Monday, November 30, 2009

Deck the halls... with safety!

It’s that time of the year! The winter holiday season calls for gatherings, cooking, candles, holiday lights and freshly cut trees. Just be careful, because all that cooking and decorations can also mean a greater risk of fires.

But the American Red Cross is here to help! Make sure to add these tips to your holiday preparation checklist!

  • Place Christmas trees, candles, and other holiday decorations at least three feet away from heat sources (fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents, candles).

  • Always unplug tree and holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.

  • Always extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to bed, and never use lit candles to decorate a tree.

  • Be careful with holiday decorations by choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.

  • Make sure that light strings and other decorations do not have frayed electrical cords, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.

  • Keep anything that can catch fire (pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels, curtains) away from your stove top.

  • And always remember… smoke alarms save lives. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

    These fire safety tips are brought to you by Team Firestopper! We’re working to stop fires before they start in your community! For more information or fire tips, visit or!

    *Fire safety facts and tips found at and

Friday, November 27, 2009

Education that Saves Lives

My favorite time of the year as a child was always Thanksgiving. It wasn't because of the food, or the time I got to spend with my family, or even the historic meaning of the holiday. For me, it was a sign that winter break was on it's way; that meant no school!

Now, my mother was dedicated to education. She saw school breaks as an opportunity for us to learn something new. When school wasn't in session, my brother, sister and I were given the opportunity to pick one thing we'd like to learn. Over many breaks, we learned how to rock climb, play musical instruments, cook, sew, and much more. These were the lessons that stuck with as I grew older.

With winter break at our heels again, I encourage everyone to take some time this season and learn something new. Maybe, even something lifesaving.

If you want to learn how to treat frostbite, there's a First Aid class for that.
If you want to learn how to be a lifeguard, there's a Aquatics class for that.
If you want to learn how to change a diaper, there's a Babysitters class for that.
If you want to learn how to give rescue breaths to a cat, there's a Pet CPR class for that.

With winter break fast approaching, what would you like learn?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What are you thankful for this year?

We're all thinking about lists this week. Grocery lists, holiday gift I figured I'd share the list of things I'm most thankful for:

I’m thankful for my family and our (mostly) good health.
I’m thankful for my job at the Red Cross (and my uber-short commute).
And I’m VERY thankful to all of the people who shared their Red Cross stories this year. They are strong, kind people, and I was humbled by their gratitude for the help YOU have given.

This year I met Veronica, Maria and Carmetta-local folks who all lost their belongings in home fires, and Red Cross relief workers were there to help them. They are among the more than 5,600 local people who received relief from the Red Cross in our area last year. When I spoke to them, one message came through loud and clear—they were truly in need of help, and they truly appreciated the food, clothing, shelter and compassion given by Red Cross supporters--that's YOU! So my final thanks this week are to you—everyone who supports the Red Cross through your donations of time, money and blood. Volunteers like Nancy, Greg and Ray. The thousands of donors who are listed in our annual report’s honor roll. Thanks!

This holiday season, the Red Cross is asking everyone to Give the Gift that Saves the Day. Know that we’re grateful for every gift you make. Shope the holiday catalog at

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Flirting for Disaster: Ring in the Red!

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago is hosting another holiday edition of Flirting for Disaster at Cuvee on Dec. 2. Ring in the Red is sure to be one of the best holiday social events in Chicago. The exclusive Red Cross reception will include a private champagne reception for the first two hours, followed by $3 domestic bottles of beer$5 vodka cocktails for the rest of the evening.

In addition to the drink specials, Ring in the Red features Passed Gratis Hors D’oeuvres, a photo booth (courtesy of Photo Booth Express), music from DJ Swizz, and jewelry and accessories provided by Stella & Dot.

On top of all that, there will be a raffle sponsored by the Young Professionals of Chicago featuring great prizes from around the city. Check out some of the prizes we have lined up:

And those are just a few of the exciting prizes attendees will have the chance to win. Check out the Ring in the Red site to learn more about the event and to get your tickets. They're just $25 at the door and only $20 if you order them by noon on Dec. 2!

See you there!

--Gentry Lassiter is an intern in the Marketing & Communications department of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to survive (and be a leader during) the apocalypse

Well folks, according to the new movie 2012, the apocalypse is coming – soon! How can we be prepared for something that could cause tornadoes, earthquakes, winter storms, heat waves and fires? Our Community Disaster Education classes are guaranteed to be helpful in the fast-approaching end of the world.

This class will help ensure your survival and prepare your family for the worst. You’ll be the envy of your neighbors when they see your disaster kit. You could keep all this information to yourself, or you could set yourself up to be a leader by planning ahead with your community.

But that’s not all! The Red Cross covers all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios.

Is your continent sinking into the ocean before your very eyes? Take a flood safety class!

