Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two, Four, Six, 700 Teddy Bears!

In the midst of chilly autumn weather, kindergarten through sixth grade students, teachers and staff from Clissold Elementary and La Salle Academy found a way to stay warm and fuzzy on Wednesday.

Between the two schools, a total of about 700 teddy bears were collected for the Teddy Bear Drive for the Red Cross.

At both schools the sixth graders were in charge of directing the five-day collection of teddy bears. Some sixth graders sported Red Cross gear such as t-shirts and vests. Dominick, a new sixth grade student at Clissold Elementary, was feeling glum the morning of, because he forgot to wear his Red Cross accessory. A little later, a Red Crosser gave him a hard hat with the Red Cross symbol on it, that happened to be in the truck. Dominick was ecstatic and told me, “I am so lucky I get to look this cool!”

At Clissold, the students started the drive with a celebratory ceremony in the auditorium, complete with a Red Cross banner, microphone, and hundreds of teddy bears on the stage. To kick this off, a form of "roll call" was taken; a few designated sixth grade students, each exclaiming loudly into the microphone, "Are the first graders here?" for each grade, teachers, staff and teddy bears. The audience burst out loud in response with excited cheers, when their group was called upon. Then a coulor guard flag ceremony accompanied with a drum performance took place.

As the children patiently anticipated the “stuffing” of vehicle, Red Cross Volunteer and coordinator of the drive, Bob Bushwaller, took the microphone and said a big thank you to everyone who participated in the drive and told a touching story of how children who have lost everything in a home fire, will find comfort in the donated bears.

Suddenly, the “teddy bear song” streamed out of the auditorium speakers. The energy and excitement from the kids was so powerful that it made my heart race. After distributing the bears, every student clutched a fuzzy friend and assembled in a long line leading out to the mobile disaster truck. I noticed Kelsey, a second grade student at Clissold, was crying. I asked her what was wrong. She answered with a quivering lip, "I'm just so happy we are doing this for the kids."

Students exclaimed left and right, “I’m ready for the teddy bear march!” Katie, a La Salle Academy third grader, asked me with hopeful eyes, “Does this mean that we are part of the Red Cross now?”

Student Volunteers Are Ready

Saturday, October 24th a group of Loyola University students became part of our Red Cross Reserve Corps. They completed a day of training in basic Mass Care which highlights s
heltering, feeding and bulk distribution.

The objective of this training is to have students on reserve to volunteer if a large scale disaster happens in the Chicagoland area.

Historically, college students have been among the first group of people who step up to help during a disaster.

The Red Cross Reserve Corps program ensures that we have trained and committed volunteers on hand when we need them.
All of the students who participated in the training were very enthusiastic about learning how they can be prepared to aid in disaster response.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Team Firestopper - Reaching the whole family!

Last week the Team Firestopper program held a fire safety fair in Aurora. We worked with Oak Park Elementary School and the 21st Century after-school program to educate both kids and parents on how to keep their home safe from fires!

First, our AmeriCorps members educated 60 1st through 4th graders on small things they can do around their home to help stop fires from starting. This includes cleaning the lint out of the dryer, not playing with matches, and to remind their parents to change the batteries in their smoke detectors!

Then, we held our Team Firestopper program for the parents of the children in the after-school program. Parents went through seven stations which included interactive stations such as a smoke trailer - where individuals got to practice escaping from a home, and a station on how to use a fire extinguisher – and they even got to try putting out a digital fire!

After the fair, the 40 households that attended received a kit free of charge that included a smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector, fire extinguisher, disaster supply kit, surge protector, window film insulation kit, and CPR for Everyone kit!

We're doing out best to stop fires before they spark in your community!

Want to get involved or learn more about the Team Firestopper program? Visit!

Fire safety tip of the week: According to the NFPA, space heaters accounted for 1/3 of home heating fires - so give your space heaters some space!!! Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that could catch fire! - This includes blankets, clothes, towels, newspapers and furniture!

photos by Gerry Holmes

Friday, October 23, 2009

Would You Give Mouth to Snout?

Pet owners, you love your furry friends, but are you ready to protect them? A new survey up says that about half of you are at least willing:

More than half of pet owners -- 58 percent -- said they would be at least somewhat likely to perform CPR on an injured pet, according to an Associated poll. (from a longer story on NBC)

The Red Cross offers Pet CPR and First Aid--the critical skills you'll need to save Fluffy or Spike. Check out the course listings, (it's under Caregiving Courses). You can also watch Pam, who saved her pup:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Team Firestopper - Our volunteers!!!

What’s it like to volunteer for Team Firestopper? Michael Lopez is an intern at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, and a volunteer for the Team Firestopper program. We thought we’d let him share his story!

"Our team (team 5), along with many of the other teams were assigned four houses in which we were supposed to complete safety checks to search out any potential fire hazards such as overloaded sockets, dangerous space heaters, or inappropriately placed candles. The team also showed the residents how to appropriately apply window film to insulate the windows of their home. While this was being completed I personally sat down the residents of the home and went over the kit they would receive. It included many important items such as a fire extinguisher, smoke detectors with a ten year lithium battery, a disaster kit, surge protector and a carbon monoxide detector. As we went over the items we also discussed the importance of creating a disaster plan and the items that would be needed to do so, many of the clients described never having thought about the importance of having one.

Overall, TFS reached their goal of 35 homes and it was a wonderful experience. The residents were very grateful to have the ARCGC in their neighborhood and it was apparent that the experience was well received by both the residents of the community and the volunteers; I personally met many wonderful people and am thankful to have been a part of this event. The resident of the last home we visited even gave us all a hug and thanked us for our compassion and interest in the well-being of her and her loved ones. Being a future social worker I have been involved in many activities involving the community but my involvement with the TFS has given me the chance to make a real difference in the lives of others. I would recommend participation with TFS to anyone interested in improving the lives of others.”

Want to volunteer or learn more about Team Firestopper? Visit!

Connect with the Greater Chicago Red Cross

One might not think that staying connected is a difficult thing to do these days, with all of the online channels we have to stay in touch. We here at the Greater Chicago use many of these channels so our volunteers, donors and staff can stay connected with each other. If you haven't already, you should follow us on Twitter, become our Fan on Facebook and subscribe to this blog so you can keep current with everything that's happening with our chapter.

One of the other ways we make sure our followers stay updated with us is through our chapter Web site at We use this site to communicate upcoming events and information that people might find useful. You can find news about the chapter, including our press releases and media mentions. We also post information about events such as Flirting for Disaster and the Heroes Breakfast so you'll know all the details about attending them or getting involved.

While getting all this info is important, we know many of you out there are interested in becoming directly involved with the Red Cross. So we also use the Web site (and many of our other channels) to promote volunteer registration and the classes we offer.

We are always looking for ways to engage those who are interested in speaking with us. We recently produced a video campaign to increase the number of digital footprints we had in the Chicago Marathon Digital Footprint Competition through Bank of America. Our YouTube channel is one outlet we're working to improve so we can deliver compelling messages to our followers in new and appealing ways.

Let me know if you have any suggestions for us. We're always looking to connect with people in the community, and we'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue! Thanks for following us and staying current!

That's a Pretty Sweet Job...

I have been working with two AmeriCorps members at our chapter so I decided to learn a little bit more about what they do.

Here is my interview with Caitlin Gould and Carolyn Kraker.

Q: How would you describe what you do?
Caitlin: I say I’m a Client Caseworker which involves going to different disasters. At the disasters I do a damage assessment and meet the clients’ needs with food, shelter and clothing.
Carolyn: We also prepare for and provide assistance to large groups of people. This includes sheltering and feeding.

Q: How has this job changed your attitudes towards disasters and being prepared?
Carolyn: I am definitely more concerned with being prepared. I make sure that my electrical cords are safe, I don’t use space heaters and next time I move I don’t want to live in a garden apartment.
Caitlin: I have told all my friends to get renters insurance.

Q: What is one of your favorite things about your job?
Caitlin: I really love seeing the communities pulling together to help each other out when there is a disaster. Also Firefighters will come up to me and say ‘You do such great work’ and they are FIREFIGHTERS!! They are really the ones doing the all the hard work!
Carolyn: We get to see a different side of Chicago, people coming together for someone who is in need.
Caitlin: We are able to come in just when people need us the most, in their hour of darkness, to help them start getting back on their feet.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face?
Carolyn: People who have not been affected by a disaster trying to take advantage of our services.
Caitlin: Not being able to do more to help sometimes.

Q: What did your friends say when you told them what your job is?
Carolyn: ‘Why are you going to fires?!’ ‘What’s wrong with you?!’
Caitlin: Everyone thinks I’m a Firefighter.
Carolyn: They all think my job is more dramatic than it really is, but I don’t try to correct them :).

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flashback: Red Cross Volunteers during Flu Epidemic, 1919

Just to share a little bit about Chicago’s epidemic history…

In the nineteenth century, the city of Chicago underwent frightening epidemics of disease which also infected many American and European cities. One in specific was the influenza epidemic of 1918–19. In the span of about 30 days, 10,249 Chicagoans died of flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia and around 20,000 perished in 1918 and 1919 combined. It also caused at least 675,000 U.S. deaths and up to 50 million deaths worldwide. Back then, unfortunately no one knew what a virus was, how to stop it, or that it caused the flu.

Coinciding with this outbreak, many paid and volunteer opportunities arose as a result of World War I. One of the most popular volunteer organizations was the American Red Cross. In the photo above, Red Cross volunteers are shown attending to the domestic influenza virus by putting together the masks worn by hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans to avoid the spread of the deadly disease.

Although we have come a long way from this kind of widespread pandemic, and have advanced considerably by becoming educated on symptoms and causes, learning prevention methods, and the development of antibiotics and other medications, it still important to take care of yourself this fall. By taking care of yourself, you are taking care of others! Flu season is here, so wash your hands and cover your cough!

For more information on the pandemic flu or tips on how to prepare and prevent it, visit

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Did You Know?

4 out of 5 Americans are unaware that home fires are the most common disaster threat. But, it’s true… 90% of the disasters that the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago responds to are residential fires.

Instead of focusing on recovery alone, Team Firestopper works on preventing fires before they start. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago Team Firestopper program educates people about fire safety and prevention. The Team Firestopper program is unique: it teaches life saving skills and equips individuals with fire safety products so they can be ready in the case of a fire. The benefits are tremendous for both recipients and volunteers touched by the program.

This year Team Firestopper will be in 6 communities, including the suburban communities of Joliet, Aurora, and Waukegan, and the Chicago communities of North Lawndale, Englewood, and Roseland.

Last week alone the Team Firestopper program provided 36 households with fire safety information and equipment through in-home fire safety visits.

So, join forces with us; work to eradicate home fires by spreading the word about the Team Firestopper program!

Want more information? Check out our website at

Team Firestopper volunteers preparing for in-home fire safety visits in Englewood on Oct. 10th

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Deadline is Hours Away but You Still Have Time to Make Your Digital Footprint Today!

October 9th, October 9th, October 9th- it's here!

The deadline to create your digital footprint is just hours away, but don't worry you still have until midnight tonight! Many of you have already supported us through Bank of America, and we thank you so much. But if you want to help make an even greater impact, spread the word! Tell your friends, family and co-workers! But hurry!

The video, "One Click for the Red Cross" and or our message has already reached 66,464 people via "tweets" as of this morning! It is also circulating on blogs, facebook, and other social media outlets we have reached out to! It is also featured on The Chicagoist, so if you haven't already, check it out!

We really want to win this thing, so let's rack up those footprints and finish strong together! Through the power of networking, we can make a difference in the lives of people who need us because they’ve lost their home in a fire, been separated from a loved one, or been the victim of a terrible disaster. This is your chance to make a difference. Can you help?

Visit to make a digital footprint and click "The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago" at the bottom so that Bank of America will donate $1 to us! Thank you!!!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Support us through Bank of America

Over the last couple of days, we've been working on a video asking for support in a competition through Bank of America. The gist of the competition is that we need to recruit people to visit, where they design their own digital footprint. For each person we recruit to design one of these footprints, Bank of America will donate $1 to us.

We want to win this thing! So, watch this video, go design your own digital footprint (make sure to click "The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago" at the bottom of the page so we get credit) and then send the video along to all of your contacts on Facebook, Twitter or through email! We can do this together!

Thanks for watching and sending it along for us. We'll keep you updated on our status as we recieve information from the contest administrators. Stay tuned for more details!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Questions about the Flu? Nurse Sharon has Answers!

Flu’s on my mind today for a bunch of reasons. On the bus this morning I saw a bunch of people coughing (and then, of course, grabbing the hand rails). Yikes. May I begin by imploring: Cough into the crook of your elbow, people!

In seriousness, wouldn't it be great if we could call people out on their bad hygiene? If it were socially acceptable for me to tug on the sleeve of the sniffling girl on the Damen bus and say “Please, use this tissue to wipe your nose. You might be giving the next person on the bus your sniffles.” Any thoughts on this, dear readers? How do you gently influence the people around you (kids, too) to be more germ-conscious?

And how about those vaccines? The Chicago Tribune reports today that the H1N1 vaccine is trickling into the area, but is not yet widely available here. I think that means hold tight for most of us, but there’s more on the way. However, the seasonal flu vaccine IS ready now. Sharon Stanley, American Red Cross Chief Nurse, encourages us to become better informed and offers insights about seasonal and H1N1 flu in this video. Sharon explains how to avoid getting the flu and dispels some myths about vaccination (it can’t give you the flu!) You can find more on the Red Cross Blog.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Loyola Communication Students = Awesome Volunteers

Some of our student volunteers: (from left to right) Zach Zimmerman, Karis Hustad,
Ashley Morgan and Richard Parra.

Last week we opened a free photo exhibit called Our World at War: Photojournalism Beyond the Frontlines at the Loyola University School of Communication.

The photo exhibit features pictures and stories of people living in eight different countries that are currently conflict zones. Through this artwork, faces and names are given to the masses of people who are affected by conflict across the globe. It also highlights the work that the International Committee of the Red Cross is doing to help these people.

At our Preview Event on the opening night of the exhibit, we had volunteers giving tours to guests. Many of these volunteers are Loyola communication students.

I was really impressed with the students’ dedication and interest in the exhibit. They each learned something about the photographs, countries or photographers that was important to them and were able to provoke thought and reflection from our guests.

Last night, some of those students came back to give tours of the exhibit at another event. I asked one student what his favorite part of the exhibit is. He said that the photos give a raw look at what people go through in these different conflict areas around the world, it opens people’s eyes to what is really going on.

Another student said that she notices guests’ reactions to the photos. She said, at first most people are shocked that the things portrayed in the images and stories are actually happening around the world. She said that most people then start to say that something has to be done to help and they really commend the International Committee of the Red Cross for all the work that they do.

Our World at War: Photojournalism Beyond the Frontlines continues through November 20, 2009 at 51 E Pearson Street Foyer Chicago, IL. The exhibit is FREE and the hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. - 7p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. - 5p.m.

To learn more about this exhibit and other events that explore humanitarian issues click here!