A Path to Recovery


 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.


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

They Left With Their Wallets and Lives


It’s a humid Tuesday morning and you are awakened at 5 a.m. by the screams of the “crazy lady” in the building. Her voice is quickly drowned out by other voices and noises. You try to fall back to sleep, but you know something is wrong. Finally, you find the strength to pull yourself out of bed to investigate. You open your front door to find a wall of fire, soot and intense heat. Panicked, you run to the back door only to meet more billowing flames. With no options left, you open your window and scream for help. For Czenzi Jones-Boyd and Dennis Boyd, this wasn’t a hypothetical situation.

Firefighters on scene heard the couples’ cries from four stories up and came to the rescue. The couple’s hope for survival was soon shattered after they realized that the firefighters’ ladder was too short for Czenzi to reach.  Dennis tried to swing his wife out the window to the ladder. Czenzi was reluctant to let go until the firefighter said, “Ma’am you have to let go [of your husband].” Despite Dennis and the firefighters’ efforts, Czenzi plummeted three stories to the roof of the lobby. On her way down, Czenzi injured her hand and landed on her ankle.

Dennis was tall enough to reach the ladder, but got tangled in their curtain while trying to escape the fiery inferno. He finally escaped and climbed down the ladder. Once Czenzi knew her husband was safe, she allowed the ambulance to take her to the hospital. Czenzi was released from the hospital a couple hours later and returned to the only place she could call home. She joined other displaced residents, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, who had been on the scene handing out coffee, water and donuts less than half-an-hour after the blaze engulfed the 80 unit apartment building that once housed hundreds of people.

When the rest of the Disaster Action Team from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago arrived, the sun was blaring down on the displaced residents, who were hungry, thirsty, upset and lost. The now homeless victims seemed distraught, except for Czenzi. She relaxed against a metal fence, one hand bandaged and one foot elevated on a milk crate.  The heat and her injuries gave her cause to complain, but she remained calm and collected.  The rising temperature was nothing compared to the heat she endured earlier that morning. 

“I’m glad to be alive,” Czenzi said.


Their wallets and their lives were the only things the fire didn’t destroy. The Boyds were two of 26 people that were left homeless after the fire. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago opened a shelter at a nearby church for the displaced residents. At the church, the victims were given food, hygiene products and a place to call home for a couple nights. After the Boyds arrived at the shelter, their moods improved. You could see Dennis smiling and hear Czenzi laughing. The Boyds shared this moment of happiness because of the support provided by volunteers and donors at The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. As some volunteers  left the shelter, Czenzi expressed her appreciation with a hug and these kind words, “We wouldn’t have made it without you.”

By Patrick Cavanaugh and Lindsey Warneke

Disaster Response: Helping Families Recover from Unexpected Disaster








Doreetha, her husband, and four of their five children were at home Saturday night, sleeping in the living room of their house after staying up late to watch a movie together. Though sleeping in the living room was not what the family normally did, it was late, so Doreetha let them stay. Plus, she had a strange sense that, maybe, they should stay put in that part of the house that night.

They were jolted awake early the next morning by the sound of a huge explosion and shattering glass from the windows on the south side of their house. They looked outside and saw that the house next door was collapsed. Their instincts told them that they had to get out as soon as possible, and by the time they collected coats and shoes, the fire had engulfed their front door. The family had to escape out the front window.

Outside in the street, other neighbors ran out of their houses to see what had happened. Since the house was near Midway airport, several thought at first that a plane had crashed. The house was basically gone, due to a gas explosion, and the two on the sides–Dreetha’s and the other house to the South–were on fire. Rudy, a neighbor from across the street, saw one of the occupants of the destroyed house running away, his clothes smoldering. He urged him to lie down until help came. Seeing that the house on the south side was also on fire, Rudy ran to assist the older woman who lived there in getting out of her house.

I was volunteering for the Sunday morning shift for the American Red Cross as a Disaster Action Team responder. These volunteers go to fires, floods, and other disasters to assist victims in meeting their immediate needs after a disaster. I got a call early Sunday morning from the dispatch center to respond to the fire. I was asked to respond to what sounded like a large fire on the south side of Chicago, alongside Lily, another response volunteer.

On arriving at the scene, smoke was still in the air but the fires had been extinguished. The investigation and recovery process had begun. One of the neighbors told me that an hour earlier it looked like a war zone, with the charred, smoking remains of the exploded house. Firefighters were fighting the high flames of two house fires on either side of it, made worse by the high winds. Emergency vehicles and personnel were rushing in and out, and the smoke was so heavy it was hard to see anything.

Conversations with the police, firemen and the local precinct captain, Barbara, helped Lily and I determine how many people had been affected and where they were. Three households had been displaced. The occupants of the exploded house and the older woman from the adjacent house on the South side had been taken to local hospitals. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. The precinct captain assisted us by coordinating with a nearby senior center to provide a meeting room for us to meet with Doreetha and her family, who were still on the scene.

Throughout the day we communicated with the Red Cross office, to keep the staff and administration apprised of the situation should any additional assistance or response be needed. Peg, the volunteer nurse on call that day, worked on assessing specific medical needs of clients throughout the day.

Lily and I spoke with Doreetha and her family in the senior center. They felt blessed that they were all safe, but they now turned their thoughts to recovery. She had no access to her house since it was severely damaged and deemed unsafe to enter. She had no idea how much of her belongings might be salvageable, and was worried about finding shelter for a large family such as theirs. “Who would take all of us?” she said, almost more to herself than to us, shaking her head.

Not only are immediate needs a worry, but a fire can also affect plans for the future. Doreetha had just started designing and making clothing items to sell, and all her materials were in the burned house. Most recently, with the start of football season she had been making hooded blankets/capes with colors of the local football team to sell. She doubted whether any of it survived. Her daughter, who is studying art, worried about whether her portfolio had survived. “She is president of her school art club,” Doreetha said proudly.

We talked with Doreetha and her family about what had happened, and gradually helped put together the beginnings of a recovery plan. The Red Cross assisted Doreetha and her family with food, clothing, shelter, care kits, and stuffed animals for the younger children. She and her family were very grateful for the assistance the Red Cross gave, and I’m glad to have been a part of assisting in this family’s recovery and the others displaced by the fire that day.

Written by: Judy Gustafson, Disaster Response Volunteer

Read about the disaster here: http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/133766658.html#ixzz1db5zVQPW

Thanks to all the volunteers who regularly take the time to respond to disasters like this.

1st Disaster Preparedness Kit

Looking at the calendar I am bewildered by the fact that we are already in September. How can can it be? But September is much more than the prelude to fall; it is National Preparedness month, which brings me to a very important task in my overdue, to-do list: my very first emergency kit.

I set out to put together a kit early this summer but as always I found many ways to occupy my time doing other things. But today that task is going to be checked off of my list. Here are the steps I followed:

  1. Get the info: I went to the website Red Cross Ready to make sure I had all the necessary knowledge required to start my kit.
  2. Did some shopping: Buy a Disaster preparedness kit from the American Red Cross online store
  3. Personalize it: this is the fun part! After getting your pre-made disaster preparedness kit, you need to make it your own. So here are some of my personal touches!

My customization pieces are simple but very important. Beside the obvious water and food for 3-days, flashlight, batteries, radios, important phone numbers and first aid kit, I needed a the following life essential items.

  1. Who let the dogs out?– I own a dog named Tito and if there is an emergency I want to make sure he has what he needs until we can get help-things like a water dish, food, toys and cuddly doggy blankets.
  2. Entertainment– I need a book at all times, so I packed one of the classics, a book that I can read over and over again and I never get tired of it. In this case it was Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” to continue with the theme of the day!
  3. Fashion- I know how important it is for me to look good in order to feel good, so I have added a comfortable, yet stylish change of clothes along with a pair of groovy sneakers. In the end what I have learn from this experience is that an emergency kit is an evolving project, there is no way you can just leave it there and forget about it. The food and water, for one, have to be rotated if you don’t want to be caught eating food that expired in 2008. But it is more than that, your conditions change, the phone numbers of your loved ones change and your taste changes too, so the best thing is to mark in your calendar a date, set out sometime six month down the road, to update your emergency kit. This is perhaps the most important step. Because as I say, what is the use of last season kit in today’s emergency runways?

Barbie Martinez is a Red Cross volunteer. What would you put in your disaster kit? Leave a comment and let us know!

September is National Preparedness Month: Be Red Cross Ready!

It’s been a little while since my last post. I wish I could say it’s because I was getting ready for September, but unfortunately that’s not the case. “What’s so special about September?” you might be asking. Well, I’ll tell you what’s so special about September: It’s National Preparedness Month!

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and evaluate your situation. I’m asking you to take some time this month to evaluate your preparedness situation and take steps toward being ready for a disaster should it occur. These steps don’t have to be anything monumental. They’re actions as simple as making sure you have extra batteries for your flashlight and phone numbers of emergency personnel in your disaster kit. At the end of the month, you’ll be well on your way to being Red Cross Ready (Click that link, it’s a great presentation!).

This will be a lot easier than trying to eat healthier (although that’s good for you too). Just take 10 minutes out of your day to read our postings on our Twitter or Facebook pages (they’ll also be posted right here on our blog for those of you who haven’t yet subscribed to those services), follow the easy step of the day, and bam! you’re done for the day. You’re automatically more prepared than you were the day before – and you didn’t even have to eat any broccoli. Sounds easy, right?

The three steps to being Red Cross Ready are 1) Get a Kit 2) Make a Plan 3) Be Informed. We’ll get you started on these steps throughout the month, and each week will have a theme focusing on a particular aspect of preparedness that might be unique to certain situations. This week we’ll be focusing on family preparedness.

Let’s work together this month to be prepared. Just tune in every day to one of our social media channels and we’ll have something new for you! To keep you interested, we’ll be giving away a few items from our store, and some of them will make great additions to your disaster kit. The first of these giveaways is tomorrow, so keep a close eye on the blog, become our fan Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Measure a Year: 1,236

(This is a beautiful new video from the American Red Cross that gets to the heart of why this is YOUR Red Cross. Hope you like it.)

It feels a bit like New Year’s Day in the middle of summer, and in Chicago we’ve got a big number to celebrate: 1,236. That’s the number of LOCAL disasters our relief workers have responded to in the past year. (June 30 was the end of our fiscal year, thus the New Year’s feeling and the tallying of that number.) And I can’t help but think that this terribly large number says much more about people than it does with anything else.

First of all, I bet you didn’t know that so many disasters happen in Chicagoland, but they do. And for each one of those 1,236 numbers, a family (and sometimes dozens of families) had their lives changed by a fire, flood or other emergency. Every year, we help more than 5,000 local disaster victims.

That number also symbolizes responses by our volunteers. When the phone rings at the Red Cross alerting us of a local disaster, it’s usually our volunteers who go out to comfort disaster victims and to bring them emergency relief for food, clothing and shelter. We’re alerted by local fire and police departments, from neighbors and clergy and friends of victims. And when they call, our volunteers leave their homes—sometimes in the middle of the night—to go out and help. More than 80% of recent responses have been by volunteers, which allows our paid staff to build up an even stronger volunteer base.

And of course, the critical number beneath this all is how many donors gave to the Red Cross to make sure this work happens. I don’t have exact numbers yet for how many individuals gave—that will happen soon in our annual report—but NONE of this work would be possible without your generosity.

So many thanks to all of you who support the Red Cross during this fiscal year. This number’s packed full of meaning, and I hope you find ways to tally not just numbers, but acts of compassion and kindness.

Kristin Claes is a writer at the Greater Chicago Red Cross.

The tables have turned. We need your help!

I’m not a runner. I’m not sure why, but I have never reached what some people refer to as a “runner’s high.” It might have something to do with me coming from the south, where it is simply too hot to run in marathons or other long-distance races. Sure, there are some marathons in my home of Little Rock, but the turnout doesn’t compare to that of the marathons in Boston, New York and Chicago.

However, a friend of mine recently gave me a new perspective on running marathons. As I said, I’ve been averse to the idea for quite some time (and although I attribute my distaste for running to conditions of my upbringing, it’s probably all because I used to find running boring). My friend Bob told me to look at running the same way I view cycling – with a goal or event to aim toward.

This new pattern of thought has gotten me thinking: how great would it feel to complete even a half marathon? There would definitely be a feeling of physical accomplishment – one that I’m not sure I’ve achieved (sure, I earned an undergraduate degree and have been working toward my master’s at a well-regarded school, but that’s a different type of accomplishment). Training for a huge event like the Chicago Marathon would be a fantastic way to see the city, meet some fantastic folks and develop some healthy habits all at the same time.

Although marathon training offers many benefits, there are more that can be attached to a training program. For example, signing up for the Run Red Team, the official marathon training team of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. This team provides support to members who choose to commit to certain fundraising goals.

We need your help this year to fill our spots on the Run Red Team. The deadline to sign up is next Tuesday (June 30), so there isn’t much time to act. We know there are a lot of teams that have open spots, but we think our cause is one that could benefit from having such dedicated team members helping us to raise funds. Your support in helping us find team members to help raise funds for the Chapter would go a long way toward helping us develop much needed funding so we can continue to help people in the community.

So, please, give us a hand. Sign up for our team. If you can’t sign up for the team, help us recruit people. Link to this blog, fire up that Twitter account of yours and shoot out some updates on your Facebook account. Thanks for your support!

Written By: Gentry Lassiter is an intern in the Marketing & Communications department of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago.

Chicago Flooding

Hello Chicago – this is Lily reporting to you after a very wet weekend!

I woke up Friday morning and prepared myself for a job interview downtown. As I left my apartment, however, I discovered that getting downtown – a relatively easy adventure from my Lincoln Square apartment – was going to be tricky. Water was everywhere – the cars parked on the street had water halfway up the tires, a fire hydrant was just short of being completely submerged and I was ankle deep on the sidewalk!

My shifts with the DAT team do not begin until Saturday evening, but I said a small prayer for my co-workers as I knew how busy this weekend was going to be – and was it ever!

But never fear – the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago Disaster Services crew works best under pressure and came to the rescue in several communities this weekend!

The city of Zion opened a shelter for residents who experienced rain water gushing into their apartments and homes. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago assisted the city by providing food, cots, blankets, and staff.

During this time, Disaster Services also addressed the needs of families affected by flooding in the city limits, Elgin, Marengo, and Waukegan!

Thankfully enough, things seem to be quieting down once again here in Disaster Services.
If you happen to run into a DAT or Mass Care volunteer or staff member, be sure to give them a thumbs up or pat on the back – most of the work we do, especially with flooding is rewarding, but challenging. I hope everyone was able to catch up on sleep and relax a bit.

If you have been affected by flooding this past weekend, please contact us at (312) 729-6100 for information about organizations that may be able to help.

To address the next bit of extreme weather Chicago will be experiencing (90 on Tuesday, 92 Wednesday with a warning of an 100 degree heath index), please check out these Red Cross tips regarding being safe in the heat!