Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

It’s one of the calls one wishes never to receive, but when it does, the immediate thought is—where is my family and are they okay? For retired Theresa Reed, now Red Cross volunteer, these were the thoughts that raced through her head when she got the call that her house was on fire.

“For years, my family and I practiced getting out of the house. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your children, show them what they need to do in case of emergency. Show them the ways out of the house and how to get out and get out fast! I am so proud of my son who was home at the time of the fire. He remembered our home fire drills and jumped into action and made sure he got himself safely out of the house,” states Theresa.

As Theresa watched the house she had made a home with her loved ones go up in flames due to an electrical fire, along with all the treasures she had collected over the years from her international travels, Theresa remembers being at a complete loss as to what to do next. What stands out from that day, even to this day is the Red Cross who showed up to comfort, provide access for a safe place to stay, and helped Theresa outline a recovery plan. “I had no idea what to do or who to call for help. I will never forget the Red Cross volunteers in their red vests who told me I was going to be okay and that they were there to make sure I knew where to go and what to do next. I vowed that one day, once I was back on my feet, I would pay it forward and become a Red Cross volunteer. Despite seeing my house going up in flames, I felt incredibly blessed to be hugging my son and that I had the incredible support of the Red Cross.”

Theresa’s son who was home at the time of the fire is currently in medical school after many years as a successful pharmacist.

Walk into the Red Cross of Greater Chicago headquarters and Theresa will be meet you with a warm smile and the utmost desire to make sure you are well taken care of. “I see and welcome people who walk through the doors of the Red Cross that have just gone through what I went through, and I know what they’re feeling. I know the suffocating feeling to see everything you own gone and the desolate feeling of not having a home to go to. I tell people, you’re okay. You’re going to be okay. The Red Cross is going to help you with your recovery plan. I am so proud to be part of the organization that stands behind their mission. The Red Cross was a great big light during a part of my life that went completely dark in an instant. If I can be a little bit of a glimmer and reassure anyone that is going through what I experienced, I will proudly do so until I can’t,” explained Theresa.

Theresa, thank you for your dedication and commitment to the Red Cross. We are so proud to count on you to help carry out the Red Cross mission.

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire — which is the nation’s most frequent disaster. That’s why the American Red Cross is preparing families to act quickly through our Home Fire Campaign. Since launching the campaign in 2014, we’ve helped save 1,414 lives across the country by installing free smoke alarms and helping families create escape plans.

Visit redcross.org/fire for more information, including an escape plan to practice with your family. You can also download our free Emergency app and free Red Cross First Aid app for instant access on how to control bleeding, help someone who is choking and other scenarios. Search “American Red Cross” in app stores.

Red Cross Volunteer Helen Jackson Welcomes Everyone at Chicago Office Front Desk

<strong>Red Cross Volunteer Helen Jackson Welcomes Everyone at Chicago Office Front Desk</strong>

Helen Jackson is a Facility Service Volunteer at the Illinois Red Cross’s Headquarter office in Chicago. If you’ve stopped by, there’s a good chance you’ve been greeted by Helen at the front desk – welcoming visitors, answering the phones, and serving everyone who comes in the doors during business hours. She gets to see a little bit of everything – and all kinds of people.

Visitors come for many reasons, and that reflects so much of what the Red Cross does: they come to donate blood, to take CPR and First Aid classes, to request smoke detector installations in their homes, and to apply for recovery assistance if they’ve recently experienced a home fire or other natural disaster. Helen refers volunteer inquiries to Volunteer Services, and she recommends local charities that accept household donations if the Red Cross cannot take them. There’s also the business side that Helen facilitates: sorting the mail, responding to vendors, fielding calls from around the state, and directing blood pick-ups to Biomedical Services in the back of the building.

Every day’s different, and Helen likes it that way: “I’m their first point of entry. I talk to everyone and try to help them. I see visitors who are happy, angry, distraught if they’ve just been through a disaster. And despite this, they are friendly because the Red Cross can offer help. That’s why this work is meaningful to me.” Helen refers callers to other social services and charities beyond what the Red Cross can provide. She connects people to what they need, and where they need to go.

Helen started at the Red Cross in 2019, about a year before COVID-19 closed down the office. She was recommended to the Red Cross by Easterseals, an organization that places seniors and those with disabilities in volunteer positions. “I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life and I didn’t know about the Red Cross before I came here. It makes you want to volunteer at the Red Cross when you see all that they do.”

When the office re-opened in July 2021, Helen was back at the front desk, greeting all who enter. The post-COVID world is different, not as many people are in the office each day as before. But the Red Cross mission is just as important. “Anyone who volunteers for the Red Cross will be helping, and possibly saving a life.”

We are grateful for all you do, Helen!

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Volunteer Spotlight: Terrence Cook

“I like to get out and mingle with the people and find out exactly what their needs are, try to resolve it and help them out as much as I can.”
-Terrence Cook

Terrence Cook of Mount Vernon, Illinois has been an American Red Cross volunteer for approximately 10 years. During his time volunteering, Terrence has responded to home fires, along with deploying to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other disasters.

After a home fire, Terrence arrives on scene and helps individuals with providing comfort kits, financial assistance to help with lodging and food, assistance with referrals for replacing medications, information about case work and additional assistance.

“You always run into different people, different families and situations,” he says. “Our main goal is to help them with their immediate needs.”

Terrence has deployed to numerous parts of the country for large-scale disasters, including California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. He spent time helping before and after a hurricane in Mississippi in 2017, where he worked as a supervisor during the Red Cross disaster response, there.

“It is good to work with people after disasters. I was surprised at how many people were willing to help, even though they were thinking about, ‘Is my home alright?'”

Terrence says, numerous people thanked him for being there. He recalls a story of two children sharing their concerns about the impending storm. They asked Terrence, “Are we going to have a home to go home to?” Terrence tried to comfort them and the boys thanked him for listening.

For Terrence, his favorite parts of volunteering include working with his fellow volunteers and helping people. He likes the camaraderie and says he truly enjoys being able to talk with the people he meets as part of his duties.

“My life goal is to keep helping people like that,” he says.

Here is a short video that highlights a recent Red Cross home fire response in the South Central Illinois chapter. Terrence is one of our volunteers who responded to help.

Thank you, Terrence! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join the team as a disaster volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

A Life Committed to Service: Susan Hill, Lt. (j.g.)

A Life Committed to Service: Susan Hill, Lt. (j.g.)

When we think military, we oftentimes think of the 5 branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Did you know the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, or USPHS Commissioned Corps, was established in 1798 and is one of the nation’s uniformed services — a branch committed to the service of health? The USPHS Commissioned Corps works on the front lines of public health – their medical, health and engineering professionals fight disease, conduct research, and care for patients in underserved communities across the country and throughout the world. Officers in the USPHS Commissioned Corps advance our nation’s public health, serving in agencies across the government, as engineers, physicians, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, scientists, and other positions.

The Red Cross of Illinois is proud to count a member of the USPHS Commissioned Corps, Susan Hill, amongst our volunteer ranks and this Veterans Day, we say thank you for your service and dedication to keeping our country and its people safe.

Susan, a retired environmental engineer never envisioned herself a member of the military, but a visit to her school counselor led her down a path that afforded her rewarding experiences and adventures.

“I was looking for a summer internship. Never did I imagine that I would find myself a commissioned officer with the USPHS Commissioned Corps. That first internship led to another which led to four years of service. During that time, I traveled the country, made lifelong friends and connections all the while safeguarding the health and safety of all who live in the United States,” shared Susan.

Susan was an integral member of the USPHS Commissioned Corps who to this day continues their work constructing water systems, evaluating medical devices, designing “healthy buildings,” and strengthening public health infrastructure.

Fast forward to today, you can find Susan volunteering with the Red Cross and as a  Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) in DuPage County. “When I was semi-retired, I knew I wanted to keep serving. My husband was already a volunteer with the Red Cross, so I started my training and four years later, I have responded to local home fires, volunteered at blood drives, and served as a caseworker assisting those impacted by disaster on their journey to recovery. Volunteering is so rewarding! It is such a wonderful feeling to be able to help others,” stated Susan.

Susan credits her military training and education for preparing her for a life of service and leadership. Mentorship is also top of the list, “Throughout my career, I was very fortunate to have had mentors who helped propel me along a career path that wasn’t necessarily one saturated by women. It was this experience that inspired me to also be a mentor. We all have so much to give, and our experience can build on someone else’s resulting in doing great things for the good of many. My connection to the Red Cross through its mission of alleviating human suffering is what inspires me to keep serving,” said Susan.

Retired as Lieutenant JG from the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, Susan earned a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and retired as a Senior Principal in an environmental engineering consulting firm. Susan is a devoted mother of four, grandmother to four adorable grandbabies, and a CASA advocate to three children.

“I encourage everyone, especially retirees who have the time, to volunteer. Volunteering is not only rewarding, but the feeling you get from helping others is unlike anything you’ll ever do.”

Thank you, Lieutenant Hill, for your continued service and dedication to helping advance the mission of the American Red Cross.

To all military veteran volunteers, thank you for being dedicated Red Crossers! We salute all who have served and honor the tremendous sacrifices made by members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families to preserve our freedom.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Volunteer Spotlight: Ramon ‘Ray’ Castro

“I just wanted to make a difference in my community.”

This is what motivated Ramon ‘Ray’ Castro to become a volunteer with the Northwest Illinois chapter of the American Red Cross Illinois region.

Since becoming a Red Crosser 11 years ago, Ray, a U.S. Navy Veteran and retired art teacher, has deployed four times. His first deployment was to North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew, which coincidentally he told us is the name of one of his sons. Ray drove an emergency response vehicle from Chicago to North Carolina to provide much needed relief to those impacted.

He lives in Freeport, Illinois with his wife who also volunteered with the Red Cross for 12 years. Ray is an accomplished artist who created a seven-foot bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln (pictured here), which is located at Blackhawk Battlefield Park in Stephenson County, Illinois.

When asked why others should consider volunteering with the American Red Cross, he quickly replied, “because the Red Cross makes everything better.”

Thank you Ray for your service and for making a difference in the lives of those in need! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer.

Written by Communications Volunteer Isis Chaverri

Volunteer Spotlight: Tina Martin

“I just want to give back to the community, because the Red Cross was there for me, and if they hadn’t been, I would probably not be here.”
-Tina Martin

Tina Martin is a Red Cross volunteer in the Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region. She serves, because others chose to serve before her.

In 1973, Tina needed a blood transfusion. She says, donated blood helped save her life. From that point on, Tina has felt motivated to help others.

“That’s the reason why I got started in volunteering, was to give back to the community,” she says. “I just really appreciate how everything worked out.”

Tina has been serving as a volunteer in Florida this week, helping people affected by Hurricane Ian. She has helped with serving food and distribution of supplies, among other tasks.

Tina says, it has been a rewarding experience, being able to help others who need it. She is enjoying working as part of the disaster response team serving the community, there.

“People are very nice and friendly. Everyone is just working together to help out and doing their very best. I just enjoy being here an part of the team as a volunteer,” says Tina.

Thank you very much, Tina for volunteering your time and helping others.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join Tina as a disaster response volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Illinois Region Volunteers Respond to Hurricane Ian

Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by Hurricane Ian’s devastation. The American Red Cross and our partners are working around the clock across multiple states to provide help as people in Florida deal with the storm’s catastrophic aftermath and Ian takes aim today at South Carolina with life-threatening flooding, storm surge and hurricane-force winds.

To date, more than 1,000 trained Red Cross disaster workers are supporting the relief effort and more help is on the way. 90% of our workforce are volunteers who respond to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Large disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires are increasing in frequency and intensity. We are grateful to all volunteers who give of their time, talent, and comfort to assist people when they most need it!

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Red Cross. Volunteers are needed everyday to assist with disasters near and far. To volunteer with the Red Cross, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Our Volunteers on the Ground

Before the storm, the Red Cross mobilized 83 truckloads of additional cots, blankets and comfort kits, along with tens of thousands of relief supplies, to be prepared to help as many as 60,000 people. Emergency response vehicles are also pre-positioned across the state.

Evacuation shelters are open in Florida, South Carolina and tens of thousands of people sought refuge from Ian in as many as 100 Red Cross and partner shelters across the three states Thursday night.

Dean Otta

Volunteers from throughout the Illinois region have responded by deploying to Florida, and more are preparing to deploy later this week. Ed Johnson, a board member from the South Central Illinois chapter, is in Florida working to help those impacted by Hurricane Ian. Dean Otta, a volunteer from the South Central Illinois chapter, is preparing to deploy later this week. Dean has served in this level of capacity before – he has deployed to more than 10 large-scale disaster scenes, including the Oregon wildfires in 2020.

Ed Johnson

Yasmin Clinton of Des Plaines, a volunteer from the Greater Chicago chapter, will be deploying to Florida later this week to join other Red Cross volunteers to help those in need. Yasmin has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2017 and has responded to Hurricane Ida and other major incidents locally and across the country.

Yasmin Clinton

Marty Knight of Kankakee, a volunteer from the Illinois River Valley chapter, also will be deploying to Florida. Marty has been a Red Cross volunteer for over 10 years and has also helped with past disasters including Hurricane Sandy, the Flint water crisis, flooding in Mississippi, and Hurricane Florence.

Marty Knight

Your donation enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster. To help people affected by Hurricane Ian, visit redcross.org.

We are grateful for your generous gift to support people affected by Hurricane Ian. The humanitarian efforts of the Red Cross provide comfort and hope to many in their time of need. On behalf of those we serve, thank you.

Making the Most of His Time: Kaleb Hall

“I feel like it’s good to always help people. If you help people, they’re going to end up helping someone else, and it’s just like a cycle of helping people.”
-Kaleb Hall

Kaleb Hall is a high school senior in Decatur, Illinois. He volunteers for the American Red Cross in the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region.

Having completed the necessary credits to graduate, Kaleb has extra time during this semester and wanted to devote it to doing something productive.

“I only have two classes and get out of school early, so I have more time. I wanted to volunteer my time, instead of just sitting at home watching TV,” Kaleb says. “I have a whole semester of free time, so I am going to be doing this a lot.”

Kaleb’s father, Xavier inspired him to get involved with the Red Cross. Xavier served on the disaster team, installing smoke alarms and performing other tasks as a volunteer.

Recently, Kaleb served as a blood donor ambassador at a Red Cross blood drive in Decatur. He helped sign blood donors in as they arrived for their appointments, provided them with helpful information and answered questions.

Kaleb enjoyed the assignment and is looking forward to getting involved even further, in the weeks and months ahead.

“Everybody is nice, it’s a good environment. There are a lot of options,” he says.

Thank you, Kaleb for choosing to give your time and serve as a Red Cross volunteer! To join Kaleb as a volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Diana Mojica

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Diana Mojica

During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Red Cross of Illinois is highlighting Latino men and women who are committed to advancing the mission of the American Red Cross. Today, we celebrate bilingual IT solutions manager and Red Cross volunteer, Diana Mojica.

When Diana’s community, Woodridge, was hit with a tornado, she arrived at a Red Cross shelter and asked, “How can I help?” Since then, Diana has been instrumental in vetting the translation to Spanish of critical Red Cross apps and has motivated her husband, Juan, to join her at local volunteer opportunities like Fiesta del Sol. Most recently, Diana brandished a power drill and installed free smoke alarms in Little Village. Born and raised in Little Village, it was especially important to Diana to be present in the neighborhood that holds so many memories for her.

Diana and her husband installing smoke alarms during a Sound the Alarm event.

Regarding Hispanic Heritage Month, Diana says, “Traditions and family play a big part of my life. It is important to me to pass down what I’ve learned from my parents and hope my daughters will continue to honor those traditions for years to come.”

Diana pictured with her family during her youngest daughter’s quinceañera.

To volunteer with the Red Cross like Diana, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Ready To Help When Help Is Needed: American Red Cross Home Fire Response

Greg Voyles was fishing one night, when he learned his apartment was on fire. He returned home and found the building uninhabitable. He also found South Central Illinois chapter volunteers, Keith Hertenstein and Terrence Cook, ready to help him with his immediate needs.

Hear what Greg has to say about his experience in this video, and visit redcross.org/volunteer if you’d like to join the team as a disaster volunteer.