Hey, this is a thing I can do.’ I’m pretty handy. My contractor friend took me into his shop, and I made 11 more of them,” Lynn added.  

She raised nearly $20,000 dollars to create more micro-pantries during the pandemic.  

“Take what you need and leave what you can. That’s the whole philosophy. I don’t own them or monitor them. It’s just a community place where people can drop stuff off and anybody can take what they need,” said Lynn.  

These micro-pantries are open 24/7 and people do not need any paperwork to receive food, which allows for anonymous pickup. The pantries operate on an honor system, encouraging families to only take what they need. The Facebook page keeps track of the pantry locations and people can go to the page to view a list of the nearest micro-pantries  

“They can walk up to their community micro-pantry, the one that’s closest to their home, and get what they need. If they don’t have something to eat for one particular night, and the food banks are not open, they have the option of going to the micro-pantries. That’s why I chose to build them,” explained Lynn. 

Due to the pandemic, many stable families found themselves out of work and struggling financially. The situation inspired Lynn to create a resource that anyone could access to avoid food insecurity. 

“All I could think about [were] the kids,” said Lynn. “There’s a lot of low-income poverty kids that count on breakfast and lunch at school. Those are the only meals they get in a day. How are they going to get food? How are their parents going to teach them at home?” recalled Lynn. 

As of October 2020, Lynn had established over 30 micro-pantries to serve those in need. She also started a community garden at Washington Middle school last year. The garden continues to expand, and its produce is donated to the micro-pantries.  

Although Lynn is being honored as a hero, she thinks that the real heroes are the teachers who are getting the children through this, online and in person. However, she is grateful for the recognition.  

“A hero is somebody who can see a bad situation… and help, or solve the problem without hurting anyone else and without asking to be paid for it,” Lynn said. “[A hero sees that] action needs to be taken and they take it, without any concern for their own situation.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Doreen Fosco



2021 Red Cross Central Illinois Heroes

Jennifer ErlandsonHealthcare Hero

Jeni has been a nurse for more than five years at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, Illinois. For her, every day at work is different.  She works 12 hour shifts in the surgical unit, in addition to attending graduate school at Maryville University, with plans on becoming a nurse practitioner.  

“We’re trained to do a little bit of everything. I can’t say I have a typical day as a nurse, but it’s nice not doing the same thing over and over,” Jeni explained. 

On June 10, 2020, during her shift, she noticed a colleague, Gregg Pensky, who worked at the pharmacy, hunched over and not breathing on a chair. 

“As soon as I walked off the elevator and turned, I was probably no more than 15 or 20 feet away, and I could tell instantly something was wrong. When I’d walked past previously, he was upright and on his phone. And when I came off the elevator on the way back up, he was slumped over, and his phone was on the ground. He was not awake, not responding to anything,” remembered Jeni. 

She immediately began CPR and asked a passerby to contact the hospital operator  to call a Code Blue, which is a cardiac or respiratory arrest emergency that cannot be moved. Thirty seconds later, another nurse arrived to assist Jeni. They continued to alternate doing chest compressions until the response team could arrive. 

When the doctor came to the scene, the man was quickly intubated for oxygen and hooked up to an IV, while lying on the floor. 

“There was a lot going on at 7a.m. It was the first thing that happened in the morning,” Jeni said. 

She had a very small window to act, and before she knew it, the whole situation was over. 

“We had 20 people available to help, so it was very quick. I would say less than a minute and a half,” Jeni recalled. 

A few days later, she received a text from one of the doctors who had treated Gregg, letting her know that he was off the ventilator and breathing on his own. 

“Being able to give his family another birthday, another Christmas, another holiday season, I think that’s very, very special,” Jeni said. 

She received a Daisy Award for extraordinary nurses because of her heroic action. 

Jeni has been awarded the 2021 Red Cross Healthcare Hero Award for her lifesaving act and is very grateful for being nominated by the family. 

“It’s an honor that anybody views me as a hero. I just did what was right and was in the right place at the right time.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Jerrylee Murphy-WilesLifesaving Rescue Hero

Jerrylee Murphy-Wiles was walking to his bus stop in Peoria, when he heard someone shouting for help in the distance. After examining his surroundings, he identified where the yelling was coming from and found an elderly woman pounding on the window of her home. It appeared she had fallen and wasn’t able to get up on her own. Jerrylee could tell she was in desperate need of assistance, and immediately dialed 911. 

“Before I called, I tried to get in the front and back door, but they were both locked,” Jerrylee said. 

He thought it was best to keep the woman distracted until first responders could arrive, so he stayed with her, keeping her company from outside her window.  

“He is a very spirited 24-year-old who loves to interact with other people, so I’m sure he talked that woman’s ear off,” said Tim Lingenfelter, Jerrylee’s Mentor at EP!C, an organization of community members working to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Paramedics told Jerrylee that if it wasn’t for his heroic instinct, the woman could have passed out and not made it. 

“When they said I saved her life, I thought of my grandma. I was very proud of myself,” Jerrylee mentioned. 

Jerrylee works in the kitchen for EP!C. A few days later, when his colleagues heard of what he did, he was greeted with a big surprise when he walked into work.  

“Everybody was excited for him. When you walked down the hallway, it’s about two miles long and you could hear everyone talking about it. We couldn’t be prouder of what he did,” recalled Doris Hayes, chief operating officer of EP!C. 

Jerrylee was given a plaque and coin from AMT and Pekin Police for his efforts that day. In addition, the Red Cross is honoring him as one the Lifesaving Rescue Heroes for 2021. 

“It’s big to me. It’s very big to me because I love helping people,” Jerrylee said.  

“I think it shows that Jerry cared more about somebody else than he did himself. He very easily could have just kept walking to work and never looked back and he didn’t do that,” added Hayes.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Roger KingLifesaving Rescue Hero  

On November 26, 2020, Roger King, his wife Julie, and their two-year old grandson were driving through Pontiac, looking at Christmas lights. They noticed a house on fire, with flames coming out of one of the windows, and Roger’s wife recognized the home.  She was familiar with the resident, and knew the woman who lived there was elderly, as she was her mother’s friend.  
 
“I got out and I asked if anybody [had] knocked on the door. I asked [those at the site] if they knew if anybody [was] home and they really didn’t know for sure,” Roger stated. 

At this point, Roger realized people were possibly trapped inside, so he started knocking on the door. Moments later, a woman came running down the stairs to open the door, saying she was the caretaker of the resident. Roger explained to the woman that the house was on fire. Without hesitation, he ran upstairs with the caretaker, woke the elderly woman, and assisted her out of the house.  

“The smoke wasn’t super bad on the second floor yet. I was more concerned about the people upstairs than my own wellbeing,” Roger recalled. 

It was chilly outside, so Roger’s wife took the elderly resident with her to the car to keep her warm and wait for help to arrive. 

Shortly after, firetrucks arrived to put the fire out, and Roger was questioned about the situation from the fire department. A couple days later, he received a call and was told the house did not have working smoke detectors. 

As a result of Roger’s heroic effort and quick thinking, he was able to save not one, but two lives that evening. 

“I just did what I thought anybody else would do. I did what needed to be done,” Roger explained. 

A few months later, he was notified that he had won the Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue Hero Award. 

“I was pretty excited. I mean, it’s not something that happens every day,” said Roger. “It’s always easy to say what you’re going to do, but when it actually happens, it’s a totally different story.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious

Josh RaileyLifesaving Rescue Hero  

Josh Railey and his girlfriend Megan were out celebrating his birthday dinner on February 28, 2020. As they left the restaurant, Josh and his girlfriend noticed a burning car that had slammed into the median. Although the car was barely visible through the smoke, he noticed two people escape and run to safety. As Josh got out to further observe the situation, he saw a woman kick the door open and crawl out.  

“I immediately ran over to help her, but she insisted I get her baby that was still trapped inside,” Josh said. 

Thankfully, someone else had stopped their car to help the women get away from the vehicle while Josh searched. The car was engulfed in smoke and he struggled to see inside. He ran over to the other side, cut open the deployed airbags with his pocketknife, and patted around the back seats. 

“At first, I was worried because I didn’t feel anything. I wanted to check the front seats just to be safe and sure enough, the baby was still in the carrier between the driver and passenger chairs,” Josh recalled. 

He quickly grabbed the baby and ran far enough out until he knew they were safe.  

“I didn’t really have time to think about it. The whole thing felt like a few minutes, and I had to act fast,” Josh said. 

By the time he got down the road to return the baby, people had pulled over to see what was going on. Josh waited with them until police arrived. The mother of the child was unable to stand, so Josh handed the child over to one of the female police officers. He gave them a brief description of what happened, was thanked for his actions, and told he and his girlfriend could go home.  

“My night felt kind of surreal after that.I don’t even think we watched TV.  We were still trying to process what happened. It was a lot to take in,” Josh remembered. 

Within days after the incident, word got around about Josh’s heroic act. A local news team showed up at his work and wanted to interview him about the story, and he was soon nominated for a Red Cross Hero Award. 

“I don’t like to consider myself a hero. I’m a pretty humble guy and was just trying to help,” Josh said. “I hope to inspire people to do the right thing when the time comes.” 

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern, Matthew Pontious