Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Strong Undercurrent

Today, the communications team at the Chapter partnered with the media to explain the Red Cross's response to the earthquake in Chile and the tsunami warnings throughout the Pacific.

After a relentless and devastating month+ of sharing the story of Haiti's earthquake, the drill felt routine; we'd posted news on our website, talked with you in social media, responded to the media and public's questions... Red Cross business as usual.

The business of sharing information about disaster, though, is always emotional for our team. It's personal. Today, as we reported on the earthquake, we anticipated the waves, and we were very, very uneasy to say the least. We also knew that, here in Chicago, we're still in the risky fire season -- a time when locals, too, lose everything and turn to us for comfort and relief. We respond to several fires on most days. Weekends, sadly, are busier.

Hurricane season beckons near Haiti, and, despite many relief agencies' efforts, the shelter situation on the ground worries us. Today's flooding in Haiti felt foreboding.

People ask me all the time, "Isn't it difficult to talk about disaster every day?" Difficult, yes, but it is work that never lacks meaning. And while talking about disaster is hard, nothing compares to the strong undercurrent of anxiety we feel as we anticipate the next one.

The waves seem to be settling, but still, tonight, I am uneasy.

-- By Jackie Mitchell, Director of Marketing and Communications and "Superfan," American Red Cross of Greater Chicago: @your_mssunshine

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Joys of Teaching Kid Safety

As an AmeriCorps Safe Families Instructor, part of my job is teaching Kid Safety classes. These include Kid Fire Safety, First Aid for Little People, Scrubby Bear (germs and hand washing), Home Alone and W.H.A.L.E. Tales (water safety).

My favorite school so far has been McKinley School in Cicero. The staff is the warmest I have met at any school. They have been tremendously grateful for the invaluable classes that I have taught there.

When I first taught Kid Fire Safety at McKinley, the students were highly engaging and surprised me with their intelligence. Maybe it is me getting older, but I did not realize how much kids know at such early ages. The Kindergarteners can be quite rowdy, but they are also highly engaging. They have forced me to innovate and cultivate my teaching skills to keep them focused. High energy and animation is the key that I have found. The second and third graders are full of life and truly seem to love learning. They hardly seem to need teaching sometimes and know the answers even before I get to the questions. It is inspiring to see children who enjoy going to school. We cannot count out the first graders who love to have fun and light up when a special presenter comes.

Since then I have taught Scrubby Bear and First Aid for Little People at McKinley. Teaching Scrubby Bear can be a lot of fun when you tell them that germs can be found EVERYWHERE! This includes their desks, chairs, computers, lockers, shoes, eyes, noses, mouths, the floor and their hands! Some classes have fun with it and exaggerate their reactions. These are my favorite classes because these students really enjoy the presentation. Sometimes it can get out of hand and I need to take on the role of a teacher to keep them from getting sidetracked and disrupting.

One of the best parts about teaching multiple programs at the same school is that you get to know the children and they get to know you. It feels wonderful when you walk into a classroom and the students remember your name and are excited that you are back! This especially helps after teaching thousands of kids. I still have not gotten used to the contrast between classrooms as well as the many similarities. One class can be very interactive and the next one can be silent. One class can be well-behaved and the next one unruly.

In the end, it is simply all about the kids. Each time I leave a classroom I hope that they will remember what I taught them and that if something bad happens, they will know what to do. Here’s to hope and making a difference!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Former Emergency Med Tech Rediscovers Heart Resuscitation

14 years ago, I was certified as an emergency medical technician and served on my small town volunteer ambulance team for 3 years during my summer breaks from college.

5 months ago, I got my dream job at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago after a decade of health care work.

Today I took an CPR / First Aid / AED class to meet one of several requirements that would allow me to volunteer with a Red Cross relief effort abroad.

I thought the class would be boring and a rehash of a bunch of stuff I had already learned, used in the field, written about and taught for years, but I was dead wrong.

Compared to a decade ago, the mannequins are more economical (which I appreciated), the instructions are more comprehensive and clear (which my classmates appreciated), and I'm delighted by the user-friendliness of the AEDs, which were new in the field when I last learned CPR. My teacher, Danielle Bohrer, was just better than any instructor I'd had before.

The real education occurred, however, during the breaks when I was learned why people take a CPR / First Aid / AED class in the first place.

(Students learn CPR in a course today and the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago.)

One couple, seemingly enjoying retirement, wanted to learn the skills before they embarked on 9 month boat trip together. They held hands for much of the class. Another gentleman who worked for a company that makes anchors intended to improve workplace safety. Near him, sat a man who hoped to grow in his job and "just know that he could save someone if something happened." The look in his eye made clear the importance.

After the break, we covered content that was pretty familiar to me, so my mind wandered. I thought about how their lives were woven -- this couple about to set off to sea, this anchormaker, and this man whose story clearly ran deeper.

I thought about how long it has been that I've wanted do humanitarian work in Chicago and abroad. A question about using duct tape as part of a splint jarred my attention back. From then on, I paid due attention to this business of resuscitating a heart.

-- By Jackie Mitchell, Director of Marketing and Communications and "Superfan," American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. @your_mssunshine

My day with the Fergus’s

This past Monday, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet with a warm and amazingly strong family in Crystal Lake.

Saved by an American Red Cross Heartland Chapter Hero, Brent Fergus, an 18-year-old Crystal Lake Central Tiger, was diagnosed with leukemia at a very young age. After relapsing three times, his family made the difficult decision to try a stem cell transplant. More than five years after the successful transplant, Brent and his family shared their experience with the Red Cross.

While I heard stories about Brent and his fight with leukemia, it was hard for me at times to fight tears. Too often you hear about one person who struggled with and overcame a disease, but in talking with the Fergus’s, it became so clear that disease and sickness does not effect just one person, but entire families and communities.

Seeking support through his brother’s illness, Brent’s sister found herself participating in an amazing organization called SuperSibs!, an organization that supports the siblings of children with cancer.

What was most meaningful for me, however, was listening to the way Brent and his family talked about their donor and Red Cross Hero, Jeff Wilke of Omaha, Neb. Like he was part of the family, Brent’s mom joked about their awkward first meeting, remembering the thought – “What if they’re weird?” – Then mentioned that Jeff made a surprise visit to Brent’s five-years-in-remission party.

Today, Brent looks to Jeff as his mentor. They keep in touch through the Internet and confide in each other through life’s toughest days. Now connected through blood (and Facebook), Jeff truly is Brent’s hero.

This was the most meaningful part of my Monday. What was yours?

- This post was written by Christine Heim, marketing and communications volunteer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Red Cross Responds to Kane Co. Fire

Red Cross of Greater Chicago volunteer Ben Rock and team reported to Pingree Grove this morning where a large fire caused major damage to a house, displacing a family. Luckily, everyone in the house was able to get out safely and no injuries have been reported. Ben is a part of the Disaster Action Team that responds to disasters locally at any hour of the day. It is volunteers like him that truly make a difference in the lives of those affected by a disaster. Thank you to all our volunteers and keep up the amazing work!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blended Learning a Success

Stacey Patrick, a student at DePaul and the mother of a newborn baby girl, opens her backpack filled to the brim with books, papers and binders. She opens to a fresh notebook page and begins to take notes on the pamphlets her CPR instructor, Courtney Barber, gave to her upon entering the classroom. It’s a brisk Tuesday afternoon, and Stacey will be finishing up her Red Cross training with a review of the skills she has acquired through a blended learning course.

The blended course Stacey took teaches adult and child CPR, general first aid, and automated external defibrillator (AED) essentials online with a classroom skills session review. In this class, Courtney will walk Stacey through a few videos and hands on demonstrations before testing her skills. Upon asking Stacey why she wanted to become certified in these skills she replied that “it would give my resume a boost when I begin looking for teaching jobs.” She is hoping to secure a job in the suburbs teaching high school biology.

Blended learning was a great fit for Stacey’s busy life since she had the freedom to complete the online courses at her own discretion. The next step was to devote a few hours one day to participate in the classroom skills performance where she passed with flying colors and walked away with a certification card. For more information on how you can take a class online or in the classroom, visit

Friday, February 19, 2010

Are you heading out to the Chicago Auto Show this weekend?

If you plan on visiting the Auto Show…roll on over to the Red Cross booth NH370. This year, I decided to make the trip out to McCormick Place to check out the exhibit. Honestly, I was surprised by what I found. I assumed that people just went to the Auto Show to see the newest cars and check out the concept cars, but I had no idea that the show would encompass such a family friendly, interactive environment. This year’s show has something for everyone. Earlier this week SpongeBob SquarePants was busy entertaining the children while adults lined up to try the Kia Sorento "Crossover to the Unexpected" Ride-n-Drive Experience.

The Auto Show even provides an opportunity for exhibit attendees to support the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. The Red Cross has been on site at booth NH370, registering people for our Vehicle Donation Program and accepting Blood Donations. We are thrilled to report that we have received a steady flow of blood donors and even three vehicle donations!

You should also stop by the Chevy booth. They are displaying a Chevrolet Colorado pickup outfitted with a clear collection box within their booth, where they have been collecting donations in support of the American Red Cross – Haiti Relief Efforts. They have been collecting donations all week long and the box is almost overflowing with support from Chicagoans. It is truly inspirational to see how people have been coming together to show their support.

If you have a minute this weekend please take the opportunity to visit the Auto Show and stop by to visit the Red Cross!

For more information about the Vehicle Donation Program please visit:

Submitted by Rachael Garcia, Resource Development

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Threadless donates $100,000 and keeps on giving!

Today presented the American Red Cross with a check for $100,000 raised through its “Many Hands Make the Load Lighter” t-shirt sales. Accepting the check is Heidi Mucha, Chief Advancement Officer. Originally, up to $100,000 in proceeds from the t-shirt was going to the Red Cross Haitian Relief and Development Fund. Now, Threadless is lifting their donation cap and will continue to donate as long as the t-shirt sells. So far, they have filled orders for over 10,000 shirts.

This great idea came about from a similar effort made after Hurricane Katrina. Ross Zietz, the Threadless employee pictured above from Louisiana, decided he wanted to do something to help after Katrina destroyed New Orleans. He brought the idea to Threadless, then they created a shirt and donated all proceeds to the Red Cross to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims. After watching the earthquake’s devastating aftermath, Ross decided a similar effort was in order to help the people of Haiti.

Here is an excerpt from about raising the $100,000 for Haiti:

“We think it's kind of a big deal, and we wanna keep making the deal bigger. We're not gonna stop donating until you guys stop contributing by buying a "Many Hands..." tee. So get yours if you haven't already, there are still plenty of folks who need help. And thanks to everyone who has bought a tee so far - you're just the coolest!”

The Greater Chicago Red Cross thinks Threadless is just the coolest! Visit to purchase a t-shirt, or donate directly to the Red Cross at

Kid Fire Safety!

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, children under the age of five are twice as likely to die in a home fire than the rest of the population. Help keep your children safe by making these tips a habit!

  • Keep matches, lighters and other ignitable substances in a secured location out of the reach of children, and only use lighters with child-resistant features.
  • Practice your home fire escape plan with your children several times a year.
  • Also practice stop, drop and roll and low crawling.
  • Familiarize children with the sound of your smoke alarm and what to do when they hear it.
  • Teach your children not to be scared of firefighters. Take them to your local fire department to meet them and learn about fire safety.
  • Teach your children to tell you or a responsible adult when they find matches or lighters at home or school.

These fire facts 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!

Sources: American Red Cross, U.S. Fire Administration*, and the National Fire Protection Association

Friday, February 12, 2010

Still looking for the perfect Valentine's Day gift?

Valentine's Day is almost here and it's got me thinking about the people I love.

Sure, it's got me dreaming about pretty flowers, sweet cards, and fancy chocolates. I'm worrying about dinner reservations and getting just the right gift for that special someone. I'm remembering the valentines who have come before fondly.

But, as I think about all the people I love, I wonder if I've done enough to show them how important they are to me. Do the people I care most about know what to do in an emergency? Are they ready if disaster strikes? Have I done all I can to make sure they'll be safe?

The best Valentine's Day gift I can think of for all the people in my life is preparedness. As you look for that perfect gift, consider the items on this list:

  • Water (at least one gallon per person, per day.)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable, easy to prepare food)
  • Flashlight
  • Battery powered or hand cranked radio (with extra batteries)
  • First Aid Kit
  • A 7-day supply of medications
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygene items
  • Copies of personal documents (like the deed to your home, insurance policies and birth certificates)
  • Cell phones with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Tools/ supplies for securing your home

You know, nothing says romance like a flashlight and a first aid kit!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Red Cross Helps Family of Six after Fire

My name is Cassie Wilander, and I am a marketing and communications intern at the Red Cross of Greater Chicago. Every week I come to work, I learn something new either about marketing or about myself. Every day, our volunteers go out to local fires or other disasters and offer Red Cross assistance and aid. Last week I went out on one of these disaster calls to a fire on the Southside of Chicago with an AmeriCorps VISTA. This was my first time accompanying disaster services on a call, and my main objective was to sit back and observe. I had no idea that what I saw would impact me so profoundly.

It was easy to find the fire with all the neighbors standing outside and the lights of the police cars and fire trucks flashing. We pulled up in a large Red Cross van that was stocked with stuffed animals for kids and packs of the essentials like shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste etc. The house was a small two story and the front picture window was gone whether from the heat of the fire or the spray of the hoses. We found the woman who lived there and learned the fire took everything that was in her bedroom, while the rest of the house had various level of smoke damage. Nothing was left untouched. She and her five kids had no place to go.

After getting her information and assessing the damages, my partner explained to me the Red Cross gives funds enough to proved food, clothing and shelter for the first 24-48 hours after the fire. This is when it struck me how important our donors are. The donations the Red Cross receives were able to aid this family in their time of need. Instead of worrying about where they were sleeping that night, this mother could concentrate on more pressing matters like replacing her son’s medicine, finding a more permanent housing situation and washing their clothes that smelled of smoke.

I knew that donations drive a non profit like the Red Cross; I had just never experienced their impact on such personal level. This ride along has changed how I view my internship. It’s not just a resume booster, but a means to help support those that really need our help. I am extremely proud to work for such a great organization.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Get the Facts on Fire Safety!

According to the NFPA an estimated 890 lives could be saved each year if all homes had working smoke alarms. Help keep your family safe! Learn more about how to prevent fires in your community with Team Firestopper!

When do home fires happen?
Home fires can happen at any time, but they generally increase during the fall and winter, with December and January being the peak months. Home fires are also more common on Saturday and Sunday, and tend to peak between 6:00 and 7:00 PM.

Where are home fires most likely to start?
Home fires are more likely to start in the kitchen than any other room in the home. The second leading cause of home fires are heating sources like wood stoves, and fireplaces. Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of deaths.

How can I prepare for a potential home fire?
Smoke alarms are a critical step in being prepared for a home fire. Smoke alarms should be installed outside each sleeping area and on each level of your home. If you and your family sleep with the doors closed, install smoke alarms inside sleeping areas, too.

My home has a smoke alarm, is that all I need to do?
No, to function properly, smoke alarms must be maintained. Once a month you should use the test button to check each smoke alarm. And at least once a year, all smoke alarm batteries should be replaced. In addition, smoke alarms can become less sensitive over time and should be replaced at least every 10 years.

How can I help victims of home fires?
The number of families that the American Red Cross supports in the aftermath of home fires has increased 10 percent since 2000. Your local Red Cross chapter depends on the generous support of community members like you to help our neighbors affected by home fires. You can help victims of home fires by ensuring your local Red Cross is ready to respond. Contact your local chapter to make a financial contribution today.

These fire facts 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!

Sources: American Red Cross, U.S. Fire Administration*, and the National Fire Protection Association

Friday, February 05, 2010

Restoring Grace to Grace House: Overview and Musings

Household fix-its can be a chore. Painting, construction, cleaning – let’s face it, the process can be arduous. But for AmeriCorps preparedness members, renovating a transitional shelter was less of a mundane task and more of a utilitarianism venture.

The 14 AmeriCorps volunteers in the Red Cross’ Safe Families Program traveled to Decatur to fix up Grace House, a 90-day transitional shelter for women and children. They made the jaunt on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and sought to do more than revamp the rooms. They wanted to turn Grace House into a home – not just four walls and a roof, but a place of comfort and sanctuary.

Volunteers had six weeks to organize the overhaul of a shelter 180 miles away. They collected donations, put out media bulletins, contacted corporations and planned out the day’s tasks.

Megan McCarthy, an AmeriCorps member with the Safe Families Program, led the project’s planning and execution. She said the AmeriCorps members received 1,663 material donations and $950 in just a few weeks’ time.

“The scope of this project was immense,” McCarthy said. “With the limited timeline and limited staff resources on account of the holidays, we really shot for the stars on this one.”

On the menu for the renovation: Painting five rooms, thoroughly cleaning the living spaces, building countless furniture items and moving around bulky items. It was a massive project, and all crammed into a 14-hour work day.

McCarthy, who is also a member of Illinois LeaderCorps, said that there were several obstacles to the project. However, the project was a success and the volunteers had a palpable, indelible effect on the residents of the shelter.

“Grace House got what it needed, and we got to be a part of making that happen,” McCarthy said.

After weeks of reflection, project leaders say the extent of the project is still difficult to portray. But most members agree: After massive planning, daunting tasks, physical exhaustion and hours upon hours of painting, the residents of Grace House are now more likely to get back on their feet. Positive surroundings can go a long way. And at the day’s end, benefiting a part of society often neglected by the layman can feel downright good.

From the Decatur Herald-Review:

“Americorps volunteers from all over the state spent Monday making the house feel more like home. That included cleaning and painting the five bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second floor, as well putting plastic on the windows and replacing the furniture ...

... Day of Service activities in Decatur began Monday morning with the arrival at Grace House of a 17-foot truck bearing beds, linens and painting supplies. The truck and eight other vehicles carried 15 volunteers from Chicago, East St. Louis, Quincy and other parts of the state who came a day early for a training session at the Country Inn & Suites in Forsyth today.”

See the full story.