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

Volunteer Dave Boyles Dedicates a Decade to Disaster Response, Recovery 

When Dave Boyles retired 10 years ago, it marked the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for him. After a technical career, Dave wanted to find something that was meaningful and would also use the “people side” of his personality. The Red Cross was the perfect match! 

Dave volunteers as part of the Disaster Action Team, and over the years has served in many capacities: responding to home fires, completing client recovery casework, conducting damage assessments as the first boots on the ground post-disaster, and helping lead a team that installed more than 230 smoke detectors with the Red Cross’s signature Sound the Alarm events in locales near his home in Morrison, IL. 

Numerous Red Cross disaster deployments have also positioned Dave throughout the country and beyond. He deployed to California and Oregon for the wildfires, and worked alongside Canadian Red Crossers responding to their wildfires while in British Columbia. Disaster responses to hurricanes, tornados, and floods landed Dave in North Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. One of Dave’s most memorable deployments was to Saipan – twice. The first time was for immediate disaster response after Typhoon Soudelor in 2015, which led to a longer-term deployment working with FEMA to hire, train, and supervise local residents in recovery casework. The second time was for Typhoon Yutu, in 2018. Dave’s total deployment time to date equates to two and a half years (approximately 25% of his time, if you do the math!). 

The bottom line for Dave: “It’s all about the people, coming face-to-face with them, and helping them find solutions to their problems, often during a crisis. My eyes have been opened to different lifestyles and a diversity of people; you realize that not everyone lives a comfortable, Midwestern life. And the Red Cross helps everyone, in a non-judgmental way.” 

These humanitarian Red Cross principles are a huge driver for Dave, and they keep the Red Cross mission strong, credible, and recognizable around the world. Also appealing for him is the variety of volunteer opportunities. “No matter what your ambitions are, there’s something for you at the Red Cross.”  

Thank you Dave, for your decade of outstanding service! 

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley  

Volunteer Spotlight: Valentina Logan

Valentina Logan is a devoted volunteer from Decatur, Illinois. Though she is new to the Red Cross community, she has been an advocate for volunteering most of her life.

Her passion for volunteering came from working with the Special Olympics. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Valentina got the opportunity to follow her dream of working for the Red Cross. 

With her love for helping people, she found a role as a community volunteer leader. Her job includes installing smoke alarms, responding to disaster action calls and leading her teams after disasters. As Valentina reflected on her role in the Red Cross, she was reminded of how much joy this job can bring – not only to the people in need, but to those who are sent out to help. 

“I handed the family in need a gift card and when I did that, I saw them get emotional. Giving them this gift and seeing their emotion made me emotional. This was my first time helping a family that was in dire need of assistance and a place to stay.”
-Valentina Logan

This scenario is what Valentina strives for others to feel. She is motivated to get others to experience the joys of what the Red Cross can bring to people. 

“There is no price you can put on the feeling of helping people,” she said. “The Red Cross was the ultimate helper. They help in so many ways.” 

Valentina plans on recruiting as many people as she can and learning more about the different facets of the Red Cross. As a supporter of what this organization does, she hopes others will take a chance to “feel the love” that comes with volunteering.

To browse our volunteer opportunities, click here.

Written by Communications Intern Julie Piz

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

Volunteer Spotlight: Anna Cebulak of Chicago

Anna Cebulak has been volunteering for the American Red Cross of Illinois since October of 2017. Since joining, she got involved in three different roles which include being a Logistics Volunteer, Mass Care and Sheltering volunteer , and Disaster Action Team Supervisor. Anna became a volunteer because she loves to help people. She explained that once she became an empty nester she found herself searching for purpose beyond her full-time job.

It was when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and she saw the TV coverage that she really started considering what she could do to help- and Anna saw that the Red Cross was helping and decided to join herself.

As someone with a full-time job, she volunteers when she can and uses her vacation time to deploy to big disasters outside of the Illinois region with hopes that she will be able to deploy more once she retires. Being a volunteer means you get to meet different people who are all working towards the same goal, helping others and Anna loves the fact that she is able to listen to stories and get to know others on a more personal level.  

“I love meeting other Red Cross volunteers, learning from them and creating friendships.”

 – Anna Cebulak

Throughout her time at the American Red cross, Anna has helped with many different events. In the past 4 years, she has assisted with the CBS Chicago Cares Disaster Relief Telethon, blood drives, Our Lady of Angels Smoke Alarm installs, and smoke alarm installations through Sound the Alarm events. Beyond local events, she has deployed to flooding in northern Illinois and south central Wisconsin as a casework volunteer.

She has also participated in relief work for Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Laura, but Anna’s work doesn’t stop there. She has also volunteered in shelters in Prospect Heights IL, Morris IL, Gibson IL, Cicero IL, and comes to the rescue as part of the Disaster Action Team to fires throughout the Chicagoland area.

When refugees from Afghanistan were coming to the Illinois Region, Anna helped secure and organize delivery of toys and stuffed animals for children to receive to help make the experience a little less frightening. When it comes to being a volunteer, Anna loves helping people at what could be the worst or often most difficult time of their lives. 

Anna is a volunteer that goes above and beyond and the Red Cross is honored to have her as part of the team. Anna says that anyone who’s interested in volunteering with the Red Cross please not wait and sign up today. The American Red Cross has something for everyone, helping people is very rewarding and the Red Cross allows you to do so.  Thank you for bringing your passion and skills to the Red Cross, Anna!

To browse our volunteer opportunities, click here: www.redcross.org/volunteer 

Written by Communications Intern Alyna Morales

Celebrating Black History Month: Employee Spotlight on Tia Jackson

Tia Jackson is a business operations specialist and started working for us as an executive assistant in 2016. In her current role, she manages operations at American Red Cross facilities in Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield and Decatur and she is responsible for making sure facility needs are met.

“I like being able to help the Red Cross and people who are working in the buildings and it makes me feel good when someone tells me a facility is clean and in good condition,” she said.

Part of Tia’s role is recruiting, training and working with volunteers. She is quick to compliment them for being great partners in what she does on a daily basis.

“Volunteers are very helpful to me, because they can be my eyes and ears in the buildings when things need to be fixed. It’s satisfying when volunteers feel they can come to me and talk about any issues they’re having and talk about their accomplishments. It’s great when the team and I can get together and work through things and talk about fun things, too,” she said.

Five years after starting here, Tia says she enjoys her role and is looking forward to what the future holds.

“Business Operations is a great team and it’s amazing working for the Red Cross,” she said.

Tia lives in the Peoria area with her family and loves to travel. Her favorite travel memory is from a trip to Mexico, when her husband proposed to her.

You might find Tia wearing green and gold, because she is an avid Green Bay Packers fan – a team she roots for in honor of her uncle, who was a lifelong fan.

Thank you, Tia for all you do!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

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 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