Through the Heart of a Red Crosser – Blue Sky Efforts – February 2020

The Regional Sheltering Team recently conducted five classes with External Partners in Shelter Training. 

Three local organizations – Benedictine University, Hoffman Estates Emergency Management and the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – reached out to the Red Cross and requested Shelter Training for their people.

Five Red Cross Instructors over the last month – traveled out to their locations and instructed their people in both Shelter Fundamentals and Shelter Operations Simulation.  A total of 120 people were trained in these classes. 

Steve Wise and Lauren Zimmerman (RC Sheltering Instructors) – and Sarah Marcucci / Emergency Management Coordinator for the Village of Hoffman Estates

Such efforts help the Red Cross extend both our Partnerships and our reach in times of need.  If there ever was a local large-scale disaster – there easily could be the need to stand up numerous Shelters across the Greater Chicago and Northern IL Region.      

A big shout out goes to those Red Crossers who helped out with this instruction – Terri Cunningham, Lauren Zimmerman, Jackie Speciale, and Danny Portman.  Thru their efforts – we now have External Partners to call on for Sheltering Assistance.

If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, please go to to join us.

This picture was taken at the Shelter Training held at the Hoffman Estates Police Department last Saturday, February 1st. A total of 37 people attended this training.

Written By: Steve Wise, Disaster Volunteer

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.




“We Have Our Hands in the Community:” GAGDC Joins Red Cross for Smoke Alarm Rally in Auburn-Gresham

CHICAGO, IL – As part of a nationwide fire prevention campaign, the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois teamed up with the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) on Sat., July 23 to install smoke alarms and teach families about fire safety.

Linda Johnson is the program manager for the GAGDC and said, “it was a necessary partnership. We have our hands in the community and have established relationships in the community so it was easier to transition into the homes from a partnership level.”

28471828816_e75f5f1373_oTogether, 60 volunteers from both organizations installed more than 400 smoke alarms in the South Side neighborhood.

Christa Hunt lives in the neighborhood and volunteered through GAGDC. She said she was glad to be part of the smoke alarm rally, “there definitely are a lot of homes that need it in the neighborhood.”

As volunteers went door-to-door installing alarms, residents welcomed them into their homes. They called neighbors who also needed the alarms to tell them about the Red Cross.

“Usually people my age they get out just fine, but children and seniors, those are the biggest casualties and I would hate for something to happen when I could have prevented it,” Hunt said.

The American Red Cross is known for responding to emergencies, but will continue its effort to install alarms and prevent them before they occur.

“Because of the tremendous efforts of our volunteers working alongside our partners like the Greater Auburn-Gresham Community Development Corporation, hundreds of families are now safer and know how to escape their home in less than two minutes if a fire should occur,” said Harley Jones, Regional Disaster Officer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.

28242657960_26df0d6f94_oState Senator Jacqueline Collins, Alderman David Moore of the 17th Ward, and Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr. of the 21st Ward also stopped by to thank volunteers from the GAGDC and Red Cross.

See more photos of the Auburn-Gresham Smoke Alarm Rally here.

 WHAT PEOPLE CAN DO People can visit to find out more about how to protect themselves and their loved ones from a fire. They can become a Red Cross volunteer. They can also help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief by, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations to Disaster Relief will be used to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

28220493950_3dbe62bcc5_oWritten by: Eleanor Lyon, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Photos by: Danny Diaz and Ira Meinhofer, Public Affairs Volunteers, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois



Blood Drives and Biking Motivate Volunteer

Two things really Kathy Schubert bikerget volunteer Kathy Schubert moving – riding bikes and giving blood.

“I need a destination on my bike, so I’ll ride to a Red Cross blood drive,” Kathy said.

The avid cyclist has been a Red Cross blood drive volunteer coordinator since 2001, organizing one of her first events for the organization days after 9/11 when there was an urgent need for blood.

Kathy continues to bike to blood drives around Chicago and the DePaul University campus, recruiting donors and helping collect more than 5,000 pints over the years.

“I volunteer because people out there need my help,” she said.

Story and photo by Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Greater Chicago

Blood Donor Rolls Up His Sleeve for the 63rd Time

photoAmerican Red Cross volunteer Gerry Holmes believes donating blood is something significant he can do to help save lives.

Gerry first donated blood on his college campus when he was 18 years old. He had a good feeling knowing his blood helped someone in need back then, and still does today.

Since his college days, Gerry continues to roll up his sleeve three times a year at blood drives in the Greater Chicago Region. He has given blood 63 times over his lifetime, earning a 7 gallon pin in July 2014.

Congrats Gerry and thanksyou for helping save lives!

Story and photo by Catalina Alzate, American Red Cross Volunteer

Johnson Family is thankful for the Red Cross this holiday season

IMG_4986Shanquell Johnson was in the kitchen prepping a turkey dinner for her family on the eve of Thanksgiving.

“Then the whole house went black, and then flames came through the walls,” she said.

Shanquell, her brother, and her four children, 15-year-old Shavon, 12-year-old twins Jachi and Jacruri, and 10-year-old Jakyla left everything behind and ran outside. They moved into their home in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side the month before. A few weeks earlier, everything was on the upswing for the Johnson family. They were unpacked and settled and looking forward to the spending time together in their home during the holidays.

“We lost everything in the fire,” said Shanquell. “I’m still in a state of shock.”

Shanquell returned to her scorched and boarded up home on a cold December morning to salvage what few items were left scattered inside the ruins of her living room. Finding a new place for her children to live is the only item on her Christmas list now.

Like the Johnson family, so many people are in need this holiday season. But the Red Cross is there, responding to 3 to 4 home fires every day in the Chicago region to help families recover. Volunteers find shelter, food, clothing, replace medications and offer mental health services to talk people through the stress of coping with loss.

Shanquell and her children are staying with family and friends, but the night of the fire the Red Cross responded to help with her family’s immediate needs. Volunteers gave the Johnson family the means to purchase food and warm clothes like coats and socks and find a safe place to sleep.

“I’m thankful for that, otherwise we wouldn’t have had a place to go,” she said.

  Written by: Patricia Kemp

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

By Michaela Zook

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

Written by Michaela Zook

National Volunteer Week–Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway in Milan ,1918When you read one of Ernest Hemingway’s works it might not strike you that he was once an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross! As we celebrate National Volunteer week, we would like to highlight the contributions of our devoted volunteers to the Red Cross mission particularly, of renowned American author Ernest Hemingway.

During World War I, Chicago-born Ernest Hemingway responded to a Red Cross recruitment effort in Kansas City and signed on to become an ambulance driver in Schio, Italy and then as a canteen worker at the Piave River until he was wounded. While Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines, an explosion seriously wounded him. But regardless of his injuries, Hemingway carried an Italian soldier on his back to a first-aid station, for which he received the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valour.

The Italian government cited with the award that, “Ernest Miller Hemingway of Illinois Park (Chicago) Lieutenant of the American Red Cross responsible for carrying sundries to the Italian troops engaged in combat, gave proof of courage and self sacrifice. Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, and with an admirable spirit of brotherhood before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded in the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated”.

He spent five days at a field hospital where he allowed other soldiers who were more seriously wounded by the same explosion to be treated before he was and remained with them until they were all evacuated. He was then transferred for recuperation to the Red Cross hospital in Milan for six months where he also found his first love in Red Cross nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky.

But Ernest Hemingway’s association with the Red Cross went beyond his voluntary work. Hemingway always admired the work of the organization, and when he returned home from the war he often wore his Red Cross uniform proudly around town. Ernest Hemingway’s Red Cross enlistment was one of the most influential experiences of his life and his development as a writer and a thinker. It also provided much of the source material for his work ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and his writings about Italy and the Great War. His involvement with the Red Cross led to some of the finest American literature on the Great War.

Ernest Hemingway represented all the values of a Red Cross volunteer—bravery, sacrifice, service and compassion for others. The Red Cross always respects the incredible hard work put in by all our volunteers all over the nation. Thousands of volunteers are out there every minute helping the community with emergency disaster response, providing life saving health and safety training and constantly trying to meet the immediate need of blood. The Red Cross celebrates the efforts put in by all supporters everywhere through National Volunteer week. Visit our website to find out ways in which you can volunteer.

Written by: Amisha Sud

National Volunteer Week—AmeriCorps member Brianna Niemi


Ameri Corps Member- National Volunteer Week

Brianna Niemi: Ameri Corps Member- National Volunteer Week

Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”–Martin Luther King Jr.

The Red Cross is more than a humanitarian organization; it’s a humanitarian organization supported by YOU! And many of you who contribute their time and energies to help us meet our vision of preparing communities for unanticipated disasters, ensuring access to lifesaving blood, supporting all members of our armed services and so much more. Hence, we fully support any form of event which acknowledges and celebrates all volunteers, including the National Volunteer Week from April 21- April 27 this year.

This week celebrates ordinary people doing extraordinary things to improve communities across the world. Being an organization which carries out its services majorly through the work of selfless volunteers, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago could not be more excited about this recognition. To highlight the work our strong group of volunteers do, we interviewed Brianna Niemi, one of our devoted AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps program helps the Red Cross achieve its mission by paying special attention to the neighborhoods and communities that need services the most, yet are least likely to be able to afford them.

Originally from Wisconsin with a Bachelors degree and certification in Social Work, Brianna always wanted to be part of a strong volunteer program like the PeaceCorps and decided to apply for the AmeriCorps program at the Chicago Red Cross. One of her favorite memories was from when she was deployed and was amazed to see the work done by volunteers who came from around the nation. But she was most moved by the family who she helped a day before Thanksgiving whose house was devastated by a terrible fire. That moment, Brianna realized the full impact of the fire felt by the family who were preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday before the fatal incident. But the family was very grateful and thankful of the help provided by the Red Cross and Brianna felt very proud of the work she is able to do along with the rest of the volunteers.

Brianna hopes to continue her passion to help people by enriching her experience with a Master degree in Social Work. To future volunteers, Brianna signs off by saying that the Red Cross is a remarkable organization to work for and contribute to. She is always amazed to see the enthusiasm of the Red Cross volunteers who are also sometimes retirees who come out and help distressed family whose homes have been destroyed. She also cites an example of a student volunteer who also has a full time job, but helps out the Red Cross by responding to fires in the middle of the night! These are the volunteers who carry forward the Red Cross services and touch the lives of countless people.

The Chicago Red Cross salutes these volunteers during the National Volunteer Week and beyond. We are grateful for all that they do. If you would like to make a difference in someone’s life by volunteering, then please visit or email or call (312) 729-6222.
–Written by Amisha Sud