Meet Sue Brenner: 17 Years of Making an Impact at The Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois

The Red Cross of Chicago and Greater Northern Illinois is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers who have been working with us for years. One of those volunteers, who has worked with the Red Cross of Chicago for about 17 years, is Sue Brenner.

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Sue volunteering to answer phones at the CBS Telethon in 2016


After getting her masters in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy, Sue and her husband moved to Chicago where she worked as a preschool teacher and as a director of a preschool for many years. “When I was ready to leave that job, I knew I wanted to do something hands on, and the Red Cross seemed like it would give me that opportunity,” Sue said.

Sue started out as a Disaster Action Team volunteer, which meant being on-call to respond to fires and help the people affected. Eventually, Sue and several other team members decided that they needed more volunteers to respond to fires. Together, they helped develop a program to build up the volunteer corps, which Sue now describes as a “robust volunteer corps put together over the years.”

After 10 years of working 2-3 days a week in Volunteer Leadership, Sue decided to scale back a bit. She now works once a week on casework for victims of fires. “I call clients who have had a fire and I ask how they are doing, if they were able to move back in, if they have insurance, or any other disaster related needs.” Through working with partners, Sue is able to provide victims with resources to help them get back on their feet. This can be anywhere from a week to a multi-week process depending on the case.

One aspect that Sue emphasized as crucial for recovering more quickly from a fire, is by having insurance. “I am a big fan and cheerleader of insurance and rental insurance! It is really important and not expensive, and people get back on their feet so much quicker.”

Some of the biggest obstacles for Sue’s clients can often be finding new housing. “Once they find something we can give them referrals to partner agencies who might be able to give them furniture. But a lot of times just getting a client placed in a new home can be quite challenging.”

In addition to casework, Sue is involved in many other areas of the Red Cross: “I teach a Disaster Supervision class for people working in Disaster who are going to become supervisors. I’ve also participated in the Home Fire Campaign to put smoke alarms in people’s homes- which is always a really worthwhile thing to be doing.”

Out of all of Sue’s involvement in her 17 years of working with the Red Cross, she did not hesitate when asked what stands out to her the most: “I think the building up of the volunteer base is the thing that I would be the most proud of. And I didn’t do that by myself- it took a lot of work from a lot of people. But of all the things we’ve done that would be one I am the most proud of.”

Thank you, Sue for all of your hard work over these past 17 years!

Interested in volunteering with the Red Cross and helping with events like these? Visit to find a volunteer opportunity for you!

Written by Sophie Kendrick, Communications and Marketing Intern


From 1970 to 2018, Red Cross Volunteer Shares Her Story

When a disaster strikes, Red Cross volunteers work around the clock to provide food, comfort, and shelter for disaster victims. Dorothy Dodendorf, a disaster workforce volunteer, is one of the many volunteers who assists in disaster relief behind the scenes. In her staff relations position, she helps guide and support Red Cross volunteers with any hurdles they encounter.

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Dorothy on deployment for Hurricane Florence

Dorothy recalls being associated with the Red Cross as early as junior high. She took First Aid, babysitting, and home nursing courses that the Red Cross offered at the time. She was also part of the Red Cross youth club in high school, but her life-long commitment started years later after graduating from college and getting married.

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In 2016, Dorothy was recognized for her service with the Clara Barton Award, the highest award a volunteer can receive.


Since Dorothy couldn’t donate blood while she was pregnant, she did the next best thing she could by becoming a blood service ambassador for the Red Cross.  Since then Dorothy has volunteered in various positions including but not limited to: disaster instructor, pillowcase project trainer, and disaster workforce engagement specialist.

Dorothy’s very first deployment was to Florida in 1992 to help with relief efforts for Hurricane Andrew. One of her more recent deployments include a three-week deployment to North Carolina for Hurricane Florence relief efforts. When asked how many times she’s been deployed, Dorothy stated, “I have no idea, I lost count years ago, but definitely well over 30.”

“When I sit on the plane, and look out the window and see the disaster from above, I realize how much more still needs to be done,” said Dorothy about the most challenging aspect of deployment for her, leaving.  She describes this moment as bittersweet because she knows she helped as much as she could while there, but realizes how much more work is still required.


When asked if Dorothy would consider being deployed again, she responded saying, “Definitely, I’ve been doing this for 48 years, and I’m shooting for 50!”

Written by Adisa Suljic, Communications Intern for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: A Hurricane Michael Base Camp

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who is currently deployed to Florida for Hurricane Michael. He had only recently returned home after deploying to North Carolina for Hurricane Florence. Steve is now sharing some of his experiences.

Last night was my first night ever in a First Responders Base Camp.  For the Red Cross and utility company first responders – a base camp was stood up at the Tallahassee Airport in response to Hurricane Michael.

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Next to one of its runways and in a large open field – you will find this camp.  It consists of many large white tents that include housing, a feeding area, and other support functions.  Between them you will find many trailers that include sinks, showers, and laundry.

This is probably the closest that I have come to camping since my childhood days.  The food was good, chatted with fellow team and local Red Crossers, slept well, and had a warm shower. But the thing that you marvel at the most – is what you find inside this base camp.

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Inside you will find the hearts of many, many volunteers.  They get up early, go through their daily ritual that we all have which is something like grabbing a bite to eat, assembling their gear, and being ready to go.  This camp is full of energy and is a beehive of activity.  It is truly something to marvel at.

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For those flying out of the Tallahassee Airport – those that don’t know will look at this base camp as a simple tent city.  But inside these tents you will find the hearts of volunteers from across the country.  Those that stop their lives for a few weeks – and have the support of their families and loved ones that they leave behind.

And the one thing that unites us – is our willingness to help put the lives of those so negatively impacted…back together.

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So, if you ever see or pass a tent city that is setup in response to a disaster – stop and think of who is inside it.  And say a prayer for those inside to be safe and to do their best – helping those that so desperately need their help.

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: Heartbreaking Devastation from Hurricane Michael

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who is currently deployed to Florida for Hurricane Michael. He only recently had returned from deployment in North Carolina for Hurricane Florence. Steve is now sharing some of his experiences during this Hurricane Michael deployment.

Words and pictures cannot describe the devastation that I have seen this past week.  Never have I ever saw so much destruction on such a large scale.  From homes and businesses – to large cities or small communities – from once was beautiful landscapes to industrial complexes – Hurricane Michael brought its wrath and fury.


I was part of a team that traveled from shelter to shelter in some of the hardest hit areas of northern Florida.  Since there are so many power outages – traveling on the roads is very time consuming…which forces you to stare at what you see in disbelief.  And wonder how the local residents will go on.

These areas will never be the same for many years to come.  It will force local residents to change their lifestyles – and possibly even what community they live in.  Many residents suffered severe damage to their homes, they won’t have power for the near future, and they are under boil water orders.  Many businesses suffered severe damage as well – that will now prevent them from not only providing services – but jobs for those that once worked there.

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It is common to see police and electrical trucks traveling down the main roadways in caravans with their lights on and sirens blaring – going to areas that need immediate help.  Schools in the hardest hit areas are closed for the foreseeable future and the endless debris causes you to wonder how much manpower will be needed to clean it up and where will it all go.

As the days go on, the damage that Hurricane Michael wrought on northern Florida – will not be in the news as much.  We will stop seeing the pictures or hearing the stories of how these people were so negatively impacted.  For many of us, Hurricane Michael will soon become a distant memory.

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So please take time to remember them…and please pray for them.  Their road to recovery will be long and hard and often to the point where they may feel that they cannot go on.  So, we must do our best to remember them – to be there for them – and to help them in any way possible.

First responders often say that disasters bring out the best in people.  I pray that it brings out the best in us.

American Red Cross Responds to 25 Fires and Opens 1 Shelter in the Past Week

Disaster responders with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois responded to 25 fires from Monday, October 15 to this morning across the 21-county region including fires in Naperville, Blue Island, Elmwood Park, Darien, Rockford, Machesney Park and 15 of the fires happening in Chicago.

The fires affected 134 people including 80 adults and 54 children.

The Red Cross provided resources to help address the immediate basic needs of those affected such as temporary housing, food, clothing, comfort kits with toiletry items, information about recovery services, and health and mental health services. Additional information about these incidents, if available, may be obtained from the local first responding agency/fire department.

Responding volunteers are members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, a group of specially trained volunteers who respond to the scene of a disaster when called upon any time of the day or night.

Additionally, 18 Red Cross responders were on the scene in Waukegan as a senior living facility was evacuated on Friday evening. Just before 5PM on October 19, the Red Cross was notified by the city of Waukegan that around 250 people would be without a home that night as an expanding sinkhole made their apartment building temporarily unlivable for days and sheltering assistance would be needed.


Red Cross trailer with supplies in Waukegan during sheltering response on October 19, 2018

A shelter was opened at Waukegan High School on Washington Street and the Red Cross provided food, health services, casework, mental health services, and cots for residents for the night and all day on Saturday. The Red Cross worked with the building management and local hotels to provide rooms for the residents and caseworkers will continue to follow up with the people affected by this evacuation.

Hurricane Florence: Hurricane Florence made landfall early on September 14 as a Category 1 storm just south of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Florence set tropical storm rainfall records in two states, surpassing 20 inches in South Carolina and 35 inches in North Carolina. Over the course of five days, Hurricane Florence dumped an estimated 10 trillion gallons of water across the Carolinas. More than 60 volunteers and staff were deployed for Hurricane Florence including CEO Celena Roldán and this response is on-going. Sunday night, more than 260 people stayed in 7 Red Cross shelters in North Carolina.

Hurricane Michael: On October 9, the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois began deploying local volunteers and staff to Hurricane Michael. As of today, 19 people have been deployed for Hurricane Michael and are on the ground or are on the way to the affected area. Last night, more than 1,300 people stayed in as many as 15 Red Cross and community evacuation centers across Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

HOW PEOPLE CAN HELP: After two major hurricanes in less than a month, thousands of people are looking for help. The Red Cross depends on financial donations to fund our relief services. Help people affected by Hurricane Michael by visiting, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word MICHAEL to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster.

DONATE BLOOD: The Red Cross also has a critical need for blood and platelet donations to help meet patient needs. This fall, Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence have forced the cancellation of about 200 blood drives, causing approximately 7,000 units of blood to go uncollected in the Southeast. The Red Cross asks eligible individuals to make an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

The Red Cross responds to 3 to 4 home fires every day in Chicago and northern Illinois. The Red Cross recommends two easy steps to help protect your home and loved ones from a fire: get a smoke alarm and create a fire escape plan. For more Red Cross fire safety and preparedness information visit

The Red Cross needs YOU for Safe Families AmeriCorps

The Red Cross needs YOU for Safe Families AmeriCorps

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is currently seeking individuals to join AmeriCorps both as Safe Families and Illinois Disaster Corps (IDC). There are both full-time and part-time positions available with members being able to serve out of the Chicago, Rockford or Romeoville offices. Anyone looking for an opportunity to make a difference in the community while gaining new skills and experiences is encouraged to apply.

These are remarkable programs in which members can truly make a difference in the communities and in their own lives. Safe Families team members reach tens of thousands of youth and adults every year across our region with life-saving preparedness education. Classes that they teach include First Aid/CPR, the Pillowcase Project, and much more.

In addition, AmeriCorps members also play a critical part in our Recovery programs and help families recovering from disaster find long-term housing and other resources needed to rebuild their lives. These same members are a key factor in our ability to quickly scale up for major disasters and IDC members also help communities manage in-kind donations and spontaneous volunteers.


AmeriCorps IDC Manager Matthew Sosnicki at a local Meijer providing public education on fire safety and CPR

Current Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer Adam Runkle was a member of AmeriCorps and says he is proud to have been a part of it.

“What first brought me to the Red Cross was the response to Hurricane Katrina and my desire to help others,” Runkle said.

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Chicago & Northern Illinois Regional Disaster Officer Adam Runkle and Disaster Program Manager Kelly Clark

“After volunteering for a few months, I was inspired to join the organization in a full-time capacity because of its fundamental principles and capacity to alleviate human suffering. I found that opportunity through an AmeriCorps posting with the American Red Cross in Greater NYC. Over the course of a year, I worked hard as an AmeriCorps member to prepare New Yorkers for hurricanes and home fires, responded to dozens of local disasters, and built a robust community engagement program that lasts to this day.”


An AmeriCorps member presents safety education to children through the “Pillowcase Project”

Many AmeriCorps members take pride in their time with the organization. Safe Families AmeriCorps member Jessica Chencinski says joining AmeriCorps was a great opportunity for professional development as well as her own personal growth. People who have an interest in public health and helping others will thrive here gaining experience serving local communities.

“There is no greater feeling than knowing you can help someone even in the slightest of ways. My service with Safe Families allows me to work with the whole population including children and the elderly,” Chencinski said. AmeriCorps members say the work is rewarding because they have daily interaction with community members regarding safety and emergency preparedness while also serving people of all ages through teaching lifesaving skills.

“It is an experience that will be with me forever, and I will always be an advocate for national service,” said Runkle.

Safe Families AmeriCorps members will serve to organize community members across Illinois in making their cities, schools, organizations and households more resilient to emergencies. The member’s primary responsibility will be to present free American Red Cross courses on emergency preparedness, disaster-specific safety, and basic first aid and CPR to both youth and adults in Illinois’ most vulnerable and under-served communities. Safe Families members will also work with local disaster clients to deliver Red Cross services to impacted individuals.

Illinois’ Disaster Corps

Disaster Corps members will support impacted communities with spontaneous volunteer management and donation coordination in the event of a local or state disaster. Members will work hand-in-hand with local and state government entities, non-profit organizations, and other community organizations to provide timely and meaningful service opportunities to those seeking to assist their own communities after a disaster strikes. Though these positions will be based out the Chicago American Red Cross office, members will have the opportunity to train for and respond to disasters across the state of Illinois. Members will also be involved in local or statewide disaster response activities, community preparedness education, and may be deployed for up to two weeks at a time in the case of a disaster.

There are currently up to 6 full-time positions available, served as 1700 hours in an 11-month period.

AmeriCorps Pledge:

I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.

I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.

Faced with apathy, I will take action.

Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.

Faced with adversity, I will persevere.

I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.

I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.


  • Invaluable experience from a nationally and internationally-respected organization for school, a future job or new career
  • Educational grant of $5920 at completion of service (or max yearly Pell grant, subject to change)
  • Living stipend paid bi-weekly ($15,500 total over 11 months)
  • Basic Health Insurance for AmeriCorps member
  • Subsidized childcare
  • Student loan forbearance (on qualifying loans)


  • Successfully serve in the position, serve 35-40 hours a week and meet the 1700 minimum requirement for a full term of service
  • Be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Must be 18 years of age at the start date of service
  • Have a valid Driver’s License & clean driving record
  • Pass required criminal background checks
  • Members should also be comfortable working with a wide variety of people from all walks of life and backgrounds, and respect the American Red Cross fundamental principles.

TO APPLY: Applicants will be accepted on a rolling basis. Please apply at

Local Volunteer Geoff Fishwick is Always At the Ready

A crucial part of being a Red Cross volunteer is the commitment and willingness to be “at the ready” in the face of disaster. While people across the country were watching Hurricane Florence barrel towards the Carolinas at an alarming category 4 pace, Red Cross volunteers began preparing for possible deployment.

To get a better idea of what exactly volunteer deployment is, what it involves, and what the experience is like, we’re sharing the experience of a local Chicago Red Cross volunteer who has recently returned from deployment.

Meet Geoff Fishwick: Now living in Wheaton but born and raised in the city, Geoff considers himself a true Chicagoan. After retiring from work as a manager of a commodity trading firm, Geoff was drawn to the Red Cross through his familiarity with responsibility and collaborating with others in order to accomplish a goal. He has been with the Red Cross for about 8.5 years and this was his third long-term deployment of 2 or more weeks.

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Volunteer Geoff Fishwick of Wheaton, IL

For this deployment, Geoff was mostly stationed in Florence, South Carolina where he worked in logistics for about 13 days. When asked about the role he usually takes on in volunteer situations, Geoff described himself as, “short- not only in stature but in talk. I try and be friendly and open to everybody and say, this is what we need to have done, and this is how I’d like to see it done.”

Being activated for deployment often occurs on very short notice. Geoff said if he has the time, and approval of his family, he usually puts himself down for two weeks of deployment. When a hurricane hits and he gets that phone call, Geoff is ready to go. Geoff says that the Red Cross of Chicago has made him very well trained as a volunteer, especially in roles such as shelter manager and kitchen manager. He emphasizes that flexibility during deployment is important: “you have to be willing to take on whatever comes your way.”

For those of us who have never been deployed to aid in disaster relief, Geoff explains a little bit about what it’s like: “An average day on deployment usually means getting up pretty early for a meeting at the shelter to say ‘this is what we’re looking for.’ After that I’d usually meet up with my logistics team and look at what supplies had to be moved and how many shelters needed to be opened to meet the needs of the people. At the end of the day, you try and prepare for the next day as best you can.”

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A memory that sticks out for Geoff was when one day, while volunteering at an elementary school that had been turned into a shelter, Geoff and other volunteers came across a rattlesnake that was blocking the entrance to the building. “Let me think of a nice way to say this… the rattlesnake expired. We had to get rid of it.”

Of course, some of Geoff’s more personal experiences with members of the communities stood out to him as the most meaningful parts of his trip. “People thanking you… that can be moving,” Geoff said.

“One woman I met came up and thanked me for saving her and her kid’s life. It bothers you because you’re going away and you can’t help them forever. But that’s part of your job, and I am just grateful to be a part of it. ”

Interested in volunteering with the Red Cross and helping with disasters big and small? Visit to find a volunteer opportunity for you!


About the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois:

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois serves 9.5 million people in 21 counties including Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross.

Written by Sophie Kendrick, Communications and Marketing Intern