Ideas for the Next Century to Serve Chicago are Put “On the Table”

Around the table this afternoon, members of the American Red Cross shared stories of giving andphoto receiving. Many said inspiration comes through a personal connection. Volunteering or supporting a cause is also something that’s been passed on to us through many generations.

“My dad set a really good example for me,” said Jennifer Alt, new to the Red Cross resource development team this month. “He instilled in me the importance of giving back.”

Like Jennifer’s dad, Red Crossers around the table who have children are teaching their kids the value of volunteerism and giving back, whether it’s dividing up a dollar in four quarters to give to people who need it, or bringing them to places, such as Leader Dogs for the Blind, like Susan Westerfield did with her daughter. That spirit of giving is how Susan is setting a good example for the next generation and why she joined the Red Cross after many years in corporate sales.

“I’m awestruck by the work we do,” said Susan Westerfield. “You really can make a difference. I love talking about it.”

2015 is a special centennial year for charities in Chicago. Both the Chicago Community Trust and the Chicago chapter of the American Red Cross were established 100 years ago in 1915. As a kickoff to The Chicago Community Trust’s Centennial, organizations across the region participated in an open dialogue about the future of our community where we put our ideas “on the table.”

Many of these conversations were shared on social media via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, which helps bring our community a little closer in the digital age.  Downtown at the Willis Tower, the Red Cross held a blood drive to draw in donors for the constant need for blood. At our headquarters in the Illinois Medical District, the discussion was about supporting other agencies in our network, whether we’re running a race for a cure, or asking a friend for a few dollars to help send a kid to summer camp.

These are investments our team believes in. That’s because we know the Red Cross can’t do it alone – we need help from the entire philanthropic community.  We’ve been serving Chicago for 100 years, and we’re looking ahead to serve 100 more. Together, with our community partners, we can accomplish so much in the next century. For more information on the Chicago Red Cross centennial go to

“It feels really good to give,” said Heidi Mucha, Chief Development Officer. “We all know that feeling and that’s why we’re part of the Red Cross. It’s in our power to help others have that same experience so they’ll be inspired to give back to our community.”

Story and photo by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Blood Drive Birthday Party – “It’s the Best Gift to Give Back”

photo 4Rather than toasting champagne on her 50th birthday, Beth Dustman raised a cupcake to raise her blood sugar level with friends at the American Red Cross.

“We wanted to do something meaningful on our birthdays,” said Beth, joined by Winnetka friends Beverly Petersen, Midge Hano and Kim Falk, who all rolled up a sleeve with Beth to give blood. Kim arranged for the birthday party at a blood drive by the Red Cross in Chicago where her husband, Scott Falk, serves on the organization’s Board of Directors.

“It’s the best gift to give back,” said Beth, surrounded by her friends, and a nod to her father who had leukemia and needed blood.  She holds a sign she wrote that reads, “In celebration of life and friendship.”

Like Beth, the Red Cross is also celebrating a milestone birthday this year marking 100 years of service to Chicago. You can give the gift of blood by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Every 2 seconds someone needs blood and 1 pint can save up to 3 lives.

Story and photo by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Team Firestopper Helps Families Feel Safe


Tonya Howard is a foster mom who wants a safe home for children. That’s why she opened her door to the Chicago Red Cross Team Firestopper to check for potential fire hazards.

Tonya lives in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The area is one of the highest response zones for Red Cross disaster relief teams who respond to home fires there about once a week.

Tonya’s block hasn’t had any incidents, but she’s taking preventative measures. Red Cross volunteers armed her with a new fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, electrical surge protectors and more. Together, they all walked through the living room, checked batteries in the detectors and headed to the kitchen.

“A lot of fires are sparked by grease over the stove,” said Team Firestopper director Yvette Alexander-Maxie, who advised Tonya to keep the fire extinguisher within arms length. “A lot of people make the mistake of putting it away in the pantry or closet and that wastes precious seconds of time digging for it as flames and smoke climb the wall.”

More than 50 Red Cross volunteers distributed free fire prevention kits in Tonya’s neighborhood whose residents scheduled home visits during a two-day Red Cross community preparedness event last spring.

The Team Firestopper program works to prevent home fires in neighborhoods with a higher number of residential fires as part of its efforts to create a disaster-resistant community. Red Cross relief teams responded to 70 incidents last year in the Roseland neighborhood. After those disasters, the Red Cross assisted more than 300 people, 130 of them children, with food, shelter, clothing, health and mental health services.

Elsewhere in the greater Chicago region, the Red Cross helps people when responding to three to four home fires every day. The Red Cross provides fire victims with immediate assistance and other special needs an affected family might have.

Tonya’s home passed inspection and she was grateful for the fire prevention tips and safety equipment received from the Red Cross.

These safety events are made possible due to Motorola Solutions and State Farm and additional support from UL, First Alert and ACE. For more information on the Red Cross Team Firestopper program visit

Written by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region

Team Firestopper Prepares Your Community From a Fire Disaster

Team Firestopper Home Visits 3.29.13 016
Imagine the place you call home, the place you share with your family, the place you grew up, gone. Fires can be one of the most devastating things to happen to a family. It can destroy homes, possessions, memories, and lives. In a matter of minutes, everything that a home holds dear can be burnt away. As you scroll through the pages of this blog you will read the stories of the people whose lives have been altered by destructive fires. The trauma of losing your home is immeasurable; something experienced by too many in the city of Chicago.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago responds to 1,200 disasters each year, the majority of which are residential fires. The Chicago Red Cross relief team helps assist victims of home fires every day. You cannot rewind back to the moments before a fire, but you can take steps in preventing it. There are simple ways in which you and your family can protect your home from fires and Team Firestopper can help.

Team Firestopper is a volunteer fire safety program that provides fire education and hand-on activities. Each year the program reaches over 10,000 households. This year, on March 29th and 30th, Team Firestopper of Greater Chicago visited 40 homes in the Roseland neighborhood on the south side of the city to distribute free fire prevention kits that included smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and surge protectors. Over the two days, 50 volunteers educated homeowners about fire safety and preparedness.

The team works to prevent home fires in neighborhoods with a high number of residential fires. “Unfortunately, Roseland has a significant number of home fires each year,” said Red Cross community programs director Yvette Alexander-Maxie. Last year, the Red Cross relief team responded to 70 incidents in Roseland, making it one of the highest response zones in Chicago.

The two- day home visits in Roseland helped families become better educated and ready for residential fire hazards. During one of the visits, the team went to the home of Tonya Howard, who was already well equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. “I’m a foster parent, so it’s mandatory,” she said. “We have to do an evaluation, and then we have to have a plan, too.” Team Firestopper successfully aided families in the Roseland community to help stop fires before they happen.

Team Firestopper is working hard to prepare Chicago communities so fewer families have to lose their homes to fires. Do not let your family and home be at risk, stay informed and always be prepared. For more information about fire safety and tips visit Team Firestopper needs volunteers to help teach preparedness techniques and canvass neighborhoods with fire prevention information. For volunteer information visit or call (312) 729-6265.

Written by: Alyssa Barford

A Red Cross Volunteer Honors a Chicago Hero


On a chilly November morning, Greg Ewing put on his Red Cross volunteer vest, and prepared to honor a hero. Greg, a Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteer, had never met the man whose funeral he was attending, but vividly knew his face. “I had seen him so many times on the news, covered in soot and dirt from saving someone’s life,” he said.

Captain Herbert Johnson or better known by his friends and fellow firefighters as ‘Herbie,’ was the first in his engine company to run inside a burning apartment building in Gage Park. The family inside survived, but Captain Herbert perished. This past month, Herbie was honored as a Red Cross Hero for his bravery and dedication to public service. Greg Ewing was blown away by his unforgettable experience at the Captain’s funeral.

“I just couldn’t believe how many people were there,” said Greg about the service. The streets of 75th and Western were almost unrecognizable, filled with a sea of firefighters, cadets, and Chicagoans paying their respect to a man described as ‘larger than life.’ Hundreds of people attended the funeral to honor the fallen firefighter and hero. “Everyone there admired and praised him for being an amazing person and fireman.” The outpouring of support for Captain Herbie and his family came as no surprise for Greg, but a show of unexpected gratitude towards him at that moment touched him.

The Red Cross volunteer vest that he was proudly wearing caught the attention of several funeral attendees and firefighters. “I was approached by so many people thanking me for everything the Red Cross does for people whose lives are altered in devastating fires,” Greg explained. Even a Fire Captain, paused to shake his hand and thank him for the impressive work the Red Cross does in the city. “Right after a fire occurs, it’s normally the fire station that calls us to help; we are the first point of reference they give the families,” he said. In the Greater Chicago Region, the American Red Cross Disaster Action Teams help assist victims of home fires every day. That November morning, a Red Cross volunteer was able to honor a Chicago hero and receive a heartfelt reminder of the impact the Red Cross has on the city. Greg Ewing left the funeral of Captain Herbert Johnson knowing that the city of Chicago is truly appreciative of firefighters like Herbie and other Red Cross volunteers like himself.

Written by: Alyssa Barford

Former “Biggest Loser” contestant runs Chicago Marathon for Red Cross

Cassandra Sturos is a big dreamer. Prior to competing on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” some of the Michigan native’s dreams included moving to New York, becoming a writer and running a marathon. After leaving the show, she has completed the first two. Now she plans to complete the third through the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago’s Run Red team, a charity marathon team that offers participants a free spot in the Chicago Marathon if they raise funds for the Red Cross mission.

“The marathon is a bucket-list thing for me that I’ve always wanted to do, but wasn’t sure I could work up to,” Sturos said.

Before her stay on “The Biggest Loser,” Sturos enjoyed the sense of pride that accompanies running races, but a 5k was the longest distance she had ever run. While on the show, she challenged herself with her running goals and passed significant running milestones (pun intended). Now she can run a half-marathon without thinking.

Running for charity isn’t new for Sturos. Every race she has run has been for a good cause. So when she began looking for a place to complete a marathon, running the Chicago Marathon through the Red Cross made sense to her.

“I love the idea of running for a charity,” Sturos said. “Running for an incredible cause makes it mean much more. It really sealed the deal for the Chicago Marathon for me, running the marathon for the Red Cross.”

The October 7 date for the Marathon may seem a ways off, but Sturos has been hard at work preparing for race day.  She alternates days between long-distance runs and full-body strength training. Sometimes it isn’t easy (Sturos described one run where she was so hot and thirsty she considered jumping in the Hudson River), but she’s found that the combination of strength workouts and distance conditioning have improved her endurance.

With her training in full swing, Sturos is well on her way to crossing a marathon off her bucket list. But it isn’t just about completing the marathon for her.

“Not only is it a huge personal goal for me, I also do feel really passionate about the Red Cross,” Sturos said. “It’s an amazing organization and running for it will be an amazing accomplishment.”

A marathon can be a mind-bogging, seemingly unattainable running distance to some people. Sturos joked that even her mother, who she said “would support [Sturos] buying an elephant and riding it cross-country,” can’t wrap her mind around her daughter running the 26-mile distance.

But, clichéd as it may seem, Sturos thinks anything can be accomplished with hard work and determination. Sturos, who has completely transformed her life and followed her dreams to New York, is a living testament to the power of determination.

“Half the battle is telling yourself you can do it and being kind to yourself. I don’t think there’s anyone who couldn’t run a marathon,” Sturos said.

If you want to help Sturos realize a dream through the Red Cross, you can donate to Sturos’ Run Red fund. Or you can join the team if you want to realize a dream of your own. Also, if you have a chance, take a look at Sturos’ blog to see what this adventurous dreamer is up to at

Written by Patrick Cavanaugh

“Don’t know where cats are at”


A fire is one of the most devastating things to happen to a family. It’s completely unexpected and can make you feel whirls of emotions at the same time. Pam Crystal and her family were in a similar situation recently. Their three story house caught fire in the kitchen and rapidly spread to the living room. They didn’t know how to react or understand why there were so many people around. When asked how they were holding up the only thing Pam said was “I don’t know where my cats are at.” 

Long-time volunteers with the Red Cross of Greater Chicago and responders to numerous fires, Ray and Mike were there to provide emergency assistance for food and clothing to the families. A retired commissioner, Ray said that his work gave him a feeling that they’ve done something worthwhile. He sometimes goes to four to five fires a week, which is living proof of how dedicated the American Red Cross volunteers were to their work.

The family was grateful to receive help from the Chicago Red Cross team.

 –          Written By Amisha Sud