Illinois River Valley Chapter Volunteers Receive Special Awards from City of Kankakee

Congratulations to two local volunteers with the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley, Marty Knight and Darlene Cipcich, for being awarded special recognition by the City of Kankakee.

Marty Knight (L) and Darlene Cipcich (R) with their awards presented by Kankakee Fire Department Captain Michael Casagrande

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020 they were presented with the Kankakee Fire Department Community Partners Award of 2019 at the city council meeting. They were given these special awards for their dedication and commitment to service through the American Red Cross and continuing to partner so strongly with the Kankakee Fire Department through home fire responses and smoke alarm installations.

The awards were presented by Kankakee City Council and Captain Michael Casagrande, who was also recognized in 2018 by the Red Cross as the Firefighter Hero for his work with smoke alarm installations.

Marty has been volunteering for over 10 years and Darlene over 7. Together, along with other local volunteers the Red Cross is always at the ready to respond to disasters of all sizes.

Thank you Darlene and Marty for your great work as reliable and compassionate volunteers!

Written by American Red Cross communications manager Holly Baker

Volunteer Neal Levin Celebrates 50 Years with the Red Cross

The Red Cross of Chicago and Greater Northern Illinois is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers who have been working with us for years. We want to congratulate one of those volunteers on his 50 year anniversary, Neal Levin! 

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. 

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

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.

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

CBS Radio/Telethon Aids Disaster Relief

IMG_7301(CHICAGO, IL) – On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, CBS hosted the fourth annual CBS Chicago Cares Radio/Telethon to benefit disaster relief for the American Red Cross.

Volunteers answered the phones for 14 hours Nov. 24 to take donations atIMG_7277 the CBS Broadcast Center downtown. Even people walking by the studio, like Ania, donated cash and coins after school.

CBS Director of Community Affairs Shawnelle Richie said in 2012 the station wanted to do something to give back and decided to partner with the Red Cross. “So, we told them that we would want to raise money and showcase all the good that they do,” said Richie.

This year’s telethon focused on home fires – one of the biggest disaster-related threats to families. The Red Cross responds to 3 to 4 fires every day in our community, helping families with food and shelter.

23203362651_bbda3d7a8a_oWhile volunteers collected donations on the phone, another group helped out at the Chicago Fire Department’s Engine Company 38 on 16th St. in North Lawndale. They gave out 500 free carbon monoxide detectors and signed up 130 residents for smoke alarm installations.

“These are life safety devices that really do work in emergency situations,” said Deputy Fire Chief Dan Cunningham.

The Red Cross recently launched a nationwide program called the Home Fire Campaign. This initiative aims to reduce fatalities and injuries caused by home fires by 25 percent over the next23259237576_29bf01d7d7_o (1) several years by installing smoke alarms in homes located in high-risk communities. Families are also educated about fire safety and make a fire escape plan.

Claire Pywell, Regional Individual and Community Preparedness Manager for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the campaign has “really just begun, but so far, nationally, we can document 27 lives saved by all the smoke alarm installs that we’ve done.”

The Home Fire Campaign requires volunteers to install the alarms in23178276552_cebd8910bc_o people’s homes and provide fire safety education on site. The carbon monoxide detectors were donated from First Alert, allowing volunteers to give them away free of charge at the fire station during the telethon.

In addition to the smoke detectors, Cunningham said it is important for people to plan a meeting place outside the home and actually practice exit drills in their home, “I actually make my own family practice it.”

The CBS telethon raised more than $1 million for the Red Cross. Corporate donors included Aon, Ace Hardware, Astellas USA Foundation, CDW, McDonald’s and Motorola Solutions Foundation.

If you’d like to help people affected by disasters, big or small, call 1-800-RED CROSS or go to redcross.org

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Story by Eleanor Lyon, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

 Photos by Bill Biederman and Danny Diaz, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois 

Volunteers “Go-All-In” For Red Cross

20390855050_cf50f59734_o(CHICAGO, IL) – PR firm Golin decided the American Red Cross was a cause to “go-all-in” for during its annual “Al’s Day” volunteer activities. The firm created the event in 2009 to honor the founder, Al Golin, and is held each summer around his birthday.

The firm’s main pillar is community service. Golin has big-name clients like McDonald’s so Al likes to give back to the community. He said it is a “wonderful legacy, practicing what we preach.”

Golin’s senior creative manager, Michael Marino said, “A couple years ago, it was a day we all went out and now it’s kind of expanded to a week.”

Golin employees culminated their Volunteer Week Aug. 14 at the Chicago headquarters of the Red Cross by cleaning and restocking the emergency response vehicles with supplies.20392158299_4b3b2b37b0_o

When a disaster strikes, the vehicles need to be ready to go. The Golin volunteers’ work will allow response teams to respond around the clock to a disaster site, where time is critical.

Christie Dooley works on the digital side of the company and said, “It’s a really nice part of working at Golin because they do have such and emphasis on giving back.”

20578841135_a901bf4a29_oThe manual labor reminded Marino of the hard work the Red Cross does for people who turn to the Red Cross in times of emergency.

“You never know when or where a disaster is going to strike so we could all need these services,” he said.

Fran Edwardson, CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the Red Cross’ work force is more than 90 percent volunteers. That’s why the Golin group was such a welcome helping hand.

“It’s great when we can get teams that want to help out,” she said.

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

Photos by: Gerry Holmes, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois Public Affairs Volunteer

Local Volunteer Humbled to Help in Saipan


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(SAIPAN) – With less than 48 hours notice, Red Cross volunteer Lee Gramas, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, was on a plane from Chicago to Sapian to join disaster relief efforts halfway around the world. The island of 50,000 people in the western Pacific Ocean was hit hard by powerful Typhoon Soudelor, which caused electrical outages and sewage back up, displacing hundreds and leaving thousands more with no food.

Since Gramas has arrived Aug. 6, more than 1,200 damage assessments of impacted housing has been made, yet theIMG_20150806_173155751 number continues to grow.

The work that Gramas has helped out with has varied each day. On one day he helped procure more than 4,000
cans of tuna and Spam, as well as pallets of rice, noodles and toilet paper. The next day he helped with casework, giving direct assistance to the impacted population, while standing up a call center to answer the pleas for help.

“Our commitment is to provide relief to the impacted population,” said Gramas. “To be able to deploy half way around the world is an incredible honor and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a disaster that would not occur in the continental United States.”

signVolunteering with the Red Cross for five years when he’s not running his own construction business, Gramas has been deployed to aid in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Isaac and the Colorado Floods of 2013, in addition to responding to many local fires and tornadoes.

“Being a volunteer for the American Red Cross is not only a privilege, but a humbling experience to work among an incredible cadre of intelligent giving people,” said Gramas.

HOW TO HELP People can help by donating to Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting redcross.org, 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. We respond to nearly 70,000 other disasters every year, from home fires to hurricanes, typhoons and more. Learn more about how Disaster Relief donations have helped people affected by previous disasters including home fires.

Story by Tyler Beischke, Public Affairs Volunteer, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

“I’m Thankful the Red Cross Could Do Something For Us”

IMAG3211For 35-year-old Towanda Price, Thursday morning started out as just another day at work at a local restaurant.  But just minutes into her shift, she got a phone call that her Southside Chicago apartment was on fire.

Towanda’s son Terrance was at home sleeping at the time of the fire that started in the apartment above them. The 16-year-old inhaled some smoke, but got out safely.

Everything the family owned was completely soaked in water and ruined.  With almost nothing in the refrigerator, and a home that was uninhabitable, Towanda was grateful the Red Cross quickly arrived on the scene.

“I’m thankful the Red Cross could do something for us,” she said. “I’m not sure what we could have done without their help.”

Both mom and son were tearful that they lost their home, but said help from the Red Cross, and words of encouragement from the dedicated volunteers, will help them get back on their feet.

Story and photo by Bob McCaffrey, American Red Cross Volunteer

Disaster Recovery Partners Weather the Storm

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I first got to know Church World Service (CWS) during the severe storms and floods last spring that were so widespread that 49 Illinois counties received federal disaster declarations. I had just taken on my new responsibility for partner relations with the American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.

CWS support for flood survivors started right away in the form of CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets. The buckets arrived at the perfect time and we got them right out to flooded households. People really, really appreciated them.

So did our volunteers. The buckets are so visual, and our volunteers
asked, “Who’s behind these?” The buckets helped spur the interest of our volunteers in our partner relationships, including the long-time partnership between CWS and the American Red Cross nationally and in communities across the United States.

Early on, the CWS U.S. disaster response webinars and on-site “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops helped us lay the groundwork for long-term recovery following the floods.

