Volunteer Spotlight: Ramon ‘Ray’ Castro

“I just wanted to make a difference in my community.”

This is what motivated Ramon ‘Ray’ Castro to become a volunteer with the Northwest Illinois chapter of the American Red Cross Illinois region.

Since becoming a Red Crosser 11 years ago, Ray, a U.S. Navy Veteran and retired art teacher, has deployed four times. His first deployment was to North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew, which coincidentally he told us is the name of one of his sons. Ray drove an emergency response vehicle from Chicago to North Carolina to provide much needed relief to those impacted.

He lives in Freeport, Illinois with his wife who also volunteered with the Red Cross for 12 years. Ray is an accomplished artist who created a seven-foot bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln (pictured here), which is located at Blackhawk Battlefield Park in Stephenson County, Illinois.

When asked why others should consider volunteering with the American Red Cross, he quickly replied, “because the Red Cross makes everything better.”

Thank you Ray for your service and for making a difference in the lives of those in need! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer.

Written by Communications Volunteer Isis Chaverri

CBS Radio/Telethon Aids Disaster Relief

IMG_7301(CHICAGO, IL) – On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, CBS hosted the fourth annual CBS Chicago Cares Radio/Telethon to benefit disaster relief for the American Red Cross.

Volunteers answered the phones for 14 hours Nov. 24 to take donations atIMG_7277 the CBS Broadcast Center downtown. Even people walking by the studio, like Ania, donated cash and coins after school.

CBS Director of Community Affairs Shawnelle Richie said in 2012 the station wanted to do something to give back and decided to partner with the Red Cross. “So, we told them that we would want to raise money and showcase all the good that they do,” said Richie.

This year’s telethon focused on home fires – one of the biggest disaster-related threats to families. The Red Cross responds to 3 to 4 fires every day in our community, helping families with food and shelter.

23203362651_bbda3d7a8a_oWhile volunteers collected donations on the phone, another group helped out at the Chicago Fire Department’s Engine Company 38 on 16th St. in North Lawndale. They gave out 500 free carbon monoxide detectors and signed up 130 residents for smoke alarm installations.

“These are life safety devices that really do work in emergency situations,” said Deputy Fire Chief Dan Cunningham.

The Red Cross recently launched a nationwide program called the Home Fire Campaign. This initiative aims to reduce fatalities and injuries caused by home fires by 25 percent over the next23259237576_29bf01d7d7_o (1) several years by installing smoke alarms in homes located in high-risk communities. Families are also educated about fire safety and make a fire escape plan.

Claire Pywell, Regional Individual and Community Preparedness Manager for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the campaign has “really just begun, but so far, nationally, we can document 27 lives saved by all the smoke alarm installs that we’ve done.”

The Home Fire Campaign requires volunteers to install the alarms in23178276552_cebd8910bc_o people’s homes and provide fire safety education on site. The carbon monoxide detectors were donated from First Alert, allowing volunteers to give them away free of charge at the fire station during the telethon.

In addition to the smoke detectors, Cunningham said it is important for people to plan a meeting place outside the home and actually practice exit drills in their home, “I actually make my own family practice it.”

The CBS telethon raised more than $1 million for the Red Cross. Corporate donors included Aon, Ace Hardware, Astellas USA Foundation, CDW, McDonald’s and Motorola Solutions Foundation.

If you’d like to help people affected by disasters, big or small, call 1-800-RED CROSS or go to redcross.org


Story by Eleanor Lyon, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

 Photos by Bill Biederman and Danny Diaz, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Volunteers “Go-All-In” For Red Cross

20390855050_cf50f59734_o(CHICAGO, IL) – PR firm Golin decided the American Red Cross was a cause to “go-all-in” for during its annual “Al’s Day” volunteer activities. The firm created the event in 2009 to honor the founder, Al Golin, and is held each summer around his birthday.

The firm’s main pillar is community service. Golin has big-name clients like McDonald’s so Al likes to give back to the community. He said it is a “wonderful legacy, practicing what we preach.”

