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.

Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Lifelong teacher and radio show ‘Red Cross Minute’ creator celebrates 35 years with the Red Cross

Career counselor, radio personality, teacher, first aid and emergency preparedness trainer, volunteer, humanitarian — the list goes on, but for the past 35 years the one constant for Steve Swett has been his dedication to being a Red Cross Volunteer.

“I’ve been around a very long time,” laughed Steve. “But you know what? In my 35 years at the Red Cross, it’s always been something different – the learning is constant and with learning comes power and responsibility. For me, learning has given me the drive and power to help, and it makes me feel so good when I connect with people and hear how the Red Cross and volunteers like me have made a difference.”

Steve during a severe weather preparedness training.

In addition to his commitment to learning, Steve has dedicated time to teaching for decades at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, Illinois and for many years providing Red Cross training to youth groups, other non-profit agencies like The Salvation Army, and at Sheridan Correctional Center. Amongst his biggest accomplishments, Steve created and maintains a 30-minute segment on WCMY ‘Red Cross Minute’ which over the years has served to inform the public of resources, trainings, blood drives, safety preparedness, and other valuable information. Special recognition and much gratitude to Steve’s The Morning Mix on WCMY radio co-host, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Frost of LaSalle who passed away last month. Maggie, along with Steve, supported the Red Cross and over the years, both helped amplify the Red Cross message and what started as a 5-minute segment with special guest Red Cross representatives turned into a 30-minute program that LaSalle County residents have come to rely on.

When asked why he volunteers, Steve stated, “Volunteers like us have an important role and perform a lot of different tasks. We feed and shelter people, gather information, and coordinate with local government and community partners. We help clients and communities in the recovery process during and after a disaster. There is so much one can do. Bottom-line—we [Red Cross volunteers] are the line of hope for many and we have the responsibility to be there for each other when and where it’s most needed.”

Whatever your interests or abilities there’s a role for you as a volunteer at the Red Cross. What do you like to do? What gives you personal satisfaction?  There are many ways to be a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Join us! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find out how you can support your community.

Thank you, Steve for your dedication of time and talent over the past 35 years! We look forward to many more years! We couldn’t do it without you!

Steve finds time for a much-deserved break with his beloved Annie.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Service and Scholarships

“It’s a good way to let your school connect with your community, letting people come in and see what your school’s all about. Also, it teaches students how to reach out and be active in their community and give back; these are things everyone should know how to do, and it helps you know how to do that.”
-Lainey Campbell

The American Red Cross High School Scholarship Program gives high school students the opportunity to help others, while helping the students as they move on to higher education. The scholarship program is available for high schools that host at least one Red Cross blood drive during the year.

For 17 years, Marty Green has helped successfully run this program at East Peoria High School. The school coordinates five blood drives every year, primarily thanks to the efforts of the students who are involved in the program.

“My role is purely supplemental. If they need something, I get it for them, but other than that, it’s completely driven by students,” says Green. “They come to me, I don’t go to them.”

The larger number of units of blood a school collects, the larger the amount of scholarships are awarded to participating students.

Lainey Campbell played an integral role in the East Peoria High School program the past few years, and received a scholarship for her efforts after graduating earlier this year. She is now using that scholarship to help pay for college.

“It’s very helpful, because college is expensive, so it’s very nice,” she says.

Perhaps more than the financial benefit, Campbell says the life skills she learned while coordinating blood drives and interacting with the community were very helpful for her. She encourages other high school students to get involved at their schools.

“For people who want to work on community service but also want help with funding for college, it’s a great program for that and it really rewards you – it rewards you for doing something outside your comfort zone. A lot of schools like to push leadership, teaching students to give back to their community. If you’re looking for that, it’s a great way to do it.”
-Lainey Campbell

Green, who is retiring after this year, recalls how Campbell and other students have answered the call to take charge of this program during his time being involved with it.

“Each year, a different student steps up to be the leader. They’ll come to me and say, ‘Mr. Green, I’d really like to run this,'” he says. “At the beginning, it was some work to get things going – now, it runs itself. I am fully confident that when I leave, it’s going to keep the momentum.”

Campbell echoes those sentiments, saying other students helped her, even while she was leading the program. She received support from previous student leaders, her fellow school band members and her friends along the way. She says, “I had a lot of support from my friends. I would send them the (blood drive) flyer and ask if they would post it on their Snapchat story or Instagram, and they did.”

Campbell also recalls the positive interaction with Red Cross staff, the day of the first blood drive she hosted. In addition, seeing so many people come in to give blood that day left a lasting effect on her.

“Everyone from the Red Cross I worked with that day was wonderful, they were all so nice and they explained it all to me,” she says. “It was my first experience seeing a community come together for a good deed, giving back to the community.”

By participating in the American Red Cross High School Scholarship Program, your high school can help build a stronger community. Click here to learn more, and to find out how your school can get involved!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

An Unexpected Call to the Rescue

<strong>An Unexpected Call to the Rescue</strong>

In May of this year, the Tate’s family residence became uninhabitable when, due to exposure to the Midwest elements, their roof collapsed destroying walls, furniture, appliances, and precious personal items. As they sat on the porch of their home trying to make sense of what happened and what to do next, Giovanni Tate’s phone rang and he says, “It was a call from an angel—it was the Red Cross.”

In a matter of hours, on that unforgettable Thursday night, the Tate Family found themselves at the American Red Cross of Illinois headquarters, meeting with two caseworkers who immediately went to work to make sure the Tate Family, including their puppy Loki, had a place to stay that night.

“We had only heard about stories of people affected by disaster or a home fire and organizations that show up to help. You hear about it, but don’t know how entirely true it is. I was humbled that the Red Cross, who knew nothing about me and my family, without asking, made that call that for us, was a rescue call. We are forever grateful to the angels from the Red Cross that worked with us and made sure we weren’t left homeless while we worked out what to do next,” stated Giovanni.

During the midst of it all, top of mind was the impending graduation taking place that Saturday. Shaniya’s graduation gown and decorations were all in the house under piles of rubble. “We were so concerned how this would affect my daughter’s special day. Luckily, we were able to go into the house and retrieve a few things—most importantly her graduation dress and gown. That brought a sense a normalcy to all of us during a very surreal time,” explained Giovanni.

Fast forward to today, with the help of neighbors who helped with repairs, the Tate Family is enjoying their refurbished home with plans to volunteer for the Red Cross. “The Red Cross was a real blessing. I want to be there for someone in their moment of need,” said Giovanni.

The angels on the phone who met with Giovanni and his family that Thursday night were Red Cross volunteers Cathy Dixon and Morrie Bowie. Volunteers are the lifeline of the Red Cross. For disasters big and small, our volunteers provide comfort during what can be the worst days of people’s lives. Thank you, Cathy, and Morrie, for being there for the Tate Family and countless others you have impacted with your compassion.

Learn how you can volunteer at redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Volunteer Spotlight: Angela Baker

Angela Baker (right) receives her 10 years of service pin from
Disaster Services program manager, Jamie Beaver

10 years ago, Angela Baker was at a local church, where disaster shelter training was taking place. It was at that moment she realized she wanted to volunteer with the American Red Cross, in case a shelter were to ever open in her community.

A decade later, Angela is a dedicated disaster services volunteer for the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region. As part of her role, Angela frequently offers support to individuals who have gone through disasters, such as home fires.

“When you see the clients who have had such devastation, it’s nice to offer comfort and concern to them, and this is a way to do that.”
-Angela Baker

For Angela, this is a way of doing things for others that she would want others to do for her loved ones, if it were necessary.

“If anything like that, a fire or something, happened to my loved ones, I would want someone to be there to help them, so this is a way I can reach out to help others,” she says.

Angela describes the work of a disaster services volunteer as fulfilling yet challenging, as many situations can be emotional, working with individuals who have suffered losses such as homes or pets.

“Some of them break down and cry, you just kind of have to listen and see where you can help, what you can say if anything and how to respond and just comfort them as best you can,” she says.

Angela recommends volunteering with the Red Cross, as it is “a great opportunity, and a way to comfort and help other people who have gone through a hard time.”

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join her on the disaster response team. Thank you, Angela for your service to the community as a volunteer!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Tess Sheil: Selfless Service

For half a century, Tess Sheil has faithfully volunteered her time and talents for the American Red Cross.

Tess is a volunteer with the Red Cross Quad Cities and West Central Illinois and the Greater New York Chapter. She has helped countless people as a registered nurse and health services volunteer and as a disaster mental health volunteer, logging thousands of volunteer hours in the process.

Tess calls both Illinois and New York home. She was working in a school in New York the day the Twin Towers were hit during the 9/11 attacks, and responded to try and help as many people as she could.

Tess did anything she could to help survivors and their families including passing out water, making ribbons and having conversations with them.

“I went for the firefighters’ families, I went to the armory for the families there. That was part of my community that was impacted,” she said. “I wanted to help people feel that they had some sense of direction, because people didn’t know what was happening.”

Her experience in New York led her to focus on mental health support at the Red Cross. She has served as the lead for the Red Cross National Staff Support Hotline, where staff or volunteers can call and receive help and advice.

Tess has helped fellow volunteers and provided training through different Red Cross programs in Illinois and New York. She makes sure people realize that they are making a difference in their communities.

“Tess is such a great asset to the people of this community, and far beyond,” said Trish Burnett, executive director of the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter. “It is truly heartwarming to see how much she cares for others and their needs, and it shows in the volunteer work she does for the Red Cross.”

Thank you, Tess for your dedicated service, hard work and true compassion for others.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer.

The Red Cross at Fiesta del Sol

The Red Cross at Fiesta del Sol

At Fiesta del Sol this weekend there were sights, delicious smells, music, and reconnecting with fellow global Red Cross colleagues. Outside of being a beacon of cultural amusement and celebration, Fiesta del Sol attendees were able to access valuable information by spinning the Red Cross trivia wheel on a variety of topics like fire safety, disaster preparedness, and first aid training. Additionally, attendees were able to sign up to be blood donors and volunteers, and learned about the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.

“This weekend was about community,” stated Brian McDaniel, Executive Director of the Illinois River Valley Chapter. “I met families and individuals who expressed genuine interest in volunteering, learning first aid, or having the Red Cross help them locate a missing loved one through our Restoring Family Links program. Connecting the community to valuable resources is what we set out to do this weekend and I can confidently say that Fiesta attendees who saw us in Pilsen received that and more! We can’t wait to be back again next year!”

Held over the course of four days in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood, Fiesta del Sol provided live entertainment, great food, a soccer tournament, activities for children, art exhibits, performing arts, carnival rides, and different Expositions. Through a wide range of sponsors and vendors, attendees were also able to obtain information and guidance on topics such as housing, immigration consulting, Covid-19 vaccinations for all ages, live painting art-performances, college workshops, and more.

“We were incredibly proud to be at Fiesta del Sol,” stated Celena Roldán, American Red Cross of Illinois CEO. “Participating in events like Fiesta del Sol not only brings us closer to the people we serve, but it gives us the opportunity to recruit great volunteers to our team as well as blood donors – as there is always a need for blood. Additionally, with our participation at Fiesta del Sol, we are able to provide community members with information on services and resources available at the Red Cross that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to receive.”

Celena Roldán, Chief Executive Officer for the Red Cross of Greater Chicago, third from the left, pictured with Red Cross staff and volunteers.

Red Cross staff and volunteers had a great time serving Fiesta del Sol attendees and continued its work of sharing the Red Cross mission ‘al cruzar la calle, a través del pais, y alrededor del mundo’.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza