A Passion for Volunteering: Dorothy’s Story

For nearly 30 years, Dorothy Yackley of Quincy, Illinois has volunteered her time and talents with the American Red Cross.

Dorothy got started in 1994, providing health services assistance following a flood along the Mississippi River near her hometown. But, that was just the beginning. Since then, she has served in many different capacities as a Red Cross volunteer.

Dorothy has been a part of the disaster action team in numerous roles. She has served as a Blood Donor Ambassador, helping at blood drives. Dorothy has been a caseworker for Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, as well as helping with meals for veterans and the Honor Flight program. On top of all of that, she has taught health and safety classes for the Red Cross during the past 29 years.

Recently, Dorothy joined fellow Red Cross volunteers in helping those affected by tornadoes at a resource fair in the Fulton County, Illinois.

Dorothy is a firm believer in the benefits of volunteering. She also has given her time to various other organizations, simply because she likes to help other people.

“I love volunteering. It is in helping others I find satisfaction and receive more than I can give.”
-Dorothy Yackley

Dorothy says, volunteering for the Red Cross has been particularly rewarding, and recommends it to anyone who might be interested.

“It is a highly recognized organization and one can gain many life skills volunteering for the Red Cross, as it provides many learning opportunities and information about the community and can give one a sense of purpose in helping others, either locally or nationally,” she said.

Dorothy, thank you very much for your decades of service to the Red Cross, and in turn, the community around you.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to start your Red Cross volunteer journey.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteer Spotlight: Tony Halabi

“I love volunteering to give back to my community. It feels great when you get to help people in their worst life moments.”
-Tony Halabi

Tony Halabi of Peoria started volunteering with the American Red Cross in August 2013.

Tony is part of the Red Cross disaster action team, frequently responding to disasters such as home fires. During his time as a Red Cross volunteer, Tony has installed numerous smoke alarms during Sound the Alarm home fire safety events. You also might see him driving an Emergency Response Vehicle or handing out emergency supplies to individuals affected by tornadoes.

Tony encourages others to sign up as volunteers for the Red Cross. “It is the perfect organization to volunteer for,” he says. “As a volunteer, I see how the Red Cross uses all of its resources to help people in need during disasters. Also, the staff are very supportive during training and very appreciative of any volunteering work.”

Tony has a heart for serving others and says, it is very impactful when he has the opportunity to help people as a volunteer.

“What affects me the most is seeing people after a house fire or a tornado distraught, they have lost everything they owned, all their memories and not knowing what to do next and where to go. Some nights after a fire call I stay awake thinking about it, hoping I made a small difference by helping.”

Tony has dedicated much of his life to volunteering and received The President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama, while he was in office.

Thank you, Tony for your hard work and dedication, and all you do to help the community as a Red Crosser! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join Tony as a disaster volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Ready to Serve: Aaron’s Story

With nearly a dozen volunteers surrounding her on a Saturday morning, Mass Care Supervisor Jamie Winterbottom ran down the day’s feeding assignments for the American Red Cross response to Mississippi River flooding along the Illinois/Iowa border.

As the crews listened to her instructions, one face stood out among the rest. The face was that of 20-year-old Aaron McPherson. McPherson, a new Red Cross volunteer who was taking part in his first disaster response deployment, was likely at least 15 years younger than everyone in the room.

McPherson exudes the enthusiasm of a young responder anxious to help. As a “Red Crosser” he is a Disaster Assistance Team responder and member of a mission response/emergency response vehicle team. 

Being a public servant is a trait that’s apparently part of his DNA. When not serving the Red Cross, McPherson serves his community as a Corrections Officer at the Washington County Jail. He serves his state and his country as a member of the Iowa Army National Guard.

When asked what drives him to volunteer and to serve, McPherson said, “I just want to help out. I want to help whenever or wherever I’m needed.”

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join Aaron as a Red Cross volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Volunteer Brian DeLoche

Help Can’t Wait: Tornado Recovery in Fulton County, Illinois

Paula Fouts lives in Lewistown, Illinois. The recent tornadoes that devastated communities in Fulton County caused significant damage to her home and property.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s just me out there and 10 acres. My barn has collapsed on everything, my house is compromised. I lost my shed and my carport. So, I don’t know what’s next,” she said.

Paula is beginning the process of picking up the pieces, and as part of that process, visited a resource fair held Wednesday, April 12 in the nearby community of Bryant. The event offered services and supplies from numerous organizations, including the American Red Cross, to residents affected by the tornadoes.

While she was there, Paula spoke with Red Cross caseworkers about what she is facing with the recovery process and picked up some disaster relief supplies from volunteers.

“A rake and shovel, gloves and a tarp, tubs to store my stuff in – at least I can salvage some of what I have. It’s a beautiful blessing,” Paula said.

Paula also credited area first responders for their efforts and the more than a dozen individuals her neighbor brought to her property, to help clean up.

“I haven’t worked since the tornado because I’m busy with my stuff, there. But, it’s amazing, the amount of response from people.”

For more than two weeks, thousands of people have been dealing with the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes that touched down across multiple states in the South and Midwest. A disaster of this magnitude requires a team effort. The Red Cross is working closely with local officials, government agencies and other nonprofits to make sure everyone has the crucial assistance they need in the face of this widespread and heartbreaking devastation.

You can make a difference in the lives of people affected by tornadoes and storms in the South and Midwest. Visit redcross.org, call 800-RED CROSS or text the word TORNADO to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

A Helper Inspired by Helpers

“We’re just trying to help however we can.”

Nancy Stiglish lives in Bryant, Illinois. Her community was hit with a devastating tornado the night of Tuesday, April 4.

Rather than focusing on her needs after the storm, she went out to see who she could help. On her way from her house toward the most affected part of town, Nancy encountered American Red Cross Illinois region volunteers Valentina Logan and John Ramsey. Valentina and John were in Bryant handing out supplies like tarps, rakes, shovels and storage tubs to residents who had been affected by the tornado.

The presence of volunteers in her community made an impact on Nancy.

“I’m looking around and I’m seeing so many people that don’t even know us coming into town to offer aid. I know that if our house had damage, we’d have had a bunch of people there helping us. It’s almost overwhelming, it’s been such a big response.”

From there, Nancy took action and headed off with some supplies to help her fellow community members. She says, seeing others coming to her village to help inspired her to do the same.

“Neighbor helps neighbor,” said Nancy. “When you live in a small town, you’re like family. We love each other and help each other whenever we can. We’ll pull together, we’ll get through this and we’ll still be a nice little town.”

Over the last two weeks, tornadoes and severe storms have uprooted lives and devastated entire communities. The Red Cross is on the ground, along with partner agencies and local officials, working tirelessly to provide food, shelter, comfort and support to families to make sure everyone has the crucial assistance they need in the face of this widespread and heartbreaking devastation.

You can make a difference in the lives of people affected by tornadoes and storms in the South and Midwest. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or text the word TORNADO to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Lives Saved in Dixon, IL

Lives Saved in Dixon, IL

“If it wasn’t for the smoke alarms, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m still trying to get over this experience. I’ve been through hurricanes and tornadoes — this is probably the worst.”

Fred and his wife Gina were asleep when they were awakened by the shrill sound of the smoke alarm. To their shock, they woke up to complete darkness due to the dark heavy smoke that had already permeated their apartment.

“We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We knew we had to get out, but we couldn’t find our cats and we were trying to put on shoes and coats because it was cold. My wife made it out. I stayed behind looking for our pets and quickly became disoriented and overcome by the heavy smoke. The sound of the beeping smoke alarm and the firemen led me closer to the exit, thankfully.”

On October 13, 2021, the Dixon Fire Department through the Red Cross Sound the Alarm program, installed free smoke alarms in Fred and Gina’s apartment. Fred credits these working smoke alarms with saving his and his wife’s lives.

“During a home fire, it’s important that the occupants of the house get out in a quick manner.  With today’s modern construction techniques and modern furnishings of homes the time needed to get out safely is much shorter than years past so smoke alarms are far more important than ever before,” shared Ryan Buskohl, Chief, Dixon Fire Department.

Working smoke alarms saved Fred and Gina’s lives. Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death in a home fire by 50 percent.

“I am thankful to the Red Cross. Not only did we have working smoke alarms because of their Sound the Alarm program, but they have been so supportive. Make sure you have working smoke alarms in your apartment or your house – anywhere you live, have smoke alarms in case of fire.”

To help prevent fire-related deaths and injuries, the Red Cross launched the Home Fire Campaign with community partners in 2014 to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries. With support from thousands of community partners, the Red Cross Sound the Alarm campaign has met its goal of installing 2.5 million free smoke alarms and making 1 million households safer across the country. So far, the Home Fire Campaign is credited with saving more than 1,583 lives in the U.S. – 45 of those lives right in Illinois. Because home fires remain a daily threat and the campaign has made a lifesaving difference, the Red Cross will be continuing the program with community partners as part of its standard services across the country.

Visit RedCross.org/fire to learn more.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Finding Fulfillment in Volunteering: John’s Story

“It’s such a great organization. It has been the most fulfilling time of my life. I really encourage anyone – if you’re looking for something to do, please check out the Red Cross. You won’t be sorry.”
-John Ramsey

John Ramsey of Decatur started volunteering for the South Central Illinois chapter of the American Red Cross in 2016. One of his favorite roles is installing smoke alarms with fellow Red Cross volunteers, as part of the Sound the Alarm program.

“A lot of people don’t know all the things Red Cross does, and installing smoke alarms is a big one,” he says.

In addition to installing smoke alarms, John serves on the disaster team and responds to home fires, helping people with their immediate needs. Seeing both sides of this process has been a powerful experience for him.

“You can’t understand the fulfillment it gives you, the gratification to help somebody else and know that you may help them avoid a terrible situation,” John says. “We invite you to come help us. It’s great fun and camaraderie with people. I have developed really good friendships from it, and it’s a great experience.”

John’s dedicated efforts have helped produce significant outcomes. Watch this video to find out how he helped save two lives, by installing smoke alarms with another volunteer at a home in Decatur.

Thank you, John for volunteering your time and talents! Visit redcross.org to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Sound the Alarm: Saving Lives During Home Fires

Since the inception of the American Red Cross home fire campaign, more than 1,500 lives have been saved throughout the U.S. Five of those lives were saved during two fires in the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region.

In Decatur, Red Cross volunteers previously had installed smoke alarms at this location that alerted the two residents to the fire and helped them escape safely.

In Springfield, smoke alarms installed by the Springfield Fire Department helped save three people’s lives during a home fire, there.

These smoke alarms were installed during Red Cross Sound the Alarm events. Numerous smoke alarm installation events are scheduled for this March. Click here to sign up as a volunteer for one or several of those events.

Check out these short videos, showing why it is so important to have working smoke alarms in your residence, and why our volunteers and community partners like local fire departments encourage you to get involved in the Sound the Alarm program.

Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

It’s one of the calls one wishes never to receive, but when it does, the immediate thought is—where is my family and are they okay? For retired Theresa Reed, now Red Cross volunteer, these were the thoughts that raced through her head when she got the call that her house was on fire.

“For years, my family and I practiced getting out of the house. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your children, show them what they need to do in case of emergency. Show them the ways out of the house and how to get out and get out fast! I am so proud of my son who was home at the time of the fire. He remembered our home fire drills and jumped into action and made sure he got himself safely out of the house,” states Theresa.

As Theresa watched the house she had made a home with her loved ones go up in flames due to an electrical fire, along with all the treasures she had collected over the years from her international travels, Theresa remembers being at a complete loss as to what to do next. What stands out from that day, even to this day is the Red Cross who showed up to comfort, provide access for a safe place to stay, and helped Theresa outline a recovery plan. “I had no idea what to do or who to call for help. I will never forget the Red Cross volunteers in their red vests who told me I was going to be okay and that they were there to make sure I knew where to go and what to do next. I vowed that one day, once I was back on my feet, I would pay it forward and become a Red Cross volunteer. Despite seeing my house going up in flames, I felt incredibly blessed to be hugging my son and that I had the incredible support of the Red Cross.”

Theresa’s son who was home at the time of the fire is currently in medical school after many years as a successful pharmacist.

Walk into the Red Cross of Greater Chicago headquarters and Theresa will be meet you with a warm smile and the utmost desire to make sure you are well taken care of. “I see and welcome people who walk through the doors of the Red Cross that have just gone through what I went through, and I know what they’re feeling. I know the suffocating feeling to see everything you own gone and the desolate feeling of not having a home to go to. I tell people, you’re okay. You’re going to be okay. The Red Cross is going to help you with your recovery plan. I am so proud to be part of the organization that stands behind their mission. The Red Cross was a great big light during a part of my life that went completely dark in an instant. If I can be a little bit of a glimmer and reassure anyone that is going through what I experienced, I will proudly do so until I can’t,” explained Theresa.

Theresa, thank you for your dedication and commitment to the Red Cross. We are so proud to count on you to help carry out the Red Cross mission.

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire — which is the nation’s most frequent disaster. That’s why the American Red Cross is preparing families to act quickly through our Home Fire Campaign. Since launching the campaign in 2014, we’ve helped save 1,414 lives across the country by installing free smoke alarms and helping families create escape plans.

Visit redcross.org/fire for more information, including an escape plan to practice with your family. You can also download our free Emergency app and free Red Cross First Aid app for instant access on how to control bleeding, help someone who is choking and other scenarios. Search “American Red Cross” in app stores.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Volunteer Spotlight: Terrence Cook

“I like to get out and mingle with the people and find out exactly what their needs are, try to resolve it and help them out as much as I can.”
-Terrence Cook

Terrence Cook of Mount Vernon, Illinois has been an American Red Cross volunteer for approximately 10 years. During his time volunteering, Terrence has responded to home fires, along with deploying to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other disasters.

After a home fire, Terrence arrives on scene and helps individuals with providing comfort kits, financial assistance to help with lodging and food, assistance with referrals for replacing medications, information about case work and additional assistance.

“You always run into different people, different families and situations,” he says. “Our main goal is to help them with their immediate needs.”

Terrence has deployed to numerous parts of the country for large-scale disasters, including California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. He spent time helping before and after a hurricane in Mississippi in 2017, where he worked as a supervisor during the Red Cross disaster response, there.

“It is good to work with people after disasters. I was surprised at how many people were willing to help, even though they were thinking about, ‘Is my home alright?'”

Terrence says, numerous people thanked him for being there. He recalls a story of two children sharing their concerns about the impending storm. They asked Terrence, “Are we going to have a home to go home to?” Terrence tried to comfort them and the boys thanked him for listening.

For Terrence, his favorite parts of volunteering include working with his fellow volunteers and helping people. He likes the camaraderie and says he truly enjoys being able to talk with the people he meets as part of his duties.

“My life goal is to keep helping people like that,” he says.

Here is a short video that highlights a recent Red Cross home fire response in the South Central Illinois chapter. Terrence is one of our volunteers who responded to help.

Thank you, Terrence! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join the team as a disaster volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen