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

Volunteer Spotlight: Anna Cebulak of Chicago

Anna Cebulak has been volunteering for the American Red Cross of Illinois since October of 2017. Since joining, she got involved in three different roles which include being a Logistics Volunteer, Mass Care and Sheltering volunteer , and Disaster Action Team Supervisor. Anna became a volunteer because she loves to help people. She explained that once she became an empty nester she found herself searching for purpose beyond her full-time job.

It was when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and she saw the TV coverage that she really started considering what she could do to help- and Anna saw that the Red Cross was helping and decided to join herself.

As someone with a full-time job, she volunteers when she can and uses her vacation time to deploy to big disasters outside of the Illinois region with hopes that she will be able to deploy more once she retires. Being a volunteer means you get to meet different people who are all working towards the same goal, helping others and Anna loves the fact that she is able to listen to stories and get to know others on a more personal level.  

“I love meeting other Red Cross volunteers, learning from them and creating friendships.”

 – Anna Cebulak

Throughout her time at the American Red cross, Anna has helped with many different events. In the past 4 years, she has assisted with the CBS Chicago Cares Disaster Relief Telethon, blood drives, Our Lady of Angels Smoke Alarm installs, and smoke alarm installations through Sound the Alarm events. Beyond local events, she has deployed to flooding in northern Illinois and south central Wisconsin as a casework volunteer.

She has also participated in relief work for Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Laura, but Anna’s work doesn’t stop there. She has also volunteered in shelters in Prospect Heights IL, Morris IL, Gibson IL, Cicero IL, and comes to the rescue as part of the Disaster Action Team to fires throughout the Chicagoland area.

When refugees from Afghanistan were coming to the Illinois Region, Anna helped secure and organize delivery of toys and stuffed animals for children to receive to help make the experience a little less frightening. When it comes to being a volunteer, Anna loves helping people at what could be the worst or often most difficult time of their lives. 

Anna is a volunteer that goes above and beyond and the Red Cross is honored to have her as part of the team. Anna says that anyone who’s interested in volunteering with the Red Cross please not wait and sign up today. The American Red Cross has something for everyone, helping people is very rewarding and the Red Cross allows you to do so.  Thank you for bringing your passion and skills to the Red Cross, Anna!

To browse our volunteer opportunities, click here: www.redcross.org/volunteer 

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

Red Cross Month: Getting Involved and Making a Difference

Shelly Oliver started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018, shortly before Hurricane Michael made landfall in the U.S. She has traveled to Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and elsewhere to provide disaster relief after hurricanes, wildfires and other disaster scenes.

Shelly lives in Macon County, near Decatur and responds locally to home fires and other incidents, providing immediate assistance to people who have been impacted by disasters. She also helps install smoke alarms as part of our Sound the Alarm program.

“I like the disaster response work, being on scene with the clients. You take these people with you. I call to check up on them and they will call me sometimes,” she said.

Despite the challenges presented during the COVID pandemic, Shelly still has been able to assist in a virtual setting, and she is glad to have had to have been able to serve during this time.

“I love the virtual intake process because I am still able to meet with the clients, even though it has not been in person during the pandemic,” she said. “When we do intake over the phone, we’re able to connect a little deeper because we have more opportunities to talk after the initial response.”

Shelly has been a great asset to the Illinois region and beyond. Her positive attitude and strong work ethic have helped people in numerous situations during her time as a volunteer. For Shelly, it is something she enjoys doing.

“I love everything about Red Cross. I wish I had known what the Red Cross did a long time ago, I would have gotten involved long before I did. Four years ago, I had no idea all they did; it just amazes me.”

If you would like to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer, please click here.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteer Spotlight: Pat D’Alessandro

Pat D’Alessandro of Le Claire, IA is the Regional Recovery Lead for the American Red Cross of the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, and has been a volunteer for almost 12 years. She has been deployed in many Operations Management roles as well as taken part in the Volunteer Leadership team for the Quad Cities. As a volunteer, she has been deployed to Superstorm Sandy, Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Irma just to name a few.  She has worked in many regional Disaster Reliefs such as the 4-month flood in the Quad Cities. Not only is she heavily involved with disasters, she also helps teach disaster classes, works on the Sound the Alarm initiative, and is part of the Quad Cities Service to the Armed Forces knitting group. Pat is always lending a helping hand wherever it is needed, and she puts the livelihoods of others before her own needs.