Did an earthquake split your home in half and start a small fire? Take a fire safety class!

Worried that the apocalypse will be cold? Take a winter safety class!

Did you trip and get hurt after driving a mobile home outrunning a volcanic eruption on the way to the small plane piloted by a man that has taken two flying classes? Take a first aid class!

And so, I leave you to absorb this information and prepare yourselves properly. Good luck – you only have three years to get ready.

This is Only a Drill

Volunteers quickly set up cots in the mock shelter

A tornado touches down in Des Plaines, IL and tears through a school and an area of houses. Throughout the day, Des Plaines has been managing the response and has been keeping the Red Cross informed. You as volunteers won’t know all the details but the news has reported some deaths and many injuries and many schools and houses have been damaged or destroyed.

This is the scenario our reserve volunteers were given on Saturday to start off our Disaster Drill.

The volunteers had a chance to apply their basic mass care training in a real-life situation.

We set up a mock shelter staffed with shelter managers and disaster health and mental health personnel.

Volunteers took turns playing shelter residents and Red Cross volunteers. Many of them really took on their roles as a person who has been affected by a disaster and acted scared, hurt or panicked.

Their skills were tested at our registration table and in the dormitory where they had to handle various common situations that occur in the shelter setting.
For example volunteers had to decide what to do when a media crew came into the dormitory and started taking pictures.

They also were asked to act when a resident tried to sneak her pet into the shelter.

I think that everyone in attendance got a feeling of how hectic a shelter can be and how important it is to make sure that everyone is taken care of.

The drill gave everyone a safe environment to experience working in a shelter so that they will be prepared to take action in the event of a disaster.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pie for Dessert at Thanksgiving

November’s rainy days remind me that fall is here. As an avid lover of food, my favorite thing about the fall is Thanksgiving! What better reason is there to get family together than great food? My favorite dishes are the green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy (LOTS of gravy!), and of course, dessert! In my family, the pies are always the most popular dessert.

This Thanksgiving, you can get your pies from Baker’s Square and $1 from the cost of each pie you purchase using the Red Cross coupon will be donated to the Red Cross!
The best part about Baker’s Square pies, is they are so tasty, that you can’t tell which one grandma made and which one was made fresh by Baker’s Square! My favorites are the fresh strawberry, chocolate peanut butter cup and French silk. You can even reserve your pies in advance to make sure your top choice is waiting for you on Thanksgiving Day!

Don’t forget to bring in the Red Cross coupon when you purchase your pie so that while you are enjoying your scrumptious dessert, you can also feel good about helping local disaster victims through the Red Cross!
Happy pie-eating!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Buying Gifts that Save the Day for the Red Cross

I love my family and buying them presents for the holidays. But I hate buying things that end up thrown onto a bookshelf or into a closet, like the many well-intentioned gifts that are now scattered like so many misfit toys around my parents’ house. So I’m really pumped about the Red Cross holiday gift catalog! This is the perfect year to give meaningful presents, and I’ve vowed to do most of my shopping online. In fact, I’m going to do shop the catalog as I write this post. Here goes:

The online catalog is PRETTY! I peruse the options and decide to pick a gift from each category. Here’s what I’m choosing:

Dad: I’ll leave it to Mom to buy him socks. I select a set of three blankets in his honor. Those blankets will wrap up a scared, cold person who’s living through a disaster and needs some rest and comfort. Dad’s snuggly, it’s a good fit.

Mom: Instead of buying mom more tschotskes (those little trinkets that adorn every corner of the house), I picked a phone card for our troops in her honor. Mom appreciates the importance of chatting with family, and now a man or woman who’s serving our country will be able to call home for the holidays.

Brother: He’s a trendy guy, but he appreciates practical people. I gave $25 in his honor to vaccinate kids against Measles. That was a pretty powerful and humbling click of the mouse—I hope he appreciates it!

At the end, they gave me the option to send an e-card that will be delivered whenever I want (I chose Christmas). The Red Cross will also send me cards I can personalize and hand to my family as their presents. That was fast, easy and super gratifying. So are you up for giving the gift that saves the day? Do you think your family would like this? Check out all the ways you can help at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Red Cross Instruction Car No. 1

Fun fact: 99 years ago, this month, the Pullmans donated a wooden sleeper car that would serve as a mobile first aid training facility.

The Pullman Palace Car Company's donation enabled the Red Cross to launch Red Cross Instruction Car No. 1, a railroad car that would travel across the country serving as a classroom for first aid instruction. In 1911, during its first full year of service, this mobile first aid classroom traveled more than 25,000 miles delivering first aid instruction to over 15,000 individuals. The success of the Red Cross instruction car prompted the Red Cross to expand its program to include an additional two railroad cars.

Can you imagine receiving first aid instruction on a train car?

Click Here - for more interesting facts about the Red Cross.

Submitted by Rachael Garcia, Resource Development

Monday, November 16, 2009

Startin’um off young!

Team Firestopper is working to prevent fires from sparking in the first place! On November 15th we canvassed the city of Waukegan with fire safety information, tips, and lots of volunteers!!! The broad awareness campaign is a wonderful volunteer opportunity that people of all ages can participate in. But, what do I mean by “all ages”? Well. . . As we found out at the Team Firestopper event this past Sunday, even someone who is 4 years old can make a difference with Team Firestopper!

A few weeks ago my friend, Oliver, asked if I needed him to help out and volunteer for any of the Team Firestopper events. Obviously, I said “sure!” We discussed what type of events that were available for him to volunteer and agreed that the community canvassing in Waukegan would be the best fit. A few days later he called to ask if his 4 year old son, Josh, could also attend. Again, I said “sure, and if you think he would be o.k. walking a few blocks, he could also volunteer.”

That was exactly what Oliver hoped to hear. He told me that he and his wife, Christine, were teaching Josh the importance of giving and that they also wanted to teach him about getting involved and helping others. They believe it is essential to teach their son early on the importance of volunteering and what better place then with his “Uncle Adam” at the American Red Cross.

On Sunday, the entire Fajardo family participated in hanging door hangers in Waukegan and Josh had a great time! Josh raced from house to house, with his parents looking on, and helped cover 8 blocks with door hangers! Oliver stated that they brought a stroller for Josh in case he got tired. Josh did end up using the stroller, for a 30 second water break, and then it was back to hanging door hangers! Josh is on a great path to becoming an active member in his community and I am sure the American Red Cross will continue to see Josh for many years to come!

Fire Safety Tip of the Week: Keep blankets, curtains, furniture and other flammable items away from space heaters. How far away? At least 3 feet!

Submitted on behalf of Adam McGriffin- Mitigation VISTA

Friday, November 13, 2009

A birdbrained solution?

Everything old is new again “V” and Melrose Place are back, calling people rather than emailing is the new way to communicate and people are looking to history for solutions to today’s problems. As part of a school competition to figure out a way to communicate during a disaster when technology is down my nephews turned to the past. Their solution? Homing pigeons-yes, like the ones used in WW1. They even met with a pigeon specialist to inform their decision. Apparently pigeons can not only carry information (on zip drives etc.) and deliver medicine they can also do so in blinding rain, wind and snow and with amazing accuracy. Some countries still rely on pigeons today for daily communication because it’s more reliable than their postal service. Their team came up with a real solution that’s environmentally friendly not to mention cost effective-as pigeons are known to work relatively cheaply. I applaud their school system for bringing real life issues to kids and asking them to provide solutions. I think they’ve come up with a pretty good one. It gets me thinking…what other ways might we recycle and retool old ideas to serve us today-not just as relates to disaster but to anything? Reasonable solutions to whatever is concerning us may very well be right in front of us-and in some cases even pecking at our feet eating popcorn or crackers.
Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about pigeons

News, nonprofits and grand garb

So, I’m new to this blog. But instead of hellos, let’s talk about news vs. volunteerism, eh?

This story has meaning. Promise. It starts with a tidbit about Commodore Wilbert Longfellow, a pertinent man with an awesome name.

Do not confuse him with that lame linguist of the 19th century. Longfellow was an ex-newsman who began teaching water safety classes in the early 1900s. Alarmed by the nation’s high drowning rate, he quit his reporting gig. He revolutionized water safety by teaching water skills in water instead of on land. Makes sense, right?

He also had some sweet swimming garb. I, for one, think we should bring back fashion trends of early Red Crossers.

Anyway, I relate to Mr. Longfellow because I, too, am an ex-wordsmith of the news variety. I was an overnight crime reporter in Lawrence, Kansas before taking on an AmeriCorps gig at the Red Cross. Fires, shootings, robberies, chickens in the road, more fires. It was as exciting as it was … well, sort of depressing.

Do you know what the worst feeling in the world is? Standing on the sidelines of major events, completely unable to influence the situation. The helpless sentiment gnaws and chomps at your disposition. But at the Red Cross, I’m teaching CPR, fire safety, first aid, even water safety a la the admirable Mr. Longfellow. It’s a great trade-off, and I don't think Longfellow and I are the only ones to have made the shift.

Has anybody else switched from news sector to nonprofit? Pray tell.

Anyway, happy Friday the 13th. Don't forget your first aid kits.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Have you changed your smoke detector batteries?

Did you know that the American Red Cross responded to more than 74,000 disasters in communities across the United States last year, and 93 percent of these were fire related? It is no different here in Chicagoland; in 2007 the Greater Chicago chapter responded to 1,200 local disasters and 90% of those were residential fires.

But, preventing home fires doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment or training, and the American Red Cross is here to help! Join our battle fighting fires with the Team Firestopper program, and help stop a fire from sparking in your own home.

How you may ask?!? Start by taking a look at your smoke alarms!

  • Place a smoke alarm on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas.

  • Smoke alarms should be tested monthly and batteries replaced yearly, or as soon as you hear a low-battery warning which usually sounds like a "chirping" noise.

  • Teach children what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it.

  • And, smoke alarms wear out, so remember to replace your smoke alarm every 10 years!

Want more tips about how to be fire safe? Check out our website at!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Make a Change This Winter!

Don't let the cold weather keep you indoors...come out and volunteer! There are plenty of volunteer opportunites available this season.

Volunteering this winter is a great way to spend time with friends and family.

Here are some tips on how to find a volunteer opportunity that is right for you!

1) Search the web. Look at websites like and This will give you an idea of what opportunites are out there and how you can use your skills, knowledge and abilities.

2) Start with organizations you know and find out more about them. For example at the American Red Cross, not only do we need volunteers to respond to disasters we also look for people to do disaster education, general office work, special events and all sorts of things. Visit for more information.

3) Talk to your family, friends and co-workers. They might already volunteer somewhere or know of a place that could use your help.

4) Remember that you want to do something you love. This should be a fun experience that makes you feel great about helping others!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fort Hood Update

Our thoughts are with all of the families affected by yesterday's shooting at Fort Hood. You can find a lot of information on including directions for how to check if your friends and loved ones have registered as Safe and Well with the Red Cross.

Many stories are coming out today about the heroism of people who acted in the moment to help their friends and co-workers. Many used their first aid skills, and undoubtedly these skills saved lives. There was also a great need for blood donation, and people stepped up to give.

If you'd like to learn more about helping people during emergencies, I urge you to take a first aid course or to give blood. We never know when people might need our help. I hope you all have a safe weekend.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Team Firestopper - Reaching the whole family!

Megan McCarthy is an AmeriCorps Safe Families member and is a regular volunteer for the Team Firestopper program! She is part of the team that is working to stop fires before they spark! Our Firestopper programs work to educate adults and children. Sometimes we even get both at once! Here is Megan’s story…

“As AmeriCorps members in the Safe Families program, we are nomadic; our goal is to reach as many people as possible in one short year with our preparedness programs. On any given day, we can meet hundreds of children in a school, a handful of seniors in a church, or dozens of teenagers at a safety fair. We change the lives of people every day, which is incredibly rewarding.

However, on rare occasions, we are given the opportunity to see the impact of our work. I had the privilege of teaching a young boy named Andre at his school, Lynn Thigpen Elementary, last week. I remember Andre was really excited about learning how to stop, drop, and roll during our fire safety class. He was full of energy and had an answer for every question I asked. He was simply one of those kids that a program instructor remembers.

That weekend, while volunteering with Team Firestopper, I was surprised to see Andre again! My team was doing in-home fire safety visits in Joliet, IL and I walked right into Andre’s house. He stood up, walked toward me and smiled. “I know you,” he said happily. Now, one of the many things we teach our students is how to identify fire safety hazards in their own home. Andre wanted to show me just how hard he’d worked on his “Hazard Hunt.” He walked me through every room in his house, telling me about the candles that he had his parents move away from the curtains and the lint trap in the dryer that he cleans out (just in case). Andre was so proud of how hard he worked and I was proud of him, too. As I went to leave, Andre handed me a copy of his class picture. He only had a few left… one for his grandma, and one for me.

Sometimes as program instructors we begin to wonder if what we teach really sticks with any of our students. Well, Andre was proof to me that the American Red Cross’ Safe Families Program is making a difference. So, thank you Andre, and thank you to all of the students, schools, and communities that are helping us save lives!” - Megan McCarthy
Fire safety tip of the week: Check the batteries in your smoke alarm! Almost 2/3 of home fire deaths happen in homes without working smoke alarms.
AmeriCorps members teaching Kid Firestopper! photo by Gerry Holmes

Monday, November 02, 2009

I challenge YOUth!

It's that time! November is National Youth Involvement Month! During the month of November, the American Red Cross celebrates the wonderful work that youth volunteers do – teaching Kid Safety programs, coordinating blood drives at their schools, raise funds for disaster relief, collect toiletry items for those affected by disaster and MORE!

The National Youth Council and I challenge YOUth volunteers and Chicago high school & college Red Cross Clubs to get involved this month and take service projects to a new level!

Let’s show everyone why YOUth rock!!!!!

Any great service project ideas? Let’s hear em!
Looking for ideas? Check out
Want to do a Red Cross service project at your school? Contact Eboni at!

BTW...check out this promo video for National Youth Involvement Month on You Tube!