Tess Sheil: Selfless Service

For half a century, Tess Sheil has faithfully volunteered her time and talents for the American Red Cross.

Tess is a volunteer with the Red Cross Quad Cities and West Central Illinois and the Greater New York Chapter. She has helped countless people as a registered nurse and health services volunteer and as a disaster mental health volunteer, logging thousands of volunteer hours in the process.

Tess calls both Illinois and New York home. She was working in a school in New York the day the Twin Towers were hit during the 9/11 attacks, and responded to try and help as many people as she could.

Tess did anything she could to help survivors and their families including passing out water, making ribbons and having conversations with them.

“I went for the firefighters’ families, I went to the armory for the families there. That was part of my community that was impacted,” she said. “I wanted to help people feel that they had some sense of direction, because people didn’t know what was happening.”

Her experience in New York led her to focus on mental health support at the Red Cross. She has served as the lead for the Red Cross National Staff Support Hotline, where staff or volunteers can call and receive help and advice.

Tess has helped fellow volunteers and provided training through different Red Cross programs in Illinois and New York. She makes sure people realize that they are making a difference in their communities.

“Tess is such a great asset to the people of this community, and far beyond,” said Trish Burnett, executive director of the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter. “It is truly heartwarming to see how much she cares for others and their needs, and it shows in the volunteer work she does for the Red Cross.”

Thank you, Tess for your dedicated service, hard work and true compassion for others.

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer.

Dedicated to Volunteering: Jim’s Story

“I’ve probably helped hundreds of people. It’s a good feeling.”
-Jim Maloney

Jim Maloney started volunteering for the American Red Cross in October 2012. Nearly a decade later, his enthusiasm for volunteering shines brightly, through his tireless efforts as a duty officer in the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region.

Jim came to the Red Cross after serving as a crisis line advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. He started out answering phones at the local office, then learned about the disaster services duty officer position. For Jim, it seemed like a great fit.

“I’ve always wanted a chance to help people who have been in disasters or emergencies. I like dealing with things that need to be done right now. People reach out to you in their most desperate times of need and we are like a lifeline for them,” he said.

One night, Jim checked the disaster services agenda and it showed a significant need for duty officers. He took a 12-hour shift and was on his way, from there. Soon, it became every other Saturday, then every week. Jim’s passion for helping people was a perfect fit for his role as a duty officer.

“We serve dozens of counties and I like the fact we serve all of those areas. I like to do something where you can serve a whole bunch of people,” he said.

As a duty officer, Jim has received numerous calls for assistance after home fires – the leading cause of disaster in the U.S. Some of the calls that come in involve other emergencies – for example, individuals who are have their utilities turned off. Jim does not hesitate to go out of his way to find avenues of assistance for the people he speaks with, regardless of the time it takes to do so.

“I try to go the extra mile. If you take the time to help somebody during their time of need, they remember that. It just gives me a good sense of accomplishment and a good feeling to know that I am here to help others.”
-Jim Maloney

Jim describes the role of duty officer as rewarding, yet challenging. “It’s not a piece of cake,” he said. But, on the more difficult days, he said he remembers the people he has helped, and the team of volunteers and staff members around him. Jim also enjoys the freedom he has with scheduling. “As a duty officer, I can decide when I am able to be on-call and when I can’t do it. I like the flexibility.”

The need for volunteers is ongoing. Jim has some words of encouragement for people looking to volunteer and get involved.

He says, “Especially if you’re going to get into social work and are looking for experience, this is a great role. Red Cross is the place to do that. If you find being a duty officer isn’t for you, maybe you can try casework or disaster response, logistics or other roles. If you want to learn any type of skill, you can do that with the Red Cross.”

Trish Burnett is the executive director for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter. She is thankful for Jim and his service to the organization and the local community.

“Jim is a true humanitarian,” she said. “We are so glad to have him on the disaster team in our area, and our community is a better place for his efforts. Jim’s devotion to helping people and making a difference is contagious, and it is a privilege having him as a loyal volunteer.”

Thank you, Jim, for being a dedicated Red Crosser! Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

As Flexible as a Volunteer: Kim Rosell

Kim Rosell isn’t quite sure how long she has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross but its over 40 years. In that time she’s held many different positions and titles from instructor, caseworker, fundraiser and more working across disaster services, preparedness, helping manage mental health services, administrative, sheltering and everything inbetween. She says one of the best things a volunteer can be is flexible.

“As a volunteer you have to be prepared for all the jobs, and when you go out and you have to be flexible,” Kim said.

Lately Kim has been most active with DST, Disaster Services Technology, making sure other volunteers have the connectivity and resources needed even during the chaos of a disaster.

But her interest in volunteering started as a child as she watched her mother, a physician, encourage people to donate blood and volunteering at blood drives. She was very interested in helping with disaster response and got involved with the Red Cross even though she was just a teenager. She started taking Red Cross classes- as many as she could- and got prepared for her first deployment. When she was finally old enough, she deployed to Puerto Rico as a Red Cross volunteer for Hurricane Hugo.

It’s become a family affair for her, as both her husband and son are also Red Cross volunteers. It’s been something consistent in her life though she has moved around and held various jobs, she’s maintained a connection to the Red Cross.

Originally born in Vietnam, Kim left as a child to come to the United States. She says she is very fortunate her family had the ability to leave and is grateful for that. In Illinois, she lived in several places including Bloomington, Chicago, the Champaign area and now Park Ridge, IL. After retiring from a career as an IT manager and being fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese, Kim now works for United Airlines as a translator- and has stayed on as a volunteer through nearly all of it.

“I’m very proud of my life, I was able to accomplish a lot when I was young so now I can do the fun things,” she said.

Fun, but be flexible she emphasized. She recalls another time during her deployment for Hurricane Katrina when she originally was assigned to the Response Technology Team, but since she had so many other qualifications ended up helping with family service work within a mega shelter.

She says it doesn’t matter what job she’s doing as long as she’s helping people.

“I always tell people the force of human nature is stronger than the force of mother nature,” she said.

“Whatever mother nature wrecks on her way, as volunteers we put it back together for people so I always feel like being a volunteer is a selfish thing because you get this personal satisfaction but if your neighbors in need, you need to be there to help them.”

During Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Kim says she reflects on being part of the Red Cross workforce and how different perspectives from different people can only help us better serve the people we help.

“I think its great that we have diversity of people because our country is a melting pot and our clients are from all walks of life so the more that we have input in I think we can serve our clients better,” she said.

She’s also a photographer in her spare time, and has taken photos for the Red Cross as well. Any skill she has, she looks to use it to help others.

“Its an obligation in society that we have to take care of one another,” she said.

Thank you for volunteering, Kim.

Join volunteers like her at the American Red Cross: www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Holly Baker

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

Jackie & Manooch: Former News Photographers Now a Driving Force Behind Biomedical Delivery

“I can’t think of any place in the city where we haven’t done a live shot.”

Manooch Shadnia points to the familiar places among the city streets of Chicago as friend and colleague Jackie Denn navigates the Red Cross car through traffic.

“I may not remember the stories….” He laughs and trails off his thought. After nearly 40 years each as news photographers, the people behind the camera at Chicago’s ABC-7 station, they’ve both covered nearly every type of story imaginable in the Windy City including many late-nights covering various elections over the years. Between assignments and deadlines, they also struck up a life-long friendship along the way.

Jackie started working at a small TV station at Michigan State as a studio camera person before coming to ABC-7 in 1980. Born in Iran, Manooch came to America in 1977 and joined the staff at ABC-7 in 1982. For decades they were reliable and creative members of the well-known news team bringing coverage of current events and moments of history to local news viewers. Then in 2019, they both decided it was time to hang up the microphone and put the camera away one last time.

After a fond farewell from their team, they are fully embracing their lives in retirement. Even with their days now filled with hobbies, family time and fun, Jackie and Manooch still managed to find just enough space in their new lives to give a little bit back.

Jackie got started right away volunteering with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Lakeview Food Pantry,  and even as an election judge. But after many years at ABC-7 she couldn’t ignore the partnership and incredible event created through the ABC-7 Great Chicago Blood Drive with the Red Cross. In its 8 years, thousands of units of blood have been collected. So it seemed like the perfect place to start as a Red Cross volunteer; helping with the blood drive and bringing Manooch along as well.

“I thought the Red Cross seemed like a great organization to volunteer for,” Jackie said.

Manooch stepped out of the news van and onto a bicycle for his retirement riding many miles a day as a “long hauler,” and enjoying other sports like snow shoeing- thanks to a new set of snowshoes gifted by Jackie. He also has a goal of running a marathon in a different state each month. Manooch has already crossed Louisiana, Illinois and Indiana off the list among others.

Volunteering at the Great Chicago Blood Drive wasn’t enough though, and soon Jackie realized there was more that needed to be done. She started volunteering as a Red Cross Biomedical Transportation Specialist, basically the drivers who take the blood products from the Red Cross to the hospitals that need them. After covering many health and medical stories over the years and getting familiar with the area hospitals, it sounded like the ideal fit.

It was.

Jackie quickly picked up the responsibilities of the volunteer role and was hitting the road each week. The shifts start in the morning picking up the blood in big, insulated boxes from the Greater Chicago headquarters, determining the route to the hospitals and hand delivering the boxes to the blood banks within them. Her role as a volunteer Biomedical Transportation Specialist plays a critical role in the process of getting donated blood to the people who need it.

“It’s a meaningful thing to do with my time,” she said.

Enjoying the experience and interactions with the other volunteers and hospital staff, she thought, “I think Manooch might like this.” She recruited her old work buddy to join her in the job, and they were reunited on the road once again. After Jackie showed Manooch the ropes a few times, they’re now covering the routes several days a week for the Greater Chicago chapter, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city and staying connected to the downtown area in the process.

“I’m proud to do this,” Manooch said. “When we arrive at the blood banks sometimes someone is waiting for that blood which means someone’s life depends on it.”

Even with separate scheduled days, occasionally they’ll tag along on each other’s routes and reminisce about the news days behind them, and the open road ahead of them.

Find your fit at the American Red Cross. Take a look at open volunteer positions here.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Holly Baker

Help Can’t Wait: Home Fire Response

Fire destroyed Debbie Barger’s Benton, Illinois home earlier this year. Jane Perr was there to help.

Take a look at this video to learn more about why Jane loves what she does as a disaster volunteer, and to hear why her efforts made a big impact on Debbie.

Volunteers like Jane make up 90 percent of our workforce. Please visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a volunteer and to learn more about what we do to help people after a disaster. Thank you for supporting the American Red Cross!

Knit Together for a Cause

Winter hats and mittens. These are necessary items during the cold weather months and can be taken for granted, sometimes. However, a group of American Red Cross volunteers in the Quad Cities do not take these items for granted. They are dedicated to using their talents for the good of other people, and have spent countless hours knitting these items together for children and military families who need them.

The knitting group meets weekly in Moline and got its start in 2011. The group donates an average of 200 sets of handmade mittens every year and, in total, these ladies have made and donated more than 2,000 sets of knitted items since 2011. The mittens and hats are provided to military members and their families through Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.

“Hats, gloves, and scarves are distributed at stand downs for homeless veterans, helping them to stay warm throughout the winter. These knitted items provide not only for the physical needs of our veterans, but the personal nature of these handcrafted items show them that someone cares,” said Crystal Smith, regional director of Red Cross Service to Armed Forces & International Services.

Carol Van De Walle has been there since the beginning. She helped form the group and is glad to see it has continued through the years, even during the pandemic when they have met virtually on Zoom meetings or outdoors. None of the people in the group knew each other before joining, but consider each other good friends, now.

“I think the camaraderie of the people is what I enjoy the most. Our group, we just enjoy each other a lot and we’re very supportive of each other. We have very talented people, and we have beginners. It’s a very accepting group. I really enjoy having that connection, it has been very rewarding,” she said.

Carol and her fellow group members have worked with the Rock Island Arsenal in recent years, sending their handmade items to be distributed to military families. Items ranging from lap blankets to dishcloths to pet accessories all have been lovingly donated, through the years.

“We feel like we’re helping our community and that’s important to all of us,” she said.

Carol has been a Red Cross volunteer for 20 years, formerly serving on our disaster team. She loves giving her time and is thankful to still have the opportunity to do so.

“This is something I can do to still contribute. What’s nice about the Red Cross is there’s something for everybody. When you’re young and strong you can do some of the things and when you’re not, there’s other things you can do and you can still be useful and helpful to your community and the Red Cross in general,” she said.

Trish Burnett, our executive director for the Quad Cities and West Central Illinois chapter, has worked with these dedicated volunteers for many years and appreciates the efforts they make on a regular basis.

“Carol and the group of volunteers who selflessly give their time to knit these items by hand show true kindness and generosity, again and again. They are dedicated to serving members of the military, the Red Cross and the community and we are very appreciative of their continued efforts.”
-Trish Burnett

This month, we celebrated the knitting group for their efforts during a reception in their honor. Please join us in thanking this team of dedicated volunteers for all they do!

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