Volunteer Dave Boyles Dedicates a Decade to Disaster Response, Recovery 

When Dave Boyles retired 10 years ago, it marked the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for him. After a technical career, Dave wanted to find something that was meaningful and would also use the “people side” of his personality. The Red Cross was the perfect match! 

Dave volunteers as part of the Disaster Action Team, and over the years has served in many capacities: responding to home fires, completing client recovery casework, conducting damage assessments as the first boots on the ground post-disaster, and helping lead a team that installed more than 230 smoke detectors with the Red Cross’s signature Sound the Alarm events in locales near his home in Morrison, IL. 

Numerous Red Cross disaster deployments have also positioned Dave throughout the country and beyond. He deployed to California and Oregon for the wildfires, and worked alongside Canadian Red Crossers responding to their wildfires while in British Columbia. Disaster responses to hurricanes, tornados, and floods landed Dave in North Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. One of Dave’s most memorable deployments was to Saipan – twice. The first time was for immediate disaster response after Typhoon Soudelor in 2015, which led to a longer-term deployment working with FEMA to hire, train, and supervise local residents in recovery casework. The second time was for Typhoon Yutu, in 2018. Dave’s total deployment time to date equates to two and a half years (approximately 25% of his time, if you do the math!). 

The bottom line for Dave: “It’s all about the people, coming face-to-face with them, and helping them find solutions to their problems, often during a crisis. My eyes have been opened to different lifestyles and a diversity of people; you realize that not everyone lives a comfortable, Midwestern life. And the Red Cross helps everyone, in a non-judgmental way.” 

These humanitarian Red Cross principles are a huge driver for Dave, and they keep the Red Cross mission strong, credible, and recognizable around the world. Also appealing for him is the variety of volunteer opportunities. “No matter what your ambitions are, there’s something for you at the Red Cross.”  

Thank you Dave, for your decade of outstanding service! 

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley  

Neuroscience Graduate Inspired by Red Cross Mission

Neuroscience Graduate Inspired by Red Cross Mission

“I thought I was going in for a routine internship … little did I know it would change my life.”

Joyce Ruan, a neuroscience Loyola University graduate, recently completed an internship with the Red Cross of Greater Chicago Disaster Relief team, but her connection to the Red Cross goes further back. While in high school, Joyce donated blood and participated in community events through the Red Cross, and she carried this practice through her college years.

During her final year at Loyola, Joyce wanted to find an opportunity within the non-profit sector in Chicago as it was part of her non-profit studies. Not only was Joyce interested in a local non-profit, but she was looking for something that incorporated service in emergency situations. That’s when it hit her — the Red Cross is a non-profit humanitarian services organization! Joyce quickly connected with the Red Cross through our Volunteer Services team and put her emergency medical response experience to work in Disaster Relief.

While Joyce enjoyed and appreciated the office work, the most fulfilling part of her internship experience was the field work. Showing up to a fire response to provide aid and being able to be there when someone needed it the most.

As was the case last January, when a man named William had a house fire in the middle of the night. He was taken to the Emergency Room and was evaluated and told that because he had no burns, frost bite, or smoke inhalation, he was free to go. William was discharged from the hospital wearing only pajamas and socks. He had no phone, identification, money, and it was frigid cold. Not only was he devasted … William did not know where to go.

Around the corner from the hospital came Joyce and Sophia, Joyce’s supervisor. Together, they helped William secure transportation to a warm hotel, saw to his basic needs, but most importantly, they were there to provide compassion and comfort.

Joyce pictured with her internship supervisor, Sophia Kluessendorf, Disaster Program Manager

“I was so moved and inspired by William. He was living through a terrible time in his life, yet he was so incredibly optimistic and appreciative that we were there for him,” states Joyce. “At that moment, William put so many things in perspective for me. I realize that I’ve been so fortunate, but disaster can happen to anyone and no matter what socioeconomic status or where you live, for the most part, we are not prepared, and we all would like to have someone lend a hand.”

Joyce has since completed her internship and moved on to pursue her Physician Assistant degree, but she remains committed to continuing to volunteer with the Red Cross. She credits her time as an intern and seeing how vital volunteers are to organizations like the Red Cross, as her motivation to add her name to the group of dedicated volunteers. Her biggest wish is to inspire her generation to volunteer.

Joyce and family at her graduation.

“We need to be there for our community. A disaster can happen to anyone and if it happens to be you, you’re going to want someone to help you. We can all learn more about ourselves and our community from volunteering and there are many volunteer opportunities within the Red Cross. Being a humanitarian is one of the best traits I have, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience this side of themselves!”

Volunteers at the Red Cross carry out 90% of the humanitarian work. Joyce invites you to make a difference and be a volunteer. To join her, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Volunteer Spotlight: Valentina Logan

Valentina Logan is a devoted volunteer from Decatur, Illinois. Though she is new to the Red Cross community, she has been an advocate for volunteering most of her life.

Her passion for volunteering came from working with the Special Olympics. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Valentina got the opportunity to follow her dream of working for the Red Cross. 

With her love for helping people, she found a role as a community volunteer leader. Her job includes installing smoke alarms, responding to disaster action calls and leading her teams after disasters. As Valentina reflected on her role in the Red Cross, she was reminded of how much joy this job can bring – not only to the people in need, but to those who are sent out to help. 

“I handed the family in need a gift card and when I did that, I saw them get emotional. Giving them this gift and seeing their emotion made me emotional. This was my first time helping a family that was in dire need of assistance and a place to stay.”
-Valentina Logan

This scenario is what Valentina strives for others to feel. She is motivated to get others to experience the joys of what the Red Cross can bring to people. 

“There is no price you can put on the feeling of helping people,” she said. “The Red Cross was the ultimate helper. They help in so many ways.” 

Valentina plans on recruiting as many people as she can and learning more about the different facets of the Red Cross. As a supporter of what this organization does, she hopes others will take a chance to “feel the love” that comes with volunteering.

To browse our volunteer opportunities, click here.

Written by Communications Intern Julie Piz

As Flexible as a Volunteer: Kim Rosell

Kim Rosell isn’t quite sure how long she has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross but its over 40 years. In that time she’s held many different positions and titles from instructor, caseworker, fundraiser and more working across disaster services, preparedness, helping manage mental health services, administrative, sheltering and everything inbetween. She says one of the best things a volunteer can be is flexible.

“As a volunteer you have to be prepared for all the jobs, and when you go out and you have to be flexible,” Kim said.

Lately Kim has been most active with DST, Disaster Services Technology, making sure other volunteers have the connectivity and resources needed even during the chaos of a disaster.

But her interest in volunteering started as a child as she watched her mother, a physician, encourage people to donate blood and volunteering at blood drives. She was very interested in helping with disaster response and got involved with the Red Cross even though she was just a teenager. She started taking Red Cross classes- as many as she could- and got prepared for her first deployment. When she was finally old enough, she deployed to Puerto Rico as a Red Cross volunteer for Hurricane Hugo.

It’s become a family affair for her, as both her husband and son are also Red Cross volunteers. It’s been something consistent in her life though she has moved around and held various jobs, she’s maintained a connection to the Red Cross.

Originally born in Vietnam, Kim left as a child to come to the United States. She says she is very fortunate her family had the ability to leave and is grateful for that. In Illinois, she lived in several places including Bloomington, Chicago, the Champaign area and now Park Ridge, IL. After retiring from a career as an IT manager and being fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese, Kim now works for United Airlines as a translator- and has stayed on as a volunteer through nearly all of it.

“I’m very proud of my life, I was able to accomplish a lot when I was young so now I can do the fun things,” she said.

Fun, but be flexible she emphasized. She recalls another time during her deployment for Hurricane Katrina when she originally was assigned to the Response Technology Team, but since she had so many other qualifications ended up helping with family service work within a mega shelter.

She says it doesn’t matter what job she’s doing as long as she’s helping people.

“I always tell people the force of human nature is stronger than the force of mother nature,” she said.

“Whatever mother nature wrecks on her way, as volunteers we put it back together for people so I always feel like being a volunteer is a selfish thing because you get this personal satisfaction but if your neighbors in need, you need to be there to help them.”

During Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Kim says she reflects on being part of the Red Cross workforce and how different perspectives from different people can only help us better serve the people we help.

“I think its great that we have diversity of people because our country is a melting pot and our clients are from all walks of life so the more that we have input in I think we can serve our clients better,” she said.

She’s also a photographer in her spare time, and has taken photos for the Red Cross as well. Any skill she has, she looks to use it to help others.

“Its an obligation in society that we have to take care of one another,” she said.

Thank you for volunteering, Kim.

Join volunteers like her at the American Red Cross: www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Holly Baker

Meet Don Cusack, Military Veteran and Active Red Cross Volunteer

In 1999, Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month. At the Red Cross, we pause to recognize and celebrate our employee and volunteer military community and we’re proud to recognize and highlight one of our very own … American Red Cross of Greater Chicago volunteer, Don Cusack.

Don served in the U.S. Army for 41 years as an Intelligence Analyst. Inspired by his wife, Don was motivated to volunteer with the Red Cross and since 2017, he has deployed 12 times to disasters like Hurricanes Irma, Florence, and Ida and countless number of floods and tornadoes. At a very young age, Don felt the calling to service and even now, during retirement, he remains at the ready.

Why did you join The U.S. Army?

Joining the Army was born out of a competitive streak. Following my father’s footsteps, I have two other brothers who joined, and I thought to myself, “If they joined and made it, so can I!” That competitive streak led me to The United States Army Airborne School, also known as Jump School, which is one of the most difficult trainings you can imagine. Jump School is a 3-week intense training program … of the 800 of us that started, 400 didn’t make it after only 2 weeks! After many miles of running and five required jumps from moving aircrafts, I successfully completed Jump School and became a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. It is this type of competitiveness and determination that brings out the leader in us which gives us the motivation to step forward and help and care for people when they most need it.

Why after a 41-year military career, did you decide to volunteer with the Red Cross?

I volunteer with the Red Cross for self-satisfaction and my continued desire to serve and help people when they are facing the most vulnerable time in their life. I find that the training and experience I received during my time with the Army gave me leadership skills that are applicable beyond one’s time in the military. I am happy, and grateful, that my military training, to this day, is useful during disaster responses.

How has your military training been applied throughout your volunteer time with the Red Cross?

My military training has allowed me to take leadership roles when responding to disasters. Maintaining a level head and keeping priorities in order have ensured that I successfully direct and help people which at the end of the day, it’s what it’s all about. As volunteers we take our experience and apply it to help people. That’s why I volunteer. Not for fame or glory … simply to serve people when people most need it. And I’ll keep doing it until I can and hope that others find the inspiration to do the same.

We know that gratitude is not what motivates service. The employee and volunteer veterans and service members of the Red Cross are continually motivated by duty, honor, love of country and fellow citizens. And just like Don, there is a deep-seated responsibility, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, to be ready and prepared to take off when disaster strikes.

Don and fellow volunteers installed free smoke alarms during a Sound the Alarm Event in Joliet, IL

The Red Cross is grateful for the many military veteran volunteers like Don that come forward to dedicate time and talent during local, national, and global disasters. Thank you for your humanitarian service to our country and freedom.

During National Military Appreciation Month, and every day of the year, we listen, we remember, and we acknowledge their service not only during times of crisis in the world, but at all times.

When he’s not volunteering with the Red Cross, Don likes to travel to Hawaii with his wife, Linda, enjoys time with his four sons and their families including three grandsons and one granddaughter.

Services for Military and Veteran Families

The Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service. The American Red Cross provides critical services with a caring touch to men and women in all branches of the United States military, active-duty personnel, reservists and members of the National Guard, and their families. Through our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, the Red Cross serves service men and women, veterans, and their families.  From the day they enlist to providing emergency communications while they are deployed to serving at VA Hospitals across the country, Red Cross volunteers are standing by.

The Red Cross has been serving the military for more than 140 years and has deployed alongside military in every U.S. conflict since the Spanish-American War.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Getting Involved: Beverly and Emilie

Beverly Tomita and Emilie Lemieux

Getting involved and helping other people are priorities for Beverly Tomita and Emilie Lemieux. Now, they are encouraging their peers to get involved and join them as volunteers.

Beverly and Emilie are medical students in the Champaign-Urbana area. Together, they are working to build up a base of volunteers at their school, with a focus on disaster and emergency medicine.

Both have volunteered with the American Red Cross before; most recently during a Sound the Alarm home fire safety event. The duo visited numerous homes in the Bloomington-Normal area this May, installing smoke alarms and sharing home fire safety information with residents.

“This is a very valuable learning experience for us, because we are learning about fire safety as well as teaching the community about important disaster preparedness tips, and getting some life skills, too.”
-Beverly Tomita

“It’s awesome to see how excited people are to see you help them. It’s a very rewarding feeling inside, to see how the community opens their arms to you.”
-Emilie Lemieux

Beverly and Emilie hope to spark interest in volunteering in their fellow students, while continuing to serve others by helping the Red Cross.

For Emilie, volunteering gives her “valuable exposure and experience with different aspects of serving.”

Beverly enjoys the opportunities available to serve others, both locally and around the world. She says, “It’s a really great way to get involved and give back to the community, while living the student life.”

We are thankful for Beverly and Emilie’s time and efforts in supporting our mission! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find a volunteer opportunity in your community.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteers and Partners Sound the Alarm in Richton Park

The Sound the Alarm program is part of the Red Cross home fire campaign, which has helped saved 1,275 lives since launching in October 2014.

Spring for many of us signifies renewal by way of home improvements projects, gardening, spring cleaning, and maybe even a fresh haircut! May at the Red Cross is dedicated to the annual campaign, Sound the Alarm, and with it a renewed commitment to fire safety awareness, a community-based campaign to install free smoke alarms to our most vulnerable communities.

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, we were excited and honored to kickoff Sound the Alarm in Cook County alongside Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, 38th District State Representative of Illinois, Debbie Meyers-Martin, Cook County Commissioner, Donna Miller, County Board Commissioner, 6th District, and dozens of volunteers who dedicated their Saturday to Sound the Alarm in Richton Park. Smiles and dedication were palpable as the event was kicked off with a short address by Red Cross of Greater Chicago, Chief Executive Officer, Celena Roldán.

“Nationally, seven people are killed and 36 more are injured every single day due to home fires,” explained Roldán. “Our Home Fire Campaign has helped save over 1,200 lives nationally and in Illinois, we have saved 33 people because of this program. We couldn’t be prouder of our amazing partners, volunteers, and donors who make our work possible.”

In addition to smoke alarm installations, Red Cross volunteers worked on fire escape plans with Richton Park residents.

Richton Park and neighboring residents excitedly welcomed Red Cross partners and volunteers into their home who installed free smoke alarms and outlined fire escape plans. When asked why installing smoke alarms was important for her, Richton Park resident Carolyn Wright stated, “My granddaughter and great-grandchildren live with me, and it is very important for me to keep all of my little ones safe.”

In total, 136 homes, 171 people, were made safer in Richton Park and neighboring communities. Since launching the Sound the Alarm campaign in 2014, our volunteers have helped save lives by installing more than 2 million smoke alarms. We encourage Chicagoland community members to volunteer or register to have free smoke alarms installed during an upcoming event.

#EndHomeFires

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Volunteer Spotlight: Amy Kinsinger

Amy Kinsinger of Washington, Illinois started volunteering for the American Red Cross of Illinois earlier this year, after making a New Year’s resolution to give more of her time as a volunteer.

Amy retired from a career in advertising and sales, along with substitute teaching. She has volunteered for other agencies, but has a special interest in the Red Cross. Amy decided to get involved in the footsteps of her father, Owen Ackerman. Owen has given more than 26 gallons of blood in his lifetime, and his commitment to our mission inspired Amy to join Team Red Cross.

Amy has participated at numerous events as a blood donor ambassador, welcoming and directing blood donors and making them feel at home when they come to blood drives.

“I’ve always believed in the Red Cross, so I wanted to do whatever I could. I determined this was a good fit for me, because I’m social and welcoming. I like being able to greet people and make them feel comfortable, and I am an advocate for the donors.”
-Amy Kinsinger

Amy has another personal reason for getting involved with the Red Cross. She remembers the impact the organization made in the aftermath of the EF-4 tornado that destroyed hundreds of homes in Washington in November 2013.

“I saw what they did when the tornado came through my hometown. I see what they do nationally, and I know blood donation is very important. I really believe in the Red Cross and I love the mission,” she said.

Thank you, Amy for all you do as a volunteer! If you would like to get involved, please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Help Can’t Wait: Home Fire Response

Fire destroyed Debbie Barger’s Benton, Illinois home earlier this year. Jane Perr was there to help.

Take a look at this video to learn more about why Jane loves what she does as a disaster volunteer, and to hear why her efforts made a big impact on Debbie.

Volunteers like Jane make up 90 percent of our workforce. Please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a volunteer and to learn more about what we do to help people after a disaster. Thank you for supporting the American Red Cross!

Knit Together for a Cause

Winter hats and mittens. These are necessary items during the cold weather months and can be taken for granted, sometimes. However, a group of American Red Cross volunteers in the Quad Cities do not take these items for granted. They are dedicated to using their talents for the good of other people, and have spent countless hours knitting these items together for children and military families who need them.

The knitting group meets weekly in Moline and got its start in 2011. The group donates an average of 200 sets of handmade mittens every year and, in total, these ladies have made and donated more than 2,000 sets of knitted items since 2011. The mittens and hats are provided to military members and their families through Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.

“Hats, gloves, and scarves are distributed at stand downs for homeless veterans, helping them to stay warm throughout the winter. These knitted items provide not only for the physical needs of our veterans, but the personal nature of these handcrafted items show them that someone cares,” said Crystal Smith, regional director of Red Cross Service to Armed Forces & International Services.

Carol Van De Walle has been there since the beginning. She helped form the group and is glad to see it has continued through the years, even during the pandemic when they have met virtually on Zoom meetings or outdoors. None of the people in the group knew each other before joining, but consider each other good friends, now.

“I think the camaraderie of the people is what I enjoy the most. Our group, we just enjoy each other a lot and we’re very supportive of each other. We have very talented people, and we have beginners. It’s a very accepting group. I really enjoy having that connection, it has been very rewarding,” she said.

Carol and her fellow group members have worked with the Rock Island Arsenal in recent years, sending their handmade items to be distributed to military families. Items ranging from lap blankets to dishcloths to pet accessories all have been lovingly donated, through the years.

“We feel like we’re helping our community and that’s important to all of us,” she said.

Carol has been a Red Cross volunteer for 20 years, formerly serving on our disaster team. She loves giving her time and is thankful to still have the opportunity to do so.

“This is something I can do to still contribute. What’s nice about the Red Cross is there’s something for everybody. When you’re young and strong you can do some of the things and when you’re not, there’s other things you can do and you can still be useful and helpful to your community and the Red Cross in general,” she said.

Trish Burnett, our executive director for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, has worked with these dedicated volunteers for many years and appreciates the efforts they make on a regular basis.

“Carol and the group of volunteers who selflessly give their time to knit these items by hand show true kindness and generosity, again and again. They are dedicated to serving members of the military, the Red Cross and the community and we are very appreciative of their continued efforts.”
-Trish Burnett

This month, we celebrated the knitting group for their efforts during a reception in their honor. Please join us in thanking this team of dedicated volunteers for all they do!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen