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