Giving Back: Lily Leduc

Lily Leduc’s father came to live with her in 2017. She wanted to learn how to best care for him, so she took a certified nursing assistant training course, offered by the American Red Cross.

Now, Lily volunteers for the Red Cross in the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, where she is very involved in chapter activities and disaster responses.

“It’s my way of giving back to the Red Cross, because the training I got at that time was so valuable and it made life better for my father and myself, when he was living with us. So, that’s really my ‘why’ is to give back because I felt they gave so much to me,” said Lily.

Lily has deployed three times since joining the Red Cross as a volunteer in 2021. Most recently, the former resident of Florida returned to that state to help people affected by Hurricane Ian.

During her two-week deployment, Lily served as a supervisor for teams going door to door in Estero Beach, looking for people to offer assistance to, whose homes had been heavily damaged or destroyed.

“It’s like nothing really you’ve ever seen. You could smell the mold and mildew, as you came up to the houses,” she said. “You find people and they just want to tell you their stories, and we just heard some terrible stories.”

Lily recalls the story an 83-year-old man told her, of climbing into his attic with his two cats, to escape the rising water. “He rode that out for 20 hours, he watched his wife’s ashes float off. Just terrible stories – they just want to talk and they’re just glad to see somebody.”

Lily described her deployment following the tragic event that took place in Highland Park, IL this past summer as her most difficult one.

“To hear the people talk and you could feel the fear they were trying to relay; it’s just unimaginable, you can’t even wrap your head around it,” said Lily about her role as a caseworker, talking with those affected by the event.

“If I was in that situation, I would want someone there for me. That’s what I get back out of it. I just think, if that was me, I would want someone to be there to help me when I need help.”
-Lily Leduc

While the experiences can be challenging, Lily enjoys volunteering for the Red Cross and enjoys meeting new people as part of the experience.

“I love new volunteers, and I just want to tell them, ‘Hey, there’s so much you can do.’ A lot of people don’t realize what the Red Cross does,” Lily said. “When we get a new volunteer, I’m like, ‘Look at all of these things you can do. There’s just so much you can do.'”

Thanks for all you do, Lily! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join the team as a volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

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

Volunteer Spotlight: Ramon ‘Jay’ Castro

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

This is what motivated Ramon ‘Jay’ 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, Jay, 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. Jay 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. Jay 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 Jay 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

Volunteer Spotlight: Tina Martin

“I just want to give back to the community, because the Red Cross was there for me, and if they hadn’t been, I would probably not be here.”
-Tina Martin

Tina Martin is a Red Cross volunteer in the Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region. She serves, because others chose to serve before her.

In 1973, Tina needed a blood transfusion. She says, donated blood helped save her life. From that point on, Tina has felt motivated to help others.

“That’s the reason why I got started in volunteering, was to give back to the community,” she says. “I just really appreciate how everything worked out.”

Tina has been serving as a volunteer in Florida this week, helping people affected by Hurricane Ian. She has helped with serving food and distribution of supplies, among other tasks.

Tina says, it has been a rewarding experience, being able to help others who need it. She is enjoying working as part of the disaster response team serving the community, there.

“People are very nice and friendly. Everyone is just working together to help out and doing their very best. I just enjoy being here an part of the team as a volunteer,” says Tina.

Thank you very much, Tina for volunteering your time and helping others.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join Tina as a disaster response volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross Month: Getting Involved and Making a Difference

Shelly Oliver started volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018, shortly before Hurricane Michael made landfall in the U.S. She has traveled to Florida, Oregon, Louisiana and elsewhere to provide disaster relief after hurricanes, wildfires and other disaster scenes.

Shelly lives in Macon County, near Decatur and responds locally to home fires and other incidents, providing immediate assistance to people who have been impacted by disasters. She also helps install smoke alarms as part of our Sound the Alarm program.

“I like the disaster response work, being on scene with the clients. You take these people with you. I call to check up on them and they will call me sometimes,” she said.

Despite the challenges presented during the COVID pandemic, Shelly still has been able to assist in a virtual setting, and she is glad to have had to have been able to serve during this time.

“I love the virtual intake process because I am still able to meet with the clients, even though it has not been in person during the pandemic,” she said. “When we do intake over the phone, we’re able to connect a little deeper because we have more opportunities to talk after the initial response.”

Shelly has been a great asset to the Illinois region and beyond. Her positive attitude and strong work ethic have helped people in numerous situations during her time as a volunteer. For Shelly, it is something she enjoys doing.

“I love everything about Red Cross. I wish I had known what the Red Cross did a long time ago, I would have gotten involved long before I did. Four years ago, I had no idea all they did; it just amazes me.”

If you would like to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer, please click here.

In March, the American Red Cross of Illinois is honoring the people who make its mission possible every day during its annual Red Cross Month celebration – a national tradition started nearly 80 years ago when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first national Red Cross Month proclamation recognizing those who give back through the American Red Cross. Each U.S. president has issued a proclamation ever since. Join Red Cross Month by visiting redcross.org to make a financial donation, sign up to give blood, become a volunteer or take a class in lifesaving skills, such as first aid and CPR.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Red Cross staff member reflects on Hurricane Michael deployment

It has been a few months since Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach on the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm in early October.

The deadly storm was considered one of the top four strongest hurricanes to hit the United States and it left behind devastation across communities.

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People completely lost their homes and many were left living without power, food, running water and other basic necessities.

Soon after Hurricane Michael hit, American Red Cross disaster workers got to work to help people in shelters, kitchens, and many distributed relief items to those in need.

Isamar Montezuma, Senior Recruitment Specialist for the American Red Cross, was one of hundreds of Red Cross disaster workers deployed to help those impacted by the deadly storm.

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Montezuma was deployed to District 1, Panama City in Florida. She traveled to different shelters and kitchens in Washington County and Day County.

“It’s been very impactful to see damage created by Hurricane Michael, but I’ve been really impressed by volunteers and community members,” Montezuma said.

Throughout her deployment, Montezuma went to different shelters to identify and find volunteers locally. She also helped with background check screenings for volunteers willing to assist.

Montezuma also volunteered for three different kitchens while deployed in Florida.

According to Montezuma, everyone in District 1, Panama City was working hard to rebuild and empower their community.

Even though people completely lost their homes and everything in them, they were grateful for their safety.

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A photo inside a the staff shelter where Red Cross volunteers were staying at a school in Florida

“The fact that I’ve had someone tell me that even though they lost everything, at the end of the day they are thankful they have their family,” Montezuma said. “These families will go back home, but they’ve lost it and lost memories, but the most important thing is that they are together.”

American Red Cross volunteers respond to nearly 64,000 disasters every year. Deployment is something American Red Cross volunteers do to reach disaster-affected areas like Hurricane Michael.

This was Montezuma’s first deployment to respond to a disaster and it was an eye-opening experience.

“I wanted to be deployed,” Montezuma said. “It’s something that we do to assist during a disaster. I wanted to get that experience to learn from it and to be able to speak about it to other volunteers.”

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Isamar with a Chicago Red Cross volunteer, Shelley who also deployed to Hurricane Michael

Interested in being a disaster volunteer? Head over to the site to look at the different volunteer positions under Volunteer Management, Disaster Services, Public Affairs and more!

Written by Jasminne Hernandez, Communications & Marketing Volunteer for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Red Cross Regional CEO Deploying to California for Wildfire Relief Efforts

CHICAGO, IL (Nov. 15, 2018) — American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois CEO Celena Roldán is deploying to California tomorrow to support people affected by the devastating wildfires. Celena will be deploying as part of a Latino Outreach team helping Hispanic neighborhoods deeply affected by this disaster and will be the sixth person from the Chicago & Northern Illinois region to deploy to the California wildfires.

Celena is leaving tomorrow, Friday November 16, 2018 from O’Hare Airport and will be available for interviews in English and Spanish from 8:45AM-9:15AM in the United Airlines terminal.

Celena will be deployed over Thanksgiving again after being deployed to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria almost exactly one year ago.

Celena recently returned from North Carolina where she had been deployed for Hurricane Florence. She was also deployed for Hurricane Harvey and for the Louisiana Floods of 2017. Celena holds a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Administration from National Louis University, as well as Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

WILDFIRE FAST FACTS

  • Wednesday night, more than 840 people stayed in 10 Red Cross and community shelters across California.
  • People are relying on Red Cross reunification services, including use of the Safe and Well website. There are just over 6,700 Safe and Well registrations for the wildfires, as many as 72,000 searches, and more than 1,400 matches through Safe and Well.
  • More than 780 Red Cross disaster workers are helping to support people affected by the wildfires in California.
  • Working with partners, the Red Cross has served more than 40,200 meals and snacks.
  • Volunteer mental health, health services and spiritual care professionals have provided more than 9,500 contacts to provide support and care to evacuees.
  • We’ve distributed more than 14,400 relief items for people forced from their homes2018 CA wildfires.jpg

HOW TO HELP Disaster relief involves complex responses and the Red Cross needs the public’s support to help the people affected. Those who would like to help the Red Cross support people affected by disasters like flooding, wildfires and countless other crises can make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief. People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation. These donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

About the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois:

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois serves 9.5 million people in 21 counties in Northern Illinois including Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at redcross.org/il/chicago or visit us on Twitter at @ChicagoRedCross.

 

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Through the Heart of a Red Crosser: “Imagine walking in their shoes”

Steve Wise is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois who recently deployed to North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Florence. There, he helped run a mega shelter for people affected by the storm in September, 2018. Steve is now sharing some of his experiences.

For a good portion of us – we don’t experience an event that changes our life as we know it.

We often see tragic stories about home fires – some of which that claim the lives of people including young ones.  Or we watch from afar how communities affected by major storms like Hurricane Florence – suffer utter destruction that will require years if not generations for people to recover from.

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A screengrab of Steve’s phone as he monitored the storm while in North Carolina.

Image for a moment – walking in their shoes.  How do you think that you and your family could survive such an event?  Would you know where to turn to for help?  Would you have the drive and heart to get through such a life changing event – or would you need help from others to get through it?

When the American Red Cross responds to such disasters – whether it be individual in nature or on a mass scale – we often hear stories that make our hearts cry.  It is so common to hear those impacted tell us that their home is gone and that they don’t have the means to start anew.  This is where the generosity of Volunteers and Donors comes in.

Many people that suffer from such life changing events – need us.  Whether it be our time, hands, or donations – we must be willing to be there for them and help them out.  If we are not…what do you think that their chances of recovery would be?

Take a moment and put yourself in their shoes.  I would bet that all of us would hope that there are others willing to help us out.  Think about donating to the Red Cross – Hurricane Florence Relief Fund.

Written by Steve Wise, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Disaster Volunteer

Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Response to Hurricane Harvey and Irma

Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross Response to Hurricane Harvey and Irma

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left tens of thousands of people in emergency shelters after being forced out of their own homes. As people begin their recovery from Hurricane Harvey, those affected by Hurricane Irma are just starting that process. The American Red Cross is providing food, shelter and comfort to those who were affected by the devastating storm and the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is playing an important role in that by deploying local volunteers to support the relief efforts.

Steve Wise, Red Cross volunteer in Houston, Texas says, “You see a lot of sad faces of people coming in [to the shelter]. They’ve lost everything. People had to rush out of their house right away. We’ve done everything we can to make this a home for them.

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Volunteer Jim Connelly is on his 24th deployment as a Red Cross volunteer. It’s people like Jim, who leave their homes and families for extended period of time, who make the Red Cross response possible.

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Susanne Peters, Red Cross volunteer in Dallas says, “I like helping people … this is their darkest hour … we’re a beacon to them. We’re a safe place to go, a place to lay your head and take in what’s happening. We are here to take care of them.

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They know they have help coming. They know they’re not on their own and they know they’ll get better,” said Mike Landt, a former Americorps volunteer who deployed to Orlando to provide mass care.

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This response will continue for months to come as people establish long-term recovery plans with the help of Red Cross caseworkers, most of whom are volunteers themselves.

Are you interested in volunteering for the Red Cross? Visit RedCross.org to apply! 

You can help the Red Cross support people affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma by visiting redcross.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster.