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

Volunteer Spotlight: Amy Kinsinger

Amy Kinsinger of Washington, Illinois started volunteering for the American Red Cross of Illinois earlier this year, after making a New Year’s resolution to give more of her time as a volunteer.

Amy retired from a career in advertising and sales, along with substitute teaching. She has volunteered for other agencies, but has a special interest in the Red Cross. Amy decided to get involved in the footsteps of her father, Owen Ackerman. Owen has given more than 26 gallons of blood in his lifetime, and his commitment to our mission inspired Amy to join Team Red Cross.

Amy has participated at numerous events as a blood donor ambassador, welcoming and directing blood donors and making them feel at home when they come to blood drives.

“I’ve always believed in the Red Cross, so I wanted to do whatever I could. I determined this was a good fit for me, because I’m social and welcoming. I like being able to greet people and make them feel comfortable, and I am an advocate for the donors.”
-Amy Kinsinger

Amy has another personal reason for getting involved with the Red Cross. She remembers the impact the organization made in the aftermath of the EF-4 tornado that destroyed hundreds of homes in Washington in November 2013.

“I saw what they did when the tornado came through my hometown. I see what they do nationally, and I know blood donation is very important. I really believe in the Red Cross and I love the mission,” she said.

Thank you, Amy for all you do as a volunteer! If you would like to get involved, please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

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

Volunteer Spotlight: Greg Dely

Volunteer Spotlight: Greg Dely

Greg Dely always felt helping people was the right thing to do. In 1972, he served the Village of Stickney as a Reserve Police Officer and later became a firefighter. His responsibilities soon grew and he became Deputy Fire Inspector for the City of Hickory Hills. Greg then served as the Safety Director of Brookfield Zoo for almost a decade where he started the first ever safety program. He also spent time working in safety for Argonne National Laboratories. Greg maintained his EMT license for 18 years and has worn many hats during that time.

greg dely

It was while holding his most recent position with the Department of Veteran Affairs at Jessie Brown Hospital in 2014  when Greg discovered the American Red Cross. Greg walked from his office at Jessie Brown Hospital the few blocks to 2200 West Harrison where he signed up to volunteer in Disaster Action Services, or DAT. Greg soon realized that working for DAT was the obvious choice for him.

 

“Volunteering for the Red Cross was the natural next step after retiring, especially DAT,” Greg said. “I used to run in and out of burning buildings.” Through volunteering with DAT, Greg still has the opportunity to safely help people outside while providing comfort to clients of the Red Cross.

 

Being the one to give assistance when needed comes as second nature to this gentle man. Greg has served with the Chicago DAT Team since January of 2014, and he says he actually prefers the light traffic during the 12am to 4am shift. It’s something other members of his DAT team are very grateful for.

 

Greg fondly remembers his days as a trainee and one of his first responses at an apartment fire in Forest Park.

“There were 50-60 senior citizens standing on the streets. It was cold outside. I called dispatch and told them to send the troops!” Greg said. Soon, Greg was given a promotion to Lead DAT Responder and has been the weeknight go-to responder for more than three years.

 

Outside of volunteering, Greg spends time crafting miniature military dioramas. These scenes are recreations of historic events, which is an avid interest of Greg’s. Not many people know that for almost 25 years, Greg has participated in the reenactment of the Civil War battles. Originally marching in the infantry, Greg picked up reading music and learned to play the Fife at the age of 58. Greg played the flute-like instrument at the front of formation and marching across the Wheatfield of Gettysburg. He remembers playing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the battle’s 145th anniversary. Being a part of that anniversary as well as the 150th were very special, memorable moments for him.

 

Greg says if he were to give advice to people considering a volunteer position with the Red Cross, he says “Do it. Just do it. Self-gratification comes from helping people. There are people out there that are hurting. It’s awful. (Volunteering is) paying back your community.”

 

We wish Greg the best of luck in his retirement.

 

Written by Ira Meinhofer, Disaster Program Specialist and Public Affairs Volunteer

VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: Steve Wise

VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: Steve Wise

Steve Wise spent his career helping others and keeping people safe in the rail industry.  After 37 years at TTX, he retired in 2016, when he began his volunteering journey with the American Red Cross.  He brings his passion for safety and wealth of experience to several roles within the Illinois Valley Region and beyond.

“Being a Red Cross volunteer and having the opportunity to help people, often on the worst day of their life, has been such a blessing.”

“Being a Red Cross volunteer and having the opportunity to help people, often on the worst day of their life, has been such a blessing,” said Wise. There are several synergies between his past and present.  At TTX, there was no better feeling than keeping people safe and making sure they went home each night injury free. With the Red Cross, he is able to bring comfort to people in their time of need.  The work is not just rewarding, it is heartwarming, and a way for Steve to payback for the many blessings in his life.

Wise covers a broad range of roles from DAT (Disaster Action Team) Captain and Lead Responder to Case Work Supervisor and External Relations, mostly as part of the Romeoville Red Cross office.   He works extensively with Jeremiah LaPlante and credits him with being an extraordinary teacher. Jeremiah is a great example of the many wonderful people Steve has met along the way.

steve swett

Steve enjoys operating as part of the DCS team, working with those in need.  “With the Red Cross you learn disasters can strike anyone, at anytime, often when they least expect it,” he said.  Steve finds his work with DCS incredibly gratifying.  He also enjoys serving in multiple roles and works with new volunteers to help them get up to speed on disaster response efforts. Steve also works with external relations helping people, organizations and municipalities prepare and respond to emergencies.  And in his spare time, he does some recruiting too.

One particular experience that really stands out for Steve took place last year during the Louisiana floods. He was working as a virtual case representative, helping people who were displaced. A call came in from a woman who was having technical trouble.  While working through the verification process it was clear that the address on file did not match.  Steve asked if there was another address it could be listed under. The woman’s response was something akin to,”you mean my home that was destroyed?” The starkness of that response really hit home.

Recently, Steve spent much of his time helping those impacted by flash flooding closer to home. He was one of many volunteers that dropped everything to do what he could to assist afflicted residents. The Red Cross’s continuing response covers everything from lodging, food and emotional support and currently includes multiple shelter locations. Volunteers have distributed over 1,000 clean up kits and continue to support people across the flooded areas.

It’s moments like those when you realize how desperately the Red Cross is needed and can see the direct impacts it has on the lives of others. Ninety percent of the Red Cross workforce made up of volunteers. Thankfully there are many people like Steve that are there to help, just when they need it the most.

Steve has been blessed in many ways which drives his passion for giving back. He loves spending time with his family.  He lives in New Lennox with his wife Bridget, who he credits as an inspiration and is incredibly supportive of his efforts. They have three wonderful sons, Brad, Mark and Chris, all living out of state, two in California and one in Minnesota, so they do a fair amount of traveling.  Steve imagined he would write and teach in his retirement.  In many ways, his work with the Red Cross fulfills his desire to teach and he has already written three e-books and plans to do more.

His advice to prospective volunteers?  “Open your heart. There are so many in need waiting for your help and so many ways to serve with the Red Cross”. You too can make a difference.

Join Steve and the 4,000 plus volunteers serving northeastern Illinois.

 

Red Cross Volunteer Honored for 45 Years of Service

13166128_10154149586548334_706572018836577024_nJOLIET, IL – For 45 years, Dorothy Dodendorf has given her time and blood to the American Red Cross.

Dorothy was honored for her decades of service to humanitarian organization with the Clara Barton Award on May 12 at the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley Volunteer Recognition Dinner at Harrah’s Joliet Hotel. The award is named for Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. It is the highest award a Red Cross volunteer can receive.

Dorothy first became involved with the Red Cross in high school, when she joined the youth Red Cross club and then continued on in college. However, she believes that her work really began in 1970 when she started volunteering in blood donation. At the time, Dorothy was pregnant and unable to give blood, so she helped by coordinating blood drives.

In 1985, Dorothy joined the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and has been responding to help families affected by home fires, floods and tornadoes ever since. She remembers her first deployment to Miami during Hurricane Andrew.

“I was struck by how much we can come together and get something accomplished in the midst of mass destruction,” she said.

13173696_10154149587083334_5830172271477261960_nThis award does not mark the end of Dorothy’s Red Cross career, but it is a major milestone. She plans to continue her volunteer work until she says she “can’t manage to do it.” Most recently, she was deployed to Louisiana earlier this year for the floods.

Three other individuals also received recognition at the event: Steve Swett received the Volunteer Leadership Award; Vicki Klups received the Disaster Services Leadership Award; and Bill Brady received the 5 Years of Service Award. The 11 youth members of the Illinois Valley Community College Red Cross Club received the Red Cross Club Award.

Volunteers carry out more than 90% of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross. More than 2,000 people volunteer for the Red Cross in Northern Illinois. They staff blood drives, teach lifesaving First Aid & CPR skills, respond to home fires, work with military families and much more.

The Red Cross is always looking for new volunteers and you don’t have to have 45 years under your belt, like Dorothy, to make a difference. All it takes is the desire to help.

Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) members, like Dorothy, are a group of specially trained volunteers who respond to the scene of a disaster when called upon at any time of the day or night.

You can be trained to be part of this lifesaving work and volunteer. Across the 21-county region the Red Cross serves in Northern Illinois, volunteers respond to 3 to 4 home fires every day, providing food, shelter and comfort to more than 1,400 families affected each year in our community.

Red Cross volunteer training is free and open to the public. For more information on volunteer opportunities and to sign up go to www.redcross.org.

Written by: Eleanor Lyon, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

Photos by: Susan Westerfield, America Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

Volunteer Karen Nelson: Answering the Red Cross Call for 15 Years

For Red Cross volunteers the call to serve can come at any time: volunteer Karen Nelson has been answering that call for an impressive 15 years. Karen has been deployed 14 times, most recently to North Carolina to assist with Red Cross flood relief efforts.ResizedImage_1443736193689

However, outside of her service to the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Karen has led a full life. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 56 years. Karen and her husband have five amazing children and seven adorable grandchildren. When she is not volunteering for the Red Cross she loves to go boating and snowmobile. One of her favorite hobbies is spending time with her grandchildren. Karen has been a lifelong resident of Rock Falls, Illinois. She is an invaluable asset to the community and to the American Red Cross.  We thank you for being on our team Karen!

If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, visit redcross.org.

Story by Lisa LaSala, Executive Director, American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois