Mr. Tobin Mathew Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Nurse Hero

Mr. Tobin Mathew Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Nurse Hero

A self-described “super nerd,” Tobin Mathew has had a lifelong penchant for comic books, video games, toys and superheroes. In nursing school, he was drawn to pediatrics, which allowed him to apply his passion to the patients he treated every day. “Kids in the hospital are like any other kids. They want to hear about the coolest video games, the newest superhero and the latest Star Wars movie, and I was just the guy to talk to them about it,” said Tobin.

As a college student at the University of Illinois, Tobin searched for his niche. Initially, he studied psychology, but toward the end of his tenure, he took an introduction to nursing course that led him to his career path. “My mother is a nurse, as are my aunt and uncle. It was so natural and the easiest decision of my life,” said Tobin.

After graduating nursing school 12 years ago, Tobin set his sights on the best pediatric institution in the Midwest and went to work in surgical care at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital caring for kids as young as infants and up to young adults. Tobin could not be happier. He says he “has the best job in the world.”

Since day one, Tobin wore a superhero t-shirt to work and has never stopped. His repertoire has evolved into more than 70 t-shirts, capes and costumes including Batman (his personal favorite), Superman, Flash, Ninja Turtles, Imperial Storm Trooper, Hulk, Captain America and many more. Tobin dresses like this because he knows it breaks down walls and makes the hospital experience less threatening for young patients.

Since Halloween and Christmas are typically the most difficult times for children in the hospital, Tobin is more dedicated to putting a smile on the faces of his patients during these times. He works in full costume during the holidays and commits to at least five daily wardrobe changes. He also tries to do something unique for the kids to enjoy. He has sprinted around the 20th floor as Flash, hung upside down as Spiderman and destroyed a village as Hulk.

“The biggest compliment that you can receive is a family trusting you with their kids, the most important thing in their lives,” says Tobin. “Dressing as a superhero helps me to motivate myself to be the absolute best I can be for my families at the hospital. Some of the patients you take care of for months and years. It is my job to let them be kids, let them know I care and make that time as special as possible.”

The Nurse Award is presented to a licensed and practicing nurse, nursing student, or retired nurse who exhibited heroism either in their response to an emergency situation or through an ongoing commitment to the community through acts of kindness, courage or unselfishness in response to an identified need.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

Mr. Patrick Gleason & Mr. Don Jackson, USN, Retired, Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Military Heroes

“As a recovering alcoholic and addict, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center saved my life,” U.S. Navy veteran, Don Jackson says. “I was committed to the hospital for two months back in 2007. They built me back up.”

Once a patient of the hospital, Don has since joined the hospital staff. Now he looks in the eyes of other veterans every day, knowing exactly where they’ve come from and where they’re capable of going. As the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center voluntary program support specialist, he and his supervisor, Patrick Gleason, the chief of voluntary services, worked together to fill a need to address veterans’ hunger.

Don and Patrick understood that many veterans, from WWII to the recently deployed, were dealing with hunger and homelessness. So, they came up with the idea to create an on-site veterans’ food pantry right there at the hospital. Together they created a program unlike any other in the country.

“I still remember the day. We were sweeping the floor of the armory, saying we’ve just got to do more to help our needy vets,” Patrick said. “We knew there would be challenges. We’re a hospital first and foremost. How do we create the space to store food? Protect identities? Where do we put the leftovers? And how do we
convince management this isn’t distracting us from the day-to-day care we already provide?”

The pantry was an innovative idea well outside their job descriptions. But slowly, the answers came. And soon, the nation’s first veterans’ hospital food pantry was born.

In partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and several other local community organizations, the Jesse Brown VA Veterans’ Food Pantry brings dignity back to the table for veterans’ families all over Chicago.

Instead of being handed bags of pre-loaded groceries, veterans are paired with a volunteer personal shopper to help them as they choose their own goods. The volunteer shopper is especially helpful to the many disabled vets who visit the pantry.

Operating every Tuesday, nearly 200 veterans come to receive much needed food, support and camaraderie.

“I’ve had veterans tell me these are their family’s groceries for two weeks out of the month,” Patrick says. “And some line up as early at 5:30 a.m. to purely socialize with their fellow vets,” Don adds. “They just love it.”

Since its opening on Veteran’s Day in 2013, the pantry has served more than 5,000 veterans and their families.

The Chicago pantry has become an innovative model influencing other veteran hospitals around the nation to open pantries.

As Don puts it, “What comes from the heart goes to the heart. Sometimes just listening to their stories and needs can save their life. I know that.”

The Military Award is presented to an active, reserve, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), or retired member(s) of the Armed Forces, or military supporter, who acted above and beyond the call of duty or have made an ongoing commitment to the community

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

Detective Donovan Jackson & Firefighter Rylenski Strong Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Emergency Medical Assistance Heroes

On the evening of June 10, a capsized boat along the shore of Lake Michigan left five distressed passengers stranded in freezing cold water, waving for help in a race against the setting sun.

Long-time friends and former Chicago Park District lifeguards, Rylenski Strong and Donovan Jackson, were enjoying a day on the water when they noticed a yellow object far in the distance. Driving in closer on their wave runners, the pair soon realized that the object they saw was, in fact, an overturned boat.

Rylenski, a Chicago firefighter, and Donovan, a Chicago police detective, were off-duty at the time, but that didn’t stop them from acting. Immediately, they threw their extra life jackets to the four visible passengers, one of which was sitting atop the overturned boat. Donovan called 9-1-1 using his cell phone and worked with Rylenski to bring the passengers to shore one-by-one on the back of their wave runners.

“I knew it was very cold and hypothermia could set in. I needed to get them out of the water,” said Donovan.

During this process, the passenger on top of the boat let them know that someone from their group was missing. Working frantically to search the waters, Rylenski and Donovan didn’t see any additional passengers in the area. Luckily, the pair heard faint knocking coming from under the boat. Quickly, they realized the fifth passenger was trapped underneath the boat with only a small air pocket. Together, they worked to free the
woman and help her to safety aboard their wave runners.

Members of Rylenski’s own firehouse responded to the scene.

Rylenski and Donovan both received training in CPR from the American Red Cross when they were Chicago Park District lifeguards and they know the power of being ready to act at a moment’s notice. “Once a lifeguard, always a lifeguard,” Donovan said.

Because of Rylenski and Donovan’s quick thinking and life-saving skills, all five passengers walked away without severe injuries.

“As long-time boaters and water enthusiasts, we both know the golden rule: that when someone is in distress in the water, you go help. You never know when that could be you,” said Donovan. “What are the odds that two former lifeguards would show up on the scene?”

The Emergency Medical Assistance Award is presented to an individual(s) who provided lifesaving medical assistance to a person or people in need during a time of crisis.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

Lillian Alter, 15, Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Youth Hero

Lillian Alter, 15, Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Youth Hero

Lily Alter was 14 years old when she turned a school writing assignment into a real-world project helping hundreds of homeless girls and women in need.

In the spring of 2016, Lily’s teacher assigned her class to write mock grant proposals each addressing a societal problem. Lily had volunteered in homeless shelters since she was five years old and had witnessed the difficulties that homeless girls and women face. With few economic resources, little storage space and virtually no privacy,
homeless women have an extremely challenging time getting and storing the products they need during menstruation.

Lily had a solution.

“The most vulnerable people in our society should not be subjected to these kinds of indignities, like not having the most basic products to meet this need,” said Lily.

She wrote a grant proposal addressing this issue and then took it one enormous step further: she created a real program to tackle it.

Lily started with a crowdfunding site to raise money to assemble packages of menstrual items for women in need to be distributed at shelters. This became a program called Flow Kits. With donations ranging from $5 to $500, Lily raised nearly $11,000 and has assembled and distributed more than 400 Flow Kits.

“I think it was the people around me who were so supportive that sparked my drive to work to solve this problem,” said Lily. “Initially I thought a tampon drive would be helpful, but after researching it, I realized a long-lasting campaign might be better.”

Lily had help from her friends from the beginning. “They helped me pack the first kit.” And, together they run a Facebook page that has helped spread the word. Lily remembers giving away the first kit to a young Mom with a two-year-old child. “I felt so happy,” she said. In another instance, Lily gave a kit to a mother and her young daughter, who later told her that it was the most helpful thing that had happened to her that week.

“I don’t think women are used to being individually approached and asked if they have needs,” said Lily. “Homelessness can look any way. There is something to be said for talking to people directly. It puts things into perspective.”
In the coming months, Lily will continue to work with shelters and looks forward to a new collaboration with the Night Ministry. She plans to keep working on this project for years to come.

“In an ideal world, I would not be doing this. Tampons and pads would be free or so cheap that anyone could buy them. They would be offered in public restrooms with the toilet paper, soap, and paper towels that are all already
there,” said Lily.

The Youth Award is presented to an outstanding individual(s) who is 17 years old or under and has performed an act of heroism involving an unusual, significant or unexpected incident, or is involved in an ongoing situation in which a commitment is made to the community through acts of kindness, courage, or unselfishness in response to an identified need.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

Brian Floriani Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Community Impact Hero

Brian Floriani Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Community Impact Hero

Twelve years ago, Brian Floriani lost his father and his grandmother on the same day. While preparing eulogies for both, he pondered the legacy he would leave. He thought about what others might say if he were the one being eulogized. In the midst of a successful career as a lead golf instructor for Golf Digest in Lake Tahoe and West Palm Beach, the answers to those questions troubled him.

“Although I was successful, I felt far from significant,” Brian said.

Brian began to reprioritize his life. Trading golf courses and private jet trips for early mornings in classrooms, Brian started to tutor children who were struggling to read. “It was an eye-opener. Many of these kids didn’t have access to books, and if they went to the library, they often couldn’t even take books home with them,” he said.

In Brian’s opinion, reading is the single most important factor for a child to succeed in society. He also realized that many of the children that he was tutoring would have been great readers if they had access to books at home.

Driven by his love for the community and for reading, in 2009, Brian started a non-profit in his garage that aimed to help collect, source and distribute books to low-income neighborhoods in Chicagoland.

Brian’s father, Bernie, had been a great influence in his life and instilled in Brian the value of reading. Growing up poor, Bernie had relied on reading to achieve every step of success, eventually attending college and earning a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in reading education. Because of Bernie’s influence, Brian named his new organization for his father – Bernie’s Book Bank.

Brian worked three jobs to make ends meet, all the while he and his wife were expecting a baby, but he never stopped looking ahead to what was possible. Now volunteers from all over Illinois come to the Bernie’s Book Bank headquarters in Lake Bluff, Illinois to help sort, bag and deliver books all over the Chicago area. Working alongside partners, they’ve distributed more than seven million books to children in need since the organization’s founding.

“My father literally read his way to a better life. And I believe everyone deserves a shot. He represents all the children Bernie’s Book Bank serves.”

The Community Impact Award is presented to an individual(s) who displays leadership and commitment to his or her community by making a positive, noticeable and significant impact in society

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

Christopher Tierney Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Firefighter Hero

Christopher Tierney Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Firefighter Hero

Early in the morning on March 25, 2016, off-duty Streamwood Firefighter and Paramedic, Chris Tierney, was headed across Elgin on the Jane Addams Tollway during rush hour when he saw that a limousine was suddenly airborne in front of him. It then crashed in the middle of a median in a construction zone.

Without hesitation Chris pulled over, knowing his emergency skills were needed.

“I heard screaming inside the limo from the trapped passengers,” he said. “The car was on fire at that point, and the driver had managed to get out.” Chris yelled to a nearby construction worker to get a fire extinguisher while he ran to his truck for a hammer to break the windows open in hopes of reaching the six passengers trapped inside.

Once Chris successfully broke the limousine windows, he was able to assess the passengers’ injuries. “The first thing I thought was just to get these people out as fast as I could,” he said. Oil and gas quickly accumulated around the scene, surrounding everyone inside.

The passengers were severely injured and at least one woman was unconscious. Disregarding his own safety, Chris pulled the first passenger out of the fiery vehicle and helped the other passengers escape. Running back and forth between the limousine and injured passengers, he tended to an unconscious woman who was hardly breathing, regularly checking for a pulse, and began administering CPR.

Within minutes, ambulances and fire engines arrived on scene. Chris worked alongside Elgin paramedics, grabbing the necessary equipment from the back of ambulances and helping to perform emergency aid on the accident victims.

A member of the firefighter training committee and firefighter of 13 years, Chris noted, “This is what we train for all the time. I don’t know that I was feeling at all – it was just automatic,” he said. “We train for the one percent. I know this was the one percent.”

The Firefighter Award is presented to a professional, volunteer firefighter(s), or medical personnel related to dispatch operations at a fire department who acted above and beyond the call of duty, exhibiting heroism either in response to an emergency situation or through an ongoing commitment to the community.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

Diane and Steven Spurling Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Good Samaritan Heroes

Diane and Steven Spurling Honored as American Red Cross 2017 Good Samaritan Heroes

Diane and Steve Spurling thought their neighborhood was unusually quiet on a beautiful night, but just a few minutes into an evening walk with their dog, a deafening scream came from their neighbor’s house.

Their neighbor emerged from her garage covered in blood. She frantically ran down the driveway, tripped and fell head first in front of Diane and Steve. Knowing their neighbor needed immediate help, the couple jumped into action as the woman’s husband emerged from the house. The husband tried to coax his wife to come back inside their house, but she screamed that he was trying to kill her and that he had a gun.

Steve and Diane, without thinking about their own safety, rushed to the woman’s aid. Steve blocked the violent husband from reaching his wife, as Diane steered her away. Moments after Steve dialed 9-1-1, the husband shot a gun toward the women. Steve and Diane’s dog went running. Diane fell to the ground and their neighbor narrowly dodged gunfire aimed at her.

Steve’s reaction was immediate. He quickly tackled the man, held him down and blocked him from firing again. Steve grabbed the gun and kept it from his reach. Within minutes, police arrived on scene, arrested the man and took their neighbor to the hospital.

“There was never a thought in our mind that we weren’t going to help her,” Diane said.

In reflecting on the evening, Steve believes that their neighbor wouldn’t be here today if he and Diane hadn’t been in the right place at the right time. Not only were her injuries shocking in their severity, but there was a gun involved.

“It happened so fast there wasn’t time to react. It was a surreal moment,” said Steve. “But I think anyone would have done the same thing.”

For taking serious and unselfish action during their casual evening stroll, Diane and Steve have been awarded the Citizen Recognition Award by their city. They have also been recognized by Congressman Randy Hultgren on the U.S. House of Representatives Floor for their heroic actions.

The Good Samaritan Award is presented to an outstanding individual(s) who courageously and selflessly responded to an unusual, significant or unexpected crisis.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2017 Heroes. For more information about the 2017 Heroes Breakfast, click here.