039I got a lot of my first education through the CWS webinars. A lot of people sent me a lot of reading material about long-term recovery, but I didn’t have time to sit and read hundreds of pages during those first weeks responding to the flood disaster. But I could find an hour here and there to watch an archived webinar on the CWS website.

I’ve listened to the same CWS webinars over and over again and learned something new each time. The webinars also have been great for a lot of members of our local COADs – Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

Then in October there were three day-long CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops, two in my region and one farther south, in Peoria. I can’t say enough good about them. CWS brought into our area really strong education, with presenters from CWS, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Lutheran Disaster Response, World Renew, FEMA and the American Red Cross, which also provided funding. It was so valuable to have the chance to talk with staff from these agencies, and really helpful in moving us forward in our long-term recovery.

The workshops really helped our local nongovernmental partners understand the disaster recovery process. For example, we have an organization that provides counseling services. They had no direct disaster experience. The workshop increased the staff’s confidence working with people recovering from flooding.

Floods are so difficult. They are not very visual. A lot of the damage is inside the house. It affects pockets here and there. One part of the city may be flooded and another part completely unaffected. A lot of people inside and outside our communities didn’t know we were experiencing such a large disaster.

Lisle ERV Run 4.29.13 009The Red Cross introduced a new Flood App this year. It’s helpful for families in areas prone to flooding so they can receive flood and flash flood watches and warning alerts. It’s free to download from the iTunes and Google Play app stores.

This new technology is great, but it’s also important for people to connect face-to-face with agencies that can help. The workshops brought us media attention for the recovery, letting members of the community know there were these needs in their area and introducing them to what long-term recovery involves.

Susanne Gilmore is the CWS Emergency Response Specialist who relates to Illinois, and she has been wonderful. She’s a great organizer, knows how to put on a really sharp training, keeps the schedule moving and makes sure it’s relevant for the group. And she’s a mentor to me. She is available whenever little questions arise and provides a lot of honest and wise support plus connection to other partners.

Because of a lot of CWS assistance we’ve been able to constantly move forward in recovery. CWS is dedicated to our needs even now after public attention has gone elsewhere.

I know as we move forward that if we need CWS they are still there.

 

Sara Echols is Partner and Emergency Management Agency Program Support Manager, American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.

 

 

“Uplifted” – The Cycle of Gratitude by Red Cross Volunteers

Volunteer Pic“I volunteer to improve public health and educate the community,” said Jordan from Chicago Red Cross’s Disaster Health Services department.

Hallie, who works on dispatch services, says she volunteers with the Red Cross because she believes in the cause. “I see the impact Red Cross has on the community and I wanted to be part of it!”

“Volunteering with the Red Cross gives me a sense of purpose. It allows me to have more involvement in the greater community”, said Peg Gramas, who also shared that one of her favorite parts about volunteering with the Red Cross is the fact that she has many different avenues to contribute towards.

Every day our volunteers just like Jordan, Hallie and Peg, generously give their time, new ideas, and compassion to the Red Cross. In return, they carry inspiring stories with them and a feeling that they have helped another person in need. Whether it is through emotional and mental support after a disaster, helping at a blood drive, or even being a digital advocate, the actions of our volunteers is what makes the Red Cross vision come to life.  In honor of National Volunteer week this year (April 6-12, 2014) we are thanking all our volunteers and partners for their incredible work.

Volunteers at the Red Cross have the opportunity to teach first aid, CPR, swimming and other lifesaving skills; respond to disasters and reconnect families separated by disasters or conflict; support blood drives across the country; and help veterans, members of the military and their families in the U.S. and overseas. The Red Cross also welcomes youth, nurse, and group or corporate volunteer work.

By having such an open channel for involvement, our volunteer force continues to grow. We are uplifted by the dedication of our volunteers and they in turn hold immense pride by giving back to the community.

Phyllis Watkins, and Marcia Johnson, both client assistance follow up volunteers, said that one of the most inspiring parts of their work is getting positive responses from clients after a disaster.

“I love when I can make follow-up calls to people we’ve helped, and ask how they are doing”.  “I just help them along their way and get their positive feedback and gratitude for the Red Cross,” said Phyllis, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for over 20 years. “I love knowing they are doing well in spite of the trauma they are going through.”

To learn more about becoming part of the dedicated Red Cross volunteer force visit: rdcrss.org/1okedRy. And again, in honor of National Volunteer week we thank all of our nearly 400,000 volunteers for their devoted work and service. Thank you for all you do!

Written by: Raquel Silva