Pat says that she thoroughly enjoys volunteering because of the people she’s met and the sense of accomplishment she feels knowing that she is helping people during some of the worst times of their lives. Pat is an incredible individual and has no idea how much it means to those experiencing a crisis that she cares about them and wants to be of service.

“I tell people that this is the best job I’ve ever had. Where else can you get paid in hugs?”  -Pat D’Alessandro  

Part of her volunteer work includes helping with Sound the Alarm, the American Red Cross initiative to help install free smoke alarms throughout homes in the community. In the event that there is a fire, smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries. They aid in alerting families and giving them time to get out of their homes safely. Pat says initiatives like Sound the Alarm are part of the mission of the Red Cross to help in prevention of disasters, as well as respond to them and help people recover from them.

The Red Cross mission spans across five lines of service: Biomedical Services, Disaster Relief, Training Services, International Services and Services to the Armed Forces. Pat has found a place for her skills as a volunteer in multiple lines of service and anyone can find a place at the Red Cross including virtual work, or in-person responses. Pat says that if disaster response doesn’t sound like your “thing”, we always need help with blood drives, fundraising, working with Service to the Armed Forces, and helping around chapter offices.

Pat had been looking to give back as a volunteer at an organization that provided opportunities to help those in need both at home and in other parts of the country. She identified a connection with the Red Cross because of what they had done for her community and she felt a strong need to be part of it. Ever since then, Pat has volunteered to a great capacity and the American Red Cross cannot thank her enough. Individuals that do what Pat does have such a big heart for others and never fail to bring a smile to those who need it most.

To find more volunteer opportunities at the American Red Cross click here: www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

Volunteer Spotlight: Tony O’Leary

Tony O’Leary of Davenport, Iowa is a dedicated and longtime volunteer who started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2005. His passion for service came when Hurricane Katrina hit and he felt the need to help during times of disaster. His favorite memory came from volunteering in a shelter during that hurricane. 

“Playing soccer with the little kids was one of my favorite memories,” O’ Leary said. “Along with having “very important meetings” with this little girl which meant I got to read stories to her. There were quite a few kids that had been separated from the mass evacuations. Many kids needed homes and I was there to help them.” 

He understands the need for service and explains to those in his community who may volunteer the many benefits this work can bring for someone. 

“I’m not a religious person but it is good to free the soul. It is good to help people and from this you get lots of hugs. It is very rewarding to know you have helped someone who really needs it and you know they appreciate it too” he stated. 

Currently Tony helps with disaster response and our Services to the Armed Forces programs in the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter. Tony’s wife, Joan, also volunteers alongside him as they both have passion for the military.

As seen above, Tony is assessing damage during a flood in Colombia, South Carolina during a disaster. He is a continuous help to the American Red Cross and we are grateful to have him on our team!


To browse our volunteer opportunities, click here: www.redcross.org/volunteer 

Written by Communications Intern Julie Piz

Brian DeLoche: Why I Volunteer

“Why am I a Red Cross Volunteer?”

I’m sure that’s a question most “Red Crossers” have been asked or may have asked themselves.

Among the reasons I’m a Red Cross volunteer today is it gives me a way to give something back to the Red Cross for the help it gave me during two, significant life changing events — a family tragedy and cancer.

Red Cross Service to Armed Forces helped a soldier get home

I was on a temporary active duty period serving in Europe in 1989 when I received a call about the tragic event that had struck my family.  The call came at 8 a.m. European time, and by 2 p.m., with the help of the Red Cross, I was aboard a non-stop flight from Amsterdam, Holland to Chicago. Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces eliminates red tape and gets things done no other agency can do.

The American Red Cross Hero Care Center is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with two options for requesting assistance: online and by phone.

Red Cross Blood Services helps save lives 

Through its Blood Services division, the Red Cross saves lives by providing a nationwide safe and ready blood supply. 

Being one with a relatively rare blood type (AB Positive) I’ve been a blood donor essentially since I became age-eligible. Earlier in my life, I seldom missed an opportunity to give blood at a Red Cross blood drive, and have donated over 5 gallons of blood.

One day, I arrived for my donor’s appointment but failed the iron or hemoglobin test. This simple test proved to be a life-changing moment for me.

Instead of my blood drop sinking to the bottom of the small glass tube in use at the time, my blood drop did a back stroke and swam to the top. The nurse told me I needed to see a doctor right away. Four months later I was diagnosed with kidney cancer.  Six months later, doctors removed my left kidney.  

That was 18 years ago and the beginning of an on-again, off-again relationship with cancer that continues today. Had I not failed that simple test at a blood drive, my cancer may not have been detected when it was, and I may not have survived it.

Those two events help explain why I became a volunteer, but what they don’t explain is why I still volunteer.

I’m a Red Cross volunteer because I’ve seen what the Red Cross does and what it can do — As I enter my 7th year of service to the organization, I’ve seen what the Red Cross does and the direct impact it has on people’s lives.  I’ve been touched by more than one teary-eyed “Thank you, so much,” or emotion-packed hug after handing a Client Assistance Card to the victim of a flood, fire or tornado.

I’m a Red Cross volunteer because I’ve been inspired — by the strength, resilience and determination disaster victims have shown in the wake of fires, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

I’m a Red Cross volunteer because I’ve learned — that disasters, while impacting people regardless of their stations in life, seem to strike hardest at those whose ability to recover is the least.

I’m a Red Cross volunteer because the Red Cross doesn’t discriminate — against people on the basis or race, religion, nationality, politics, gender orientation or identity.

I’m a Red Cross volunteer because the Red Cross works.  It works in the wake of disasters and tragedies to help people recover and restart their lives.  It also works to help prevent disasters through campaigns like “Sound the Alarm,” that will help reduce fire injuries and deaths by installing free smoke alarms in homes across the country; It works through Red Cross swimming lessons, and Red Cross First Aid and CPR classes that help save lives; and it works through programs like it’s Pillow Case Project, that helps children cope with the after effects of disasters.

I’m a Red Cross volunteer because volunteers ARE the Red Cross: While the Red Cross has a paid staff who are needed to manage it’s day-to-day operations, when disasters strike the Red Cross accomplishes its mission primarily on the strength of its volunteers and the generosity of its donors. Ninety-five percent of the work is done by a volunteer workforce. It’s Red Cross volunteers who put their boots on the ground and do the heavy lifting necessary to help people recover in a disaster’s wake. 

I’m a Red Cross volunteer because if not me, then who?  How about you?

Come join us.  You can help us be stronger, because together we are the American Red Cross.

Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities.

Many Milestones at Morrison Blood Drive

The American Red Cross is facing a national blood crisis – its worst blood shortage in over a decade, posing a concerning risk to patient care.

The American Red Cross of Illinois hosts blood drives every day across the nation to help meet the needs of people in hospitals across the country who need blood to live, including many blood drives in the Illinois Region. Some long-standing blood drives have been held in communities for many years, with local people coming out regularly to donate every 56 days, as often as one can.

The Morrison, IL area blood drive is one of those regular drives that comes about in line with the frequency that a person can donate and its appointments are faithfully filled by members of that community.

Volunteer Blood Drive Coordinator Kaywyn Beswick has been leading the blood drive since 2009, and it’s transformed into more than just a blood collection spot. Especially before the COVID-19 outbreak, the blood drive was more of a consistent social gathering every 56 days where friends could meet and talk and enjoy food together between rolling up their sleeves.

A life-long registered nurse and yoga instructor, Beswick is committed to cultivating this highly successful drive with recognitions and helping donors understand the importance of blood donation. Each one can help save up to three lives, and Beswick believes that should always be celebrated with bells and cheers.

Recently, ten donors were awarded with milestone pins at the January 20th drive at St. Mary Catholic Church:

2 gallons: Trish Kingery, Kelly Smith

3 gallons: Jill Bramm, Mark Bramm, Bryan Vogel

7 gallons: Harvey Tegeler

8 gallons: Stephanie Vavra, Randy Kuehl

15 gallons: Pam Shank

26 gallons: Bill Kuehl

A thumbs up from Bill Kuehl on his donation making him a 26 gallon donor!

Eighty-year-old Lyle Bush was recognized for making his 233rd blood donation, nearly 30 gallons of blood!

And among all these milestones, Kaywyn made her 100th donation that day!

The Red Cross is proud to celebrate every donation and every blood type as we continue to face a national blood shortage. The Red Cross asks the country to roll up a sleeve to help ensure people receive the care they need. Make an appointment to give blood or platelets as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)

Blood donations are needed now to meet the needs of accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease. You can also make an appointment in the days and weeks ahead to ensure the Red Cross can replenish and then maintain a sufficient blood supply.

Written by American Red Cross Illinois Region Communications Manager, Holly Baker