Illinois Residents Look Ahead After Torrential Rainfall and Subsequent Flooding

Illinois Residents Look Ahead After Torrential Rainfall and Subsequent Flooding

July 12 was the beginning of what would turn into one of Northern Illinois’ worst flooding disasters. With rainfall levels exceeding those seen in the 2013 floods, residents living along the rivers and lakes in Illinois were hit the hardest. The counties most affected by flooding and power outages included Cook, Lake, Kane and McHenry. The storms also impacted DuPage, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties. infographic_blog_8.1.2017

The American Red Cross was on the scene from the start, opening four shelters that day in Round Lake Beach, North Chicago, Grayslake, and Chicago. Three more shelters were opened since then and mobile feeding units were dispatched to provide assistance. These shelters offered a safe place to stay and a hot meal for hundreds of residents who had been forced out by the flood waters.

The Red Cross also collaborated with other organizations to open three Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs) located in Round Lake Beach, McHenry County and Stephenson County.  These resource centers allowed those affected by flooding to have a one-stop-shop for assistance. Each MARC provided meals, clean-up supplies specific to flooding, counseling and support services and housing resources from 20+ partner agencies.

Anita Harris, whose apartment complex flooded, sought refuge in the Red Cross shelter located in North Chicago.

“The Red Cross has been so helpful. I don’t have any family in the area, and there was no one to help me. I felt so alone, but here’s this agency and somebody loves you, somebody cares. Their red and white colors will stay with me for a long time,” said Harris. 

Other residents, like Marquita McGee, also found comfort from the Red Cross: “It’s a blessing. It’s a true blessing because without them I couldn’t provide any meals for my kids because I can’t cook at home, I can’t bathe them. They don’t have their freedom; everyone is out of their comfort zone you know what I’m saying? So it’s just such a blessing to have them- to have Red Cross to be there.”


As the floodwaters recede those affected still have a long road ahead. The Red Cross understands that the aftermath of a disaster is a stressful time. Call the Red Cross Flood Hotline at 847-220-7495 for assistance. Click here to explore some ways to help in your recovery.


As always, the Red Cross would like to thank its wonderful volunteers for their continued dedication to serving others. American Red Cross volunteers carry out 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross. If you are inspired to action, visit

By: Rebecca Pilipchuk, Marketing & Communications Intern at the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Brookfield Zoo Blood Drive

Brookfield Zoo Blood Drive
Monserrat Figueroa spent her 10th birthday up close with a southwestern hawk while her mother rolled up a sleeve to help save lives. She and her siblings gathered around Saguaro the hawk with wide eyes to learn more facts about the bird. As her mother exited the blood donation room, Monserrat detailed the experience. The 3rd Annual Brookfield Zoo Blood Drive gave the chance to donate life-saving blood while also enjoying a day at the zoo with family. 

35503184044_bf34042c07_o Monserrat and Red Cross Volunteers pose with Saguaro the hawk.

“Are you proud of your mom for helping people today?” I asked Monserrat. She nodded her head excitedly. Her mother, Rocio Figueroa, was one of over 200 people who donated blood at the event on August 2nd. 
Many of the donors had given blood before. A couple donated together for the second time, a young girl donated for the third time, and an elderly man shared that he had donated to the Red Cross over 15 times before. When asked about his reason for donating, he answered that it was because he felt like he should. Without a direct connection to someone in need of blood, he had the empathy and the drive take action.

36338052695_3c759f4677_o Woman donates blood for the third time.

Thank you to all of the donors who found their reason to donate to blood at the Brookfield Zoo.
Join the American Red Cross at a blood drive near you to help save lives.
By: Lucia Varlotta, American Red Cross Communications Intern



Steve Wise spent his career helping others and keeping people safe in the rail industry.  After 37 years at TTX, he retired in 2016, when he began his volunteering journey with the American Red Cross.  He brings his passion for safety and wealth of experience to several roles within the Illinois Valley Region and beyond.

“Being a Red Cross volunteer and having the opportunity to help people, often on the worst day of their life, has been such a blessing.”

“Being a Red Cross volunteer and having the opportunity to help people, often on the worst day of their life, has been such a blessing,” said Wise. There are several synergies between his past and present.  At TTX, there was no better feeling than keeping people safe and making sure they went home each night injury free. With the Red Cross, he is able to bring comfort to people in their time of need.  The work is not just rewarding, it is heartwarming, and a way for Steve to payback for the many blessings in his life.

Wise covers a broad range of roles from DAT (Disaster Action Team) Captain and Lead Responder to Case Work Supervisor and External Relations, mostly as part of the Romeoville Red Cross office.   He works extensively with Jeremiah LaPlante and credits him with being an extraordinary teacher. Jeremiah is a great example of the many wonderful people Steve has met along the way.

steve swett

Steve enjoys operating as part of the DCS team, working with those in need.  “With the Red Cross you learn disasters can strike anyone, at anytime, often when they least expect it,” he said.  Steve finds his work with DCS incredibly gratifying.  He also enjoys serving in multiple roles and works with new volunteers to help them get up to speed on disaster response efforts. Steve also works with external relations helping people, organizations and municipalities prepare and respond to emergencies.  And in his spare time, he does some recruiting too.

One particular experience that really stands out for Steve took place last year during the Louisiana floods. He was working as a virtual case representative, helping people who were displaced. A call came in from a woman who was having technical trouble.  While working through the verification process it was clear that the address on file did not match.  Steve asked if there was another address it could be listed under. The woman’s response was something akin to,”you mean my home that was destroyed?” The starkness of that response really hit home.

Recently, Steve spent much of his time helping those impacted by flash flooding closer to home. He was one of many volunteers that dropped everything to do what he could to assist afflicted residents. The Red Cross’s continuing response covers everything from lodging, food and emotional support and currently includes multiple shelter locations. Volunteers have distributed over 1,000 clean up kits and continue to support people across the flooded areas.

It’s moments like those when you realize how desperately the Red Cross is needed and can see the direct impacts it has on the lives of others. Ninety percent of the Red Cross workforce made up of volunteers. Thankfully there are many people like Steve that are there to help, just when they need it the most.

Steve has been blessed in many ways which drives his passion for giving back. He loves spending time with his family.  He lives in New Lennox with his wife Bridget, who he credits as an inspiration and is incredibly supportive of his efforts. They have three wonderful sons, Brad, Mark and Chris, all living out of state, two in California and one in Minnesota, so they do a fair amount of traveling.  Steve imagined he would write and teach in his retirement.  In many ways, his work with the Red Cross fulfills his desire to teach and he has already written three e-books and plans to do more.

His advice to prospective volunteers?  “Open your heart. There are so many in need waiting for your help and so many ways to serve with the Red Cross”. You too can make a difference.

Join Steve and the 4,000 plus volunteers serving northeastern Illinois.


Red Cross Volunteers at the 2017 Warrior Games

Red Cross Volunteers at the 2017 Warrior Games

The annual Department of Defense Warrior Games is an event dedicated to enhancing the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded warriors through the world of adaptive sports. This year’s Warrior Games ran from June 30th to July 8th and had about 265 service members and veteran participants. The games are sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee and are comprised of participants from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), as well as the United Kingdom Armed Forces and the Australian Defence Force. This year’s games were hosted in Chicago and featured events ranging from archery, cycling, field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track, and wheelchair basketball.


The volunteers at the Warrior Games numbered about a thousand. Red Cross volunteers came from all throughout the Chicago area to offer their time. Lia Morris, a disaster volunteer who has been with the Red Cross for two years, was one of them. Working in small teams, the Red Cross volunteers were divided by location and event. Lia worked as a venue coordinator and helped to check-in volunteers and direct them to their assigned areas. “Everyone was great to work with and worked hard. Even during times when we had to shift people around, people were flexible and willing to take on other responsibilities” said Morris.

Thank you to all of the Red Cross volunteers who gave their time at this awesome event!

The Red Cross offers many services to active service members, veterans, and their families. See how we can help here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sara Lee Powell

Volunteer Spotlight: Sara Lee Powell

If you have not introduced yourself to Sara Powell yet, you can easily give her a friendly hello, as she currently volunteers every Tuesday at the Rauner Center. Sara embraces getting to know other volunteers and seeing them at Red Cross events.

Having worked previously as a fundraiser for a variety of non-profits pertaining to higher education and cultural programs in Chicago, Sara was looking for an organization to be a part of after she retired. Sara finds that volunteering with the Red Cross completely satisfies her needs to give back to the community.

“It gives me great pleasure that I can do these things and do them well for the Red Cross,” Powell said.

Having only volunteered with the Red Cross since last October, Sara has already made a huge impact. She currently assists with fundraising efforts by assisting with the production of our special events including the CBS Telethon, the Red Cross Classic and the Heroes Breakfast. Sara recognizes the importance of the Red Cross’s fundraising, asserting, “all of this takes money, so it’s important to raise funds.”

Her favorite event that she assisted with, so far, was the Heroes Breakfast. All before the event, Sara was tasked with ensuring that each application fit under the appropriate category they were nominated in. Sara neatly cleaned up the language of each submission and attached a synopsis for the judges to read with every application.

“What was really cool was reading the applications that came in, and a few of my personal favorites actually were picked,” Powell said.

She notes one story of a hero driving along the expressway, pulling over and rescuing passengers from a limo before it combusted. Expanding upon the stories evinced a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the work she put in to honoring their actions.

“…They were just everyday people like me and you,” she’ll comment in awe.

But as Sara continues to volunteer at the Red Cross, she finds herself noting all of the opportunities and training that Red Cross provides online, and knows she will continue to seek out new volunteer opportunities outside of her current fundraising efforts. Because of the training and information that the Red Cross provided her, Sara is confident in whatever volunteer effort she pursues.

“I love how the Red Cross treats the volunteers. When there’s a disaster there’s a system in place, they have the right tools.”

By: Tyler Bieschke, Communications Volunteer at the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Volunteer Spotlight: Dominic Poggi

Volunteer Spotlight: Dominic Poggi

Ninety percent of the work of the American Red Cross is done by a massive group of dedicated volunteers from all backgrounds and career paths. Dominic Poggi (pronounced Poe-ghee) is one of those trusted volunteers.

Dominic credits his father for inspiring him to work in disaster response. His father did disaster planning for school districts.

“I chose to volunteer for Red Cross because I like seeing the immediate impact of the work,” Dominic said.

Dominic ARCGC

It all began when Dominic signed up to install smoke alarms, and then joined the Disaster Action Team. When tornadoes recently hit Ottawa and Naplate, IL, Dominic was there to provide casework support. In addition to all those roles, he is currently completing his training to be a dispatcher as well.

Within these roles, Dominic has faced difficult situations and conversations especially after Hurricane Matthew.

“The woman was distraught and giving up on her recovery. She wasn’t motivated. I talked her through it and got her to agree to speak with disaster mental health. I got her to take a step forward, and I was really proud of that,” Dominic said.

He acknowledges that asking for help is hard for many people, but being able to provide immediate assistance in that critical time is huge!

“I like giving people the confidence to take the path forward and take steps to help themselves, with some assistance along the way,” Dominic said. “It’s great to know that nobody falls through the cracks and that we’re not settling for waiting for them to reach out to us.”

Dominic MARC.jpgDominic says volunteering with the Red Cross at the Rauner Center also makes for a fun workplace environment. He recalls one afternoon when he and an intern were heading out for lunch and caught a wonderful aroma of good food. They turned around and “sniffed out” lunch being served right in the building and helped themselves!

Dominic is a driven, dedicated and loyal volunteer for the American Red Cross. And, in May 2017, Dominic joined the team as a staff member! He is excited to make a career out of his passion in fulfilling the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Photo Jul 21, 6 19 54 PM.JPGOutside of his generous volunteer time with the Red Cross, you may find Dominic spending time with friends or family. Or, he may be playing hockey, but not on ice, a floor, or concrete. Dominic plays hockey under water! Yes, underwater hockey is a real thing, and it makes for a great workout too.

Dominic has a background in sales and a marketing degree from Northern Illinois University. He started the Toastmasters Club in Evanston four years ago. And, he recently completed Seth Godin’s altMBA program.

But, sales wasn’t enough for him, “Money is good, but it’s not everything,” he said.
Thank you for all you do, Dominic. The American Red Cross is proud to have you.

By: Susan Westerfield, Major Gifts Officer at the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Celebrating Alden Cohen, long-time Red Cross Volunteer

Celebrating Alden Cohen, long-time Red Cross Volunteer

Celebrated volunteer, Alden Cohen, passed away on December 24th at the age of 82. Alden was a Red Cross volunteer for 65 years and taught thousands in First Aid, CPR, AED, disaster relief and community preparedness.

“Alden was one of the nicest people you would ever be fortunate to meet. I knew him for more than 10 years, and worked with him in his role as a volunteer instructor. He was a compassionate, hard-working, and dedicated volunteer for the Red Cross,” says Yvette Alexander-Maxie.

He was an active DAT responder, assisted during major disasters, and volunteered his time to help with fundraising. Alden was also well known for the thoughtful gifts that he would leave for colleagues – each left with an uplifting note and anonymously given.

“Alden trained me as a Red Cross Responder. We did several fires together and through him I learned to be kind and patient with clients. He will be missed. I enjoyed seeing him just come into the office always with a smile,” says Ray Carter.

Alden found time to volunteer with other organizations including the Evanston Police Department and Community Emergency Response Team. In 2006 he was recognized as the Evanston Senior Volunteer of the Year and in 2011 was given the Spirit of Service Award. For over 10 years he volunteered with Literacy Chicago teaching immigrants of all ages English, American culture, history, and civics. Alden was a US Army veteran and was awarded the Army Commendation Ribbon for his service.

His humor, wit and creativeness was valued so much by everyone who worked with him. He was an incredibly generous and kind person and will be missed by his Red Cross family.

“I am truly heartbroken to hear this news,” says Michelle Patel. “Alden was a great volunteer, mentor, friend, and gift to our world. His generosity and patience changed me. He showed me how to make a difference in our clients’ lives. He showed me how to inspire other volunteers. I will never forget the impact he had made on me and countless others.”