Golin’s senior creative manager, Michael Marino said, “A couple years ago, it was a day we all went out and now it’s kind of expanded to a week.”

Golin employees culminated their Volunteer Week Aug. 14 at the Chicago headquarters of the Red Cross by cleaning and restocking the emergency response vehicles with supplies.20392158299_4b3b2b37b0_o

When a disaster strikes, the vehicles need to be ready to go. The Golin volunteers’ work will allow response teams to respond around the clock to a disaster site, where time is critical.

Christie Dooley works on the digital side of the company and said, “It’s a really nice part of working at Golin because they do have such and emphasis on giving back.”

20578841135_a901bf4a29_oThe manual labor reminded Marino of the hard work the Red Cross does for people who turn to the Red Cross in times of emergency.

“You never know when or where a disaster is going to strike so we could all need these services,” he said.

Fran Edwardson, CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the Red Cross’ work force is more than 90 percent volunteers. That’s why the Golin group was such a welcome helping hand.

“It’s great when we can get teams that want to help out,” she said.


Written by: Eleanor Lyon, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Public Affairs Volunteer

Photos by: Gerry Holmes, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Public Affairs Volunteer

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 redcrossblood.org 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 

Hundreds Roll Up a Sleeve to Give at the 100th Anniversary Blood Drive

KHill_oKyle Bellin has been donating blood every three to six months for as long as he can remember. He knows his donation is needed and can help save a life.

“Just do it, why not? There is no reason not to. It’s quick and it’s easy,” he said.

Kyle joined hundreds of blood donors who rolled up a sleeve Jan. 21 at the American Red Cross 100th Anniversary Blood Drive at Union Station. The event was the start of a year-long celebration to mark a century of service of the Red Cross in Chicago. More than 430 units of blood were collected in one of the largest day-long blood drives during National Blood Donor Month.

The overwhelming turnout will help keep a steady supply of blood available, which can be challenging during the winteroverview_o
months amid cold and flu season or cancelled appointments from inclement weather. The need for blood is great when you factor in more than 41,000 donations are needed every day to meet the demands of patients nationwide. Providing lifesaving blood and blood products to patients is a key component of the Red Cross mission to help people in times of emergency and disasters.

“If you believe in karma, it’s a good way to give back,” said blood donor John Pabich.John_o

Lori Wade, whose daughter works with the Red Cross, encouraged people, “to give it a try. It’s worth the time.”

Jim Dee, who has donated blood around 20-30 times in the past, donated double red blood cells for the first time. There are about one billion red blood cells in two to three drops of blood and they are the most transfusable component. Patients who benefit most from this include those with chronic anemia, trauma and surgery patients, or those with blood disorders such as sickle cell.

“This feels like the right thing to do and it barely hurts,” Jim said. “It’s an easy thing to do for people who need it in desperate situations.”

Doug Gornowich, who also donated double red blood cells, agreed. “Someone has to do it. It’s (the donation) is a small part of your day that makes a great difference.”

Vee_nApart from double red blood cells, donors also came forward to donate platelets. Veronica Vasquez, a Red Cross Blood Services
staff member, was one of them. Platelets are obtained by drawing blood from the donor into an apheresis instrument, which separates the blood into its components, retains some of the platelets, and returns the remainder of the blood to the donor. Patients who benefit most from platelets include those undergoing cancer treatments, organ transplants and surgical procedures.

The common reason across all donors was they gave blood because they wanted to help someone.  Many also understood the value of blood donations after watching a loved one need it.

Kiarra Hill, who donated on her birthday, had a friend who needed regular blood transfusions.

“Think about how many people you may be helping, including friends and family,” she said. “It doesn’t take long and you are saving so many lives.”

Muslims_oApart from individual donors, the blood drive also saw support from organizations such as ‘Muslims for Life’ who have been partnering with the Red Cross for several years by sponsoring and coordinating blood drives at malls, colleges, mosques and churches. Also present were a number of volunteers from Fresenius Kabi, a company that supplies blood packs and medical equipment to the Red Cross to collect platelets and red blood cells.

“Blood donation is something that should come without asking for it. You should do it because you want to do it,” said Shaun Connelly, after finishing his donation and walking to the refreshment table.

The Red Cross has also launched the Sleeves Up virtual blood drive this month which is a new online tool that allows you to create a virtual blood drive and encourage colleagues, friends and family members to give blood or platelets, or make a financial donation – no matter where they are located across the country.

For more details about blood donations or to sign up for an upcoming blood drive, please visit American Red Cross Biomedical Services. We look forward to seeing you at the next blood drive.

For more photos of the American Red Cross 100th Anniversary Blood Drive go to: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagoredcross/sets/72157650418773425/

Written by: Amisha Sud, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

Red Cross Comforts Will County Family

Nine-year-old Briannea came home one morning with her older sisters, Alicea and Shyanne, and mother, Patricia, to find their house in Will County had burned from a fire and the windows were boarded. The family was devastated and didn’t know where to turn.

That’s when American Red Cross disaster relief volunteers arrived to help. They assisted Briannea’s family with shelter, food, clothing and emotional support at a time when they could see little hope.

Briannea smiled when the volunteers gave her a teddy bear. She was glad to have something to hold and comfort her as a reminder she’s not alone. Volunteers also offered stuffed animals to her teenage sisters who happily accepted them. There are times, the girls said, when you are never too old for a teddy bear.

To learn more about how the Red Cross helps families like Briannea’s visit redcross.org.

Red Cross volunteers assist a family in Will County after they experienced a home fire.

Red Cross volunteers assist a family in Will County after they experienced a home fire.


Written by Kelly Johnson

You Would Be Surprised What You Can Do Out in the World

Every morning, Ray Carter starts his day with a bowl of oatmeal—but don’t forget the raisins, bananas, and blackberries on top. With a life as exciting as Ray’s, it’s no surprise that he needs to start every day with a hearty breakfast. After retiring from a lifelong career of working for the government (including fraud investigation in Chicago), Ray has been a volunteer at the Red Cross of Greater Chicago for five years.

I met Ray when I responded to my first fire as an intern at the Red Cross. Ray happened to be on call that day, and I met him by the big van bearing the Red Cross logo. Rather than hopping into the van on our respective sides, Ray opened the passenger side door and extended his elbow, chivalrously helping me up the big step and into the van.

As we drove to the fire on Chicago’s South Side, Ray spoke easily about his life working for the government, playing golf in his free time, and visiting Chicago schools. When I asked further about the school visits, he told me about talking to football and basketball players. If the students just get their diploma, or “that piece of paper” as Ray casually called it, there is a whole different life waiting for them. “You would be surprised what you can do out in the world” he tells them, hoping to impart his lifetime of knowledge onto the younger generation.

Ray Carter assessing the damage from a house fire in Chicago

Ray Carter assesses the damage from a house fire in Chicago

I had become so enthralled by his stories that I almost forgot about the fire. We rolled up to the scene and saw that the fire department had come and gone, leaving the house soaking, charred, and abandoned. Ray found the homeowner in the garage behind the house and asked her to lead us through her home so he could assess the damage. I nervously trudged behind him, kicking glass shards from the broken windows out of my path, while Ray strode through several inches of water, soot, and glass with his high-powered flashlight. I worried about the safety of the infrastructure, as one part of the ceiling had fallen in and hung loosely above our heads. Yet Ray radiated the confidence of a veteran fire responder, and I knew that he would not lead us somewhere unsafe.

Ray’s hearty laugh, kind nature, and tall stature emit safety and comfort. As we assessed how the Red Cross could assist the homeowners, he consoled the woman with a pat on the shoulder and a “hang in there.” We finally pulled away from the scene in the big van, having provided the family with food, clothing, and shelter. I sat in the passenger seat once again, overwhelmed by how grateful the family was for our contributions. Ray, however, drove with one hand on the steering wheel and a content expression on his face, as if to say, “All in a day’s work.”

Ray is just one of the many volunteers who help make a difference in peoples’ lives every day. To learn more about how you can volunteer, visit redcross.org.

By Michaela Zook

Red Cross supports World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day event was celebrated on June 20 worldwide but few probably realized this and went about the usual daily activities of work, school or chores. But one day can hold a different meaning for refugees who are forced to flee their homes overnight because of war, natural disaster, violence and other humanitarian emergencies. World Refugee Day celebrates and honors the courage and determination of these men, women and children as they are displaced from their homes to seek safety and shelter.

The American Red Cross joined several other humanitarian and refugee resettlement agencies to bring a day of fun and play for refugees who have seen unimaginable conditions of living. The American Red Cross supported the event by playing a significant role in providing health and safety resources to all refugees in attendance. They joined their resources with other agencies present to support this occasion, marked with a soccer tournament, music and food, juggling classes and soccer skills training for children and women’s potting.

Red Cross Health Services volunteer Nancy Brooks-Edison was on hand to provide first aid and other health support to players in the tournament. The rest of the Chicago Red Cross team handed out emergency preparedness kits to all refugee families. The team came prepared to guide them about keeping their families safe in emergencies through pictographic flyers written in seven languages— Arabic, Burmese, French,  Spanish, Kinyarwanda (a dialect spoken in Rwanda), Somali and English— and graphically conveyed messages to several refugees with varied language needs.


Volunteers help at the Red Cross table for World Refugee Day.

In addition to its role as the largest humanitarian organization in the world, the Red Cross supports  refugees all over the world in another very significant way. Through its ‘Restoring Family Links’ program, American Red Cross helps put separated refugee families in touch with each other in cases where they are separated by war or natural disaster. Red Cross caseworkers around the U.S. help families locate missing relatives, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations in nearly every country around the world.  Annually the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world.

The Red Cross provides these services and Red Cross Messages (RCMs), written personal communications sent between family members separated by conflict or disaster.

The other agencies present at the event were RefugeeOne, World Relief, Heartland Alliance, ICIRR, Pan African Association, the Bhutanese Community Association of Illinois, Exodus World Service, Catholic Charities and more. It was remarkable to see different cultures coming together and sharing their stories.


Red Cross Volunteer Amisha Sud and Amal Alsandok attend the World Refugee Day event in Chicago on June 20.

One beautiful story came from Amal Alsandok. When she arrived in the United States from Jordan two years ago with her husband and daughter, Amal was firm on supporting her family on her own. With the help of Uruk Human Services, an agency empowering women from the Middle East, Amal was able to turn her 15-year passion for painting into a small yet flourishing business of handicrafts, candles and paintings.

Her story is no different that young Kemso Cuota’s who is about to graduate from high school. She is extremely enthusiastic about starting college next year. Kemso came from Ethopia with her brother and mother last May and wants to pursue the field of science with dreams of becoming a doctor.

This event was one of the many ways that the Red Cross supports this cause and provides resources. After attending the event for several years, The American Red Cross looks forward to support this determined group of people next year as well.

-Written by Amisha Sud

From Red Cross to Golden Arches

Ray Kroc and Fred Turner looking at blueprints of future McDonald's restaurant

Ray Kroc and Fred Turner looking at blueprints of future McDonald’s restaurant

“If I had a brick for every time I repeated the phrase Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value, I think I’d probably be able to bridge the Atlantic Ocean with them.”

McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc never crossed the Atlantic with his franchise’s value statement like the aforementioned quote suggests. However, he almost had to cross the Atlantic as a Red Cross volunteer in 1917.

After dropping out of high school at age 15, Chicago native Ray Kroc lied about his age in order to join the American Red Cross as a World War I ambulance driver. Kroc was sent to Connecticut for training and served in the same regiment as another famous Red Cross alum and Chicago native—Walt Disney.

When World War I ended, Kroc had few prospects for the future. As a high school dropout looking for work, he sold milkshake makers, whereby he fortuitously encountered Dick and Mac McDonald’s restaurant in 1954. Kroc became the McDonald brothers’ franchising agent and eventually bought the franchise from them. Kroc went on to build the most successful fast food operation in the world.

Kroc never lost his passion for helping others that he channeled as a young boy when working for the Red Cross. In 1984, the Ronald McDonald House was established in memory of Kroc’s strong advocacy for children. Reflecting on the Ronald McDonald charity’s vision for helping children, one cannot help but think of the Red Cross, which aspires to “Turn compassion into action so that all people affected by disaster across the country and around the world receive care, shelter and hope.”

To find out how you can help make this vision a reality like Ray Kroc did, visit http://www.redcross.org.

Written by Michaela Zook

Helping Victims of Fire Find “A New Normal”

By Jackie Nelson

“Terrible,” Cai said in English as she looked through her sooty and soaked belongings to try to find her mother’s prescriptions.  It would be the only direct exchange of words she and I would share today.

With her elderly parents, Cai Chen and her husband, Chai Tse, live in the first floor unit of a two-unit home in the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport.   Red Cross Disaster Responders Jim McGowan and Roxy Trudeau helped the family figure out their next 48 hours with the help of Cantonese translator Kalina Pon. Pon decided to volunteer her time when she heard of the fire while at her child’s school in Chinatown that morning. Together, the disaster team figured out with Cai and Chai where the family would sleep, ensured prescriptions for her parents were on hand and made plans to launder their wet clothes and shoes.  While the second story of the home was destroyed in a fire in the middle of the night, Cai and Chai were able to salvage some of their belongings from their water-logged unit.

The family fled their home in the middle of the night in the same clothes they were wearing.  They had been on the curb for hours in the cold rain and 40 degree weather when the Red Cross  arrived in the morning, shortly after hearing they were in need.  The sound of hammering echoed from the roof where the board-up company worked in the rain to secure the home. A member of the disaster response team attempted to make contact with the family the night of the fire, but couldn’t get in touch with the family until the next morning. Before the Red Cross arrived, Cai’s mother walked to work in the wet slippers she had been wearing when she ran from the burning home.  She was eager to arrive at work on time to make sure the family’s income wasn’t affected when they faced the reality of having to replace most of their belongings. 

Cai and Chai are also eager to get back to work.  To do so, though, they needed something to eat after an exhaustive night, warm and dry clothes, and information about community partners and agencies that, like the Red Cross, will help them find their “new normal.”  They will need a new residence, replacement furniture and assistance in navigating next steps with their landlord and his insurance.

With the assistance they received from the Red Cross, they will stay tonight in a hotel in nearby Chinatown, close to where they will go back to work tomorrow. 

The Red Cross will continue to try to reach the resident in the upstairs unit to provide assistance, and we are now a step closer to finding him with additional information his neighbors were able to provide.  Also, a new disaster assistance note hangs on his door handle – this one translated into Cantonese by Kalina in hopes that he reaches out to the Red Cross for help.

We may not hear from him in a community so willing to help one another and rise above hardship.

In my four years with the Red Cross, I have grown used to seeing the things that are so personal to families like children’s favorite toys, small flags from the United States and other homeland countries, and school photos reduced to debris that sadly must be grieved and disposed of.  I am saddened by it, but accept is as part of the reality of unforgiving disasters.

What I haven’t grown used to yet is wondering what happens after we leave and when other agencies and communities step in to help.  I find comfort in knowing Cai, Chai and her parents will be OK for the next 48 hours, at least.  I appreciate that she looked at me and said to me “terrible” in English to be sure I understood.  Cai knew that it matters to us, too, to connect with the people we meet during disasters – that this connection is why we volunteer and walk through water-filled basements trying not to step on nails jutting up from collapsed ceilings and walls.

Roxy, Jim, Karina and I dispersed after our response and will likely never all work the same disaster again, given the hundreds of volunteers who respond in Chicago alone.  I probably will never meet the upstairs neighbor.  If anyone from the Red Cross meets him, it will be a different volunteer – whoever is on-call when he reaches out based on the information we left him. 

We will continue to wonder about his next 48 hours and hope that someone is there with him.  Time and time again within the Red Cross and throughout communities, people continue to show up, so it is likely he will find relief somehow.  Now that we have done what we can, I can only hope.

To find out how you can become a volunteer, donor, or learn how to reduce the risk of a fire in your home, visit www.redcross.org.