Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's the Deal With This Charter Thing?

Yes, there are lots of non-profits out there that do amazing things for their communities, and many of them are similar to the Red Cross in one function or another. We're not the only provider of CPR training, nor are we the only disaster relief organization.

So, what makes the Red Cross different?

Well, unlike some other non-profits, the American Red Cross maintains a special relationship with the US government through its congressional charter. Though it's not a federal organization, the Red Cross has the legal status of "a federal instrumentality" and has been appointed to assist in fulfilling the obligations of the Geneva Convention. According to its charter, the Red Cross is required to:

- fulfill the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is a signatory, assigned to national societies for the protection of victims of conflict,

- provide family communications and other forms of support to the U.S. military, and

- maintain a system of domestic and international disaster relief, including mandated responsibilities under the National Response Plan coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Did your eyes glaze over? Don't worry, me too. Here's what it means: The Red Cross has a huge responsibility to support the humanitarian efforts of the US government. As I mentioned, we're not a government agency, so this is all accomplished through the hard work of our volunteers and donors.

It's a big job. And while volunteering your time is a great thing to do no matter what organization you choose to do it with, I urge everyone to consider the Red Cross.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Red Cross Reserve Corps needs YOU!

Are you a college student or a twenty something?! Do you want to help people who have been affected by disaster?!

If so, we have an awesome opportunity for you to be trained to respond to disasters right here in Chicago.

Red Cross Reserve Corps is a program designed to get large groups of young people prepared to respond in the event of a large scale disaster in the Chicagoland area.

We have two upcoming training sessions on Saturday, April 24th and Saturday, June 5th. At the training session you will learn basic mass care including feeding, sheltering and bulk distribution.

Come meet other young people who as are passionate about volunteering as you are!

And, did I mention it’s FREE!

For more information and to sign up visit

Friday, March 26, 2010

CPR Fun!

Earlier this week I taught CPR to a group of teenagers. They were from a program run by Corazon Community Services of Cicero. I was nervous as I walked into a building I had never been in with a group of people I had never met. I have taught strangers countless times as an AmeriCorps instructor, but the nerves are always there at the beginning. As we started the class, we waited for someone to bring a laptop and projector so that we could play the DVD that is crucial to the teaching of the course. As an instructor you have to be able to adapt to many situations like this.

I quickly learned that this was going to be a fun group. With a good mixture of guys and girls, quiet and boisterous, we began what was to become a treasured experience of mine. Students who had just finished a school day were enjoying themselves and learning how to save lives at the same time! The usual silliness ensued and practicing the checking of an unconscious adult became hilarious and educational at the same time. What inspired me was that these people really wanted to learn, even when it was difficult.

The second day was even better! The students were enthusiastic and had a blast performing CPR on mannequins. The questions kept coming and the students even enjoyed themselves!

I must admit, like most people I tend to initially judge people based on appearances. This time I was gladly broken of my own stereotypes. The students were inquisitive and were asking questions that showed how intelligent they were. I find this especially exciting because from time to time, when I tell people that I teach in Cicero, their response is one of disdain and apprehension. I smile to myself and think of the many amazing experiences I have had in Cicero, including teaching a group of teenagers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Heart Related Emergencies at Home

Do you have heart problems in your family? I do. It's scary. Especially with my parents getting older and my brother and I being away from home. Five of my family members have suffered or died from heart attacks or sudden cardiac arrest in my lifetime (and I'm not that old!).

Sorry for the doom and gloom on a Wednesday morning, but it's reality. The great news is that there's an extra precaution you can take against heart related emergencies when your mom and dad (or brother, cousin, grandpa, uncle and creepy step-aunt) refuse to eat better or get out and exercise.

I bet you think I'm going to say, "learn CPR," right? Close! But no. CPR requires your presence. If a family member you're concerned about has a significant other, caretaker or someone else with them on a regular basis, there's a better solution.

It's personal automatic external defibrillators, more popularly know as AEDs, I'm talking about. You know - those things you see on hospital shows where they yell "clear!" then shock the patient's heart? Those, but smaller (and less dramatic).

With a few hours of training and the purchase of an personal AED, one can have quick access to a tool that greatly increases the survivability of a heart related emergency. According to the Red Cross, 50,000 of the 250,000 sudden cardiac arrest related deaths occurring yearly in the US could be prevented if an AED were present.

Now, when we see AEDs used on those hospital shows I mentioned, the patient's heart has usually stopped - a depiction that's not completely accurate. AEDs are appropriate for irregular, sporadic or absent heart rhythms. That means heart attack, angina, AMI and sudden cardiac arrest are all candidates for AED use.

Sound complicated? The biggest worry is probably, "how will I know when to use it?". You'll learn more in class, but let me just put this one fear to rest: Modern AEDs measure heart rhythms and advise the user whether or not to administer a shock automatically. All you have to do is listen to instructions and push a button. Easy!

Having a personal AED in the home or office accompanied by someone with proper training is a great precaution to take against heart related emergencies.

For more information about AEDs, how you or a loved one can take an AED class, or to learn more about the Red Cross, visit these links:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Get a Spot in the Sold-Out Chicago Marathon!

Listen up runners! There is still a chance to run in the Chicago Marathon. You can join the Red Cross’ Run Red Team and help raise funds for the American Red Cross.

Your support makes it possible for the Red Cross to help disaster victims avoid hunger and homelessness and bring CPR and other preparedness classes to more that 250,000 people in our area. Run Red Team members will receive training, team gear, and the camaraderie of an awesome team of people. So, please sign up! For information on how to sign up, please go to

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A New Chicago Volunteer's Story

In 2008, I took my first class at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, chapter of the American Red Cross. Hurricane Katrina had come and gone, but the feeling of helplessness I had experienced was still fresh in my mind. "I'll be ready for the next one," I thought, as images of myself as a bedraggled aid worker saving lives at ground zero of the next big disaster flashed through my head.

I think that's how a lot of people find their way to the Red Cross: with hopes of participating in humanitarian campaigns in exotic locales. And while their intentions are noble, there's more to this organization than feeding children in third world countries or sheltering evacuees in disaster-affected regions.

Does the Red Cross do those things? Yes, but there's much more to it.

By adhering to the motto, "Think Globally, Act Locally," Red Cross chapters strive to take care of those in immediate need at a local level. Thousands of chapters across the country focusing on their own neighborhoods - that's how the American Red Cross truly fulfills its mission.

No, I never ended up traveling to a major disaster as part of a Red Cross team. That doesn't mean it won't happen some day, but until that time comes, I've had the opportunity to do so much more. Instead of focusing on disaster response, I became a first aid/CPR instructor. Why wait around for the next big one when there are people right here that need me (and you!) right now?

Teaching classes has its benefits. I get to practice speaking in front of a group and test my jokes, for example, but the best part is knowing that my contribution could help someone - even save a life. It's incredibly rewarding.

And through the inconveniences of relocating from Michigan to Chicago, starting a new job and getting myself acclimated to the city took my attentions away from volunteering for a few months, I've found my way back and look forward to working with such a large (and busy) chapter.

For now, I'm satisfied with first aid/CPR classes, but there are opportunities aplenty to try other things. A new volunteer can easily find their niche here, which is one of the greatest aspects of helping out at the Red Cross.

I urge anyone that's looking for a way to spend some time giving back to the community to consider the Red Cross. Once this organization gets in your blood, you'll want to keep giving back.

If you've somehow found your way to this blog without reviewing the Chicago Red Cross home page, check out our Chart of Opportunities to see what you can do to help out.

Don't see anything you like? Give us a call, tell us what you can do for the ARGC and I bet we can make it happen.

Quiz your home safety knowledge!

How well do you know carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide in the home…
a. is a dangerous, odorless, and invisible gas.
b. is a foggy gas.
c. smells like sulfur.
d. is harmless.

Carbon monoxide is produced when…
a. carbon is burned.
b. fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely.
c. someone smokes cigarettes inside the home.
d. pets burn off some energy.

Each year, carbon monoxide claims approximately ____ lives?
a. 115
b. 230
c. 350
d. 480

Which of the following is NOT a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning?
a. shortness of breathe
b. light headedness, dizziness, or headaches
c. excess energy
d. nausea

Answers: 1: a; 2: b; 3: d; 4: c

How can you protect your family from carbon monoxide?
Install a carbon monoxide (CO) detector in the hallway of your home near sleeping areas. Also, know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get to fresh air immediately, and then call 9-1-1. Treat any alarm signal as a real emergency each time. If the alarm sounds and you are not experiencing any symptoms described above, press the reset button. If the alarm continues to sound, call the fire department.

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!

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

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Break Survival

Take it from a girl who knows, traveling abroad or anywhere can be an adventure or a disaster depending on how prepared you are. Another fellow traveler, Kiersten Regelin, has had several near-misses while traveling abroad, and her experiences are a constant reminder about how important it is for young people to know what disasters might occur in the area they're traveling during Spring Break. Kiersten’s travelled to approximately 40 countries, across most continents, mostly for adventure and pleasure. Some of her most interesting and riskier encounters include:
- The recent El Salvador landslide
- A flash flood in Latin America
- A flat tire in Patagonia
- A spill from a bike in remote area of Latin American which broke a thumb
- Almost got robbed in a phone booth in Paris
- A couple of near political upheavals in urban areas
- A few of illnesses associated with disease and food risks
- Travel to areas with active volcanoes, fault lines, and hurricane/typhoon/tsunami risks
- Travel to areas with a high incident of public transportation risks, such as Accra, Ghana
- And of course many, many scams

With Spring Break upon us, you may be looking forward to sand and sun at your exotic destination or while heading south stateside, but it is important to be aware of potential disasters in the area you are traveling to. In light of recent natural disasters in picturesque locales, American Red Cross of Greater Chicago has put together a list of important tips for travelers to facilitate preparedness on spring break vacations:

1. Know Your Risks

Learn what disasters or emergencies may occur in the area you are traveling to: check with The National Weather Service ( for risks in the U.S such as hurricanes or tsunamis, and read International Weather Forecasts to understand what might be in store for you abroad such as earthquakes or mudslides. From, you can also link to an online Be Red Cross Ready preparedness training course makes it easier than ever to get ready for emergencies.

2. Identify Local Authorities

Check with your accommodations and find out how the local authorities are prepared to handle a natural or man-made disaster in the area. When you are out of your regular environment, it is important to be aware of the new channels for information that you might be relying on.

3. Make a kit

Traveling light might be your goal, but be sure to bring along essentials such as bandages, medication and important documents that will be useful in case of a disaster. Having these resources available to you may make the difference in the hours it may take disaster relief to reach you. To see what should be in your kit, look at

4. Make a plan

Discuss with your travel group the plan in the case of an emergency. Choose a meeting place or a method of communication that you will wait for if you are split up by a disaster.

5. Take a class

Learning life-saving techniques such as CPR and having other disaster training can put you in a position to help out others in the situation that a disaster strikes. Taking a class at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago can give you the preparedness you need to make a difference in an emergency. Check out to learn all of the options.

Have a safe and fun Spring Break everyone!
-By Cassandra Wilander, marketing and communications intern

Friday, March 12, 2010

In the wilderness, awake and at home

I don't mean to jinx it. I really don't. But winter seems to be loosening its grip and camping season is nigh. Overnight lows are consistent, the sun exists (yes, there was doubt) and I biked yesterday sans jacket (a la the tiny example to the left). So with camping just around the bend, it's always a good idea to brush up on advanced first aid skills — especially when your campsite or bike route is a solid 30 minutes from emergency medical services.

Warning: Obligatory anecdote. Call me nerdy. I'm that weird Eagle Scout kid you knew in high school. I memorized knots, hung food from trees and learned how to go number two in the woods (yes, there is a right way and a wrong way). More importantly: I learned all kinds of backcountry first aid skills. And the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago is about to offer a program so you can learn these skills, too.

The class is called Wilderness First Aid. The course combines classroom lecture, skills practice and role-playing to teach the response steps and treatment of injuries and illness in delayed-response situations. The course focuses on:

• Primary and secondary assessments
• Head (brain), neck and back injuries
• Heat-related emergencies and hypothermia
• Altitude-related illnesses, allergies and anaphylaxis
• Bone and joint injuries
• Burns
• Wounds and wound infection

... but that's just the start of it. In short, the class is a very in-depth look at several outdoorsy first aid situations. Bee sting in the woods? Broken bone in the backcountry? Severe burn at the campsite? There's a class for that.

Want to enroll? I thought so. Starting Monday, classes will be scheduled and enrollment will be open for Wilderness First Aid classes in the Chicago area. