Volunteer Neal Levin Celebrates 51 Years with the Red Cross

The Red Cross of Illinois is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers who have been working with us for years. One of this volunteers is Neil Levin, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for 51 years! 

Neal being recognized for his milestone of 50 years by American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois CEO Celena Roldan (L) and Chief Disaster Officer Adam Runkle (R)

Neal Levin is a retired nurse who currently supports the Disaster Health Services as a lead volunteer for the Greater Chicago chapter, especially focused on narcan training for our workforce and likes to volunteer when we open shelters locally. 

Currently, Neal has taken one more responsibility as we navigate this public health crisis. He is helping to recruit, schedule and train nurse and physician Red Cross volunteer vaccinators for the COVID-19 vaccination sites across our region. A former army nurse in Vietnam, Neil goes above and beyond, traveling to the sites to make sure the Red Cross volunteer vaccinators are ok with their duties. 

He also supports deployments by leading the Health Professional Direct Deployment program, taking health workers who are new to the organization and getting them ready to deploy within a week. 

Neal started with the Red Cross on New Year’s Day in 1970. At the time, he was a student at the University of Illinois studying to be a Registered Nurse. He walked into his first meeting at the Red Cross being greeted by one of the guys he went to high school with, and immediately felt comfortable. He would end up staying on to respond to home fires, work as a Driver, Driver Trainer, Disasters Health Services Lead, Disaster Health Services Responder, Regional Health Professional Deployment Coach, and Vice Chairman of Disaster Transportation. 

Through his experience with many different activities at the Red Cross, he was able to mentor other volunteers. One of them being, Tina Johnson, who is our current Regional Health Services Lead. When Tina first started volunteering, the chapter was not doing much in the health services department, so together Neal and some other volunteers worked to build out a client-focused program, which is still used today.

“I found Neal valuable because he was a part of the Disaster Response Team and was always willing to share his knowledge of the chapter structure and experiences on scene with the clients” Tina Johnson, Regional Health Services Lead said.

What has kept Neal volunteering with the Red Cross for so long has been the fact that he can make a difference. “You see people at their most vulnerable. You connect with them. I know I can give them a blanket or water or even a warm hug. It sounds selfish, but it helps me as much as it helps them,” he said.

There have been too many memorable moments for Neal in his 50 years with us. One of the most special moments was when he met his wife, Marcia, here at the Red Cross. Along with that moment, a few more of his most memorable moments have been working on the Flight 191 crash, Eddy Schwartz’s Toy Drives, the Plainfield Tornado, helping with the Earthquake in Mexico City, and the Robin Community Shelter. “Every year there was flooding in the Robin community, and we would open a shelter for the people there. It was usually the same people every year. It got to the point where the kids would run up to me yelling, “Neal! Neal!” 

Neal was also featured in several marketing materials to recruit Red Cross volunteers with his first wife, and even a United Way campaign.

One thing that Neal Levin would like everyone to know that the Red Cross is always there. “If there is a fire or disaster, they are not without shelter, food, or clothing. You won’t see it on the news, but the Red Cross is there.” 

Happy 50th Anniversary, Neal!

Written by Disaster volunteer Alysen Andrews

Postcards From Louisiana: “Keep People in Your Prayers”

IMG_20160815_091537529_HDRHi Friends & Family-

Fran and I were traveling home from a RV Rally in Elkader, Iowa on Aug. 21 and got a call from the American Red Cross asking us to drive an emergency response vehicle to Louisiana to help with the floods.

We left the next day.

Nearly 10 hours later, we drove 600 miles to Blytheville, Ark. After a few hours rest, we drove another 420 miles and arrived in Baton Rouge. We stayed overnight in a Red Cross shelter.

DSCF4960We got to work the next morning. Our day begins about 7:30 a.m. We deliver food, water and supplies to families. The weather here is very hot and muggy and the smell of wet trash is overpowering at times.

Of all our previous deployments, this is the first time for us in a disaster that is still on going. We see the massive effort made to help people.

Fran and I take hot meals and water to people. We’re working with the Southern Baptist, who partner with the Red Cross during these big disasters. They bring in trailers with stoves and ovens to cook meat, vegetables and pasta. In a single day, meals are prepared for thousands of people a small kitchen.

Be sure to keep the people of Louisiana in your prayers as they have lost so much and it will be a long and difficult recovery.

Our Best,

Frank and Fran

Frank & Fran Cornwell are American Red Cross volunteers from Fulton, Illinois deployed to Louisiana to aid relief efforts.

 

 

 

How Safe Are We? Disaster Preparedness Summit Targets Cyber & Workplace Security

CHICAGO, IL – Technology touches every aspect of our lives from social interaction to managing personal finances. The cyber world makes life easier to manage, but it also exposes us to threats that can cross the wire. At the same time, we’re also seeing the workplace as a new target of attacks increasing at an alarming rate.

So how safe are we?29108317925_378f4bbd43_o

That’s what participants at this year’s annual American Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Summit investigated Aug. 18 through engaging workshops and discussions.

The event, held at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center, provided a forum for shared learning and experiences among local leaders representing more than 100 business, government and community organizations. This year’s summit focused on cyber and workplace security to improve the resiliency of the Greater Chicago region in responding to disasters, in whatever forms they take.

29031066061_ab1514a56d_oWeeks before we are about to mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Patrick G. Ryan, Founder, Chairman & CEO of the Ryan Specialty Group, spoke about his personal and corporate experiences leading the Aon Corporation during the disaster.

Moderating the day-long discussions were Celena Roldán, Chief Executive Officer and of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, and board member and chair of this year’s summit, Brenda Battle, Vice President, Care Delivery Innovation, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the University of Chicago Medicine.

“We have great collaboration among our corporate and government partners, in addition to all the agencies that have a hand in helping to make our community safer and more resilient to any type of hazard,” said Battle.

28489667643_6f66812842_oDiscussions covered cyber and workplace security issues affecting both public and private sectors. Speakers emphasized organizational self-awareness of the human, physical, and network components of a cyber system. In particular, the ability to identify the data susceptible to attack, potential adversaries, and individual and organizational points of vulnerability is key in the maintenance of cyber security.

Experts also discussed effective response tactics in the event of a workplace security breach and the importance of preparing a carefully prescribed plan. Speakers addressed the significance of issues beyond IT: human resources, legal, privacy, public relations, and most importantly, communication. These were among the critical considerations mentioned in successfully responding to cyber security breaches.

29031147181_8832a58d86_oSpeakers and other topics included:

  • The Hacker/IT Professional (Sharyn Menne, Brandon Fason, James McJunkin)
  • Cyber Security: Protecting the Public/Private Sector, Defending Against an Attack and Closing Trap Doors (Ricardo Lafosse, Kirk Lonbom, Bryan Salvatore, Robyn Ziegler)
  • Cyber Risk: Who Owns It? (Marcus Christian, Jim Hartley, Paul Hinds)
  • Cyber Extortion (Kirk Havens, Thomas F. Minton, Richard Spatafore, Judy Quinton)
  • The Intersection Between Privacy & Security (Gino Betts, James K. Joseph)
  • The Intersection Between Privacy & Security (Paul Steinberg, Alicia Tate-Nadeau)
  • The Fallacy of Workplace Security (Brian Baker, Thomas Henkey, Paul Huerta, John Kiser)
  • The Financial and Legal Impact of Workplace Violence (Keith D. Blakemore, Ann Bresingham, Thomas Byrne)
  • The New Face(s) of Workplace Violence (Thomas R. Mockaitis, Ph.D., Jenna Rowe, John Walsh).

“While nature can wreak havoc on a community, the same is true with cyber breaches and workplace violence. As part of the world’s largest humanitarian network, much of our work at the Red Cross on local level is to help build more resilient communities in Northern Illinois, such as through the dialogue and partnerships we form at this conference,” said Roldán.

Next year’s summit will cover topics of public health and bio-terrorism.

The event was possible thanks to the generous support of Presenting Sponsors: Aon, CSX, Motorola Solutions, and Zurich of North America; Readiness Sponsor: Grainger; and Community Sponsors: Illinois Medical District, JLL, and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business; with additional support from Discover and the United Way.

Go here to view more photos of the 2016 American Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Summit.

29108254835_c77f7128d7_oStory by: Jessica Hayashi, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

 Photos by: Christopher Doing, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

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

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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 

“I’m Thankful the Red Cross Could Do Something For Us”

IMAG3211For 35-year-old Towanda Price, Thursday morning started out as just another day at work at a local restaurant.  But just minutes into her shift, she got a phone call that her Southside Chicago apartment was on fire.

Towanda’s son Terrance was at home sleeping at the time of the fire that started in the apartment above them. The 16-year-old inhaled some smoke, but got out safely.

Everything the family owned was completely soaked in water and ruined.  With almost nothing in the refrigerator, and a home that was uninhabitable, Towanda was grateful the Red Cross quickly arrived on the scene.

“I’m thankful the Red Cross could do something for us,” she said. “I’m not sure what we could have done without their help.”

Both mom and son were tearful that they lost their home, but said help from the Red Cross, and words of encouragement from the dedicated volunteers, will help them get back on their feet.

Story and photo by Bob McCaffrey, American Red Cross Volunteer

“You Rescued My Family”

It was more than 40 years ago, but Mary still remembers waking up to the orange glow at the top of the stairs. Her home in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago was on fire. Suddenly Mary, her parents, and seven brothers and sisters were standing outside in the dark night.

We were homeless. Nothing was salvageable from the house. We had only our pajamas—what we wore to bed. Our clothes left in the home were either burned or saturated with smoke. Then, the Red Cross stepped in to help us. It was the Red Cross that put us on our feet after that devastating fire. You rescued my family.

I tell this story to anyone who will listen. It is my effort to pay back the Red Cross—hoping it will encourage others to contribute to the Red Cross. Their help is so much more than all the tangible stuff, it’s knowing someone is looking out for you and will lift you from the ashes and put an arm around you when you think things are hopeless.

Written by: Mary, Wheeling, Illinois

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

A Path to Recovery

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 The fire started a little after 3 am. Thirteen-year-old Alexander had been awakened by a loud bang. He got up and discovered fire quickly spreading through the house. Alexander scrambled to wake and alert the rest of the family.

DAT (Disaster Action Team) responders arrived at the scene of a house fire in Bartlett early Sunday morning, just as first daylight was beginning to reveal the extent of the damage. Not only was most of the house destroyed, but the fire had also severely damaged the two family cars and spread up the side of the neighbor’s house.

 Red Cross volunteers met with Terri, who had lived in the house with her three children, at the emergency room of a nearby hospital. Terri was feeling overwhelmed by the fire that had swept through her home so suddenly. Though all had escaped with minimal injury, they faced a tough recovery.

The aid of shelter, food, clothing and basic toiletries from the Red Cross gave Terri and her three children some comfort and a little more sense of stability in those first hours after the fire, and time to begin to planning a path toward healing and recovery.

Moving Forward

Is moving or having a house fire more stressful? For 30-year-old graduate student, Tina Magnole, having a fire in the apartment she was moving into was stressful. Tina chose to take a break from moving for the night and decided to finish unpacking in the morning. Her electricity was scheduled to be turned on the following day, which left the spacious apartment unlivable for the night. Tina decided to crash on her brother’s couch; she didn’t know at the time that this decision would save her life. The following morning, Tina was awakened by a phone call from her landlord explaining that her apartment was on fire. Apparently, the stove exploded and set fire to the rest of the apartment. Tina’s furniture, including her brand new bed, was ruined; fortunately, her boxed possessions like her clothes were okay.

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After chased away by the property manager for a good twenty minutes, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago’s  Disaster Action Team (DAT) was finally able to track Tina down at her brother’s apartment. Tina burst into tears as soon as the DAT responders sat down with her. This young woman was clearly distraught and clueless as what to do next. The DAT responders compassionately listened to all of her frustrations with the building management and her aspirations for the future apartment.

“I didn’t get renter’s insurance yet, because I didn’t know the square feet of the apartment,” Tina said.

DAT responders reassured Tina that the fire wasn’t her fault and she was lucky to be alive. A veteran  volunteer suggested that Tina reach out to a couple of local agencies for advice. The Red Cross replaced Tina’s medication and gave her money for food. The DAT responders helped Tina determine what items were salvageable. “This was so helpful. I felt like you guys were on my side,” Tina said with tears in her eyes as the DAT responders left the scene.   

Tina was unfamiliar with this part of the Red Cross’ program and knew she was in good hands. Like many others, Tina was shocked that all of the DAT responders were volunteers and that the Red Cross completely operates on donations. The Red Cross is there to help victims like Tina to move forward when it may seem nearly impossible. 

Written by Lindsey Warneke

Fireworks! We told you so.

The Fourth of July is one of the most celebrated days in the United States, with people showing their patriotism by lighting fireworks and enjoying quality time with their loved ones. Unfortunately for Erica Lopez and her family, one week before the national holiday, fireworks lit up her house instead of the sky.

On June 28, a group of kids started the firecracker in a backyard near Erica’s home. The firecracker landed on the roof of Erica’s building and quickly spread fire to the rooms below. Her eldest son was in the shower when he smelled smoke and ran out to tell his little brother and cousins. Not having their mother, Erica, at home, the children ran downstairs to alert their aunt who later recalled that “they could have run, but they saved my life!”

When the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team arrived on scene, the firefighters were still present. The children were now huddled at a distance from their home with their family. Their anxiety was alleviated when the volunteers gave them stuffed animals and comforting smiles.

As the Red Cross volunteers prepared to provide emergency assistance, Erica was unsure whether or not to take the offered help. But those that were present assured her that the Red Cross was there to help. Her boyfriend also mentioned “They help people all around the world!” We explained to her that we operate solely on generous donations given by the public and that we were there to help her. As the Disaster Response team prepared to provide shoes to them because of the broken glass scattered over the entire place, Erica couldn’t believe that we were assisting them so much.

Erica was extremely grateful to receive American Red Cross comfort kits, aid for food, clothing and shelter. As the Emergency Response vehicle pulled out of the neighborhood, Erica held her children close as she prepared to move in with her father and start afresh.

Written By- Amisha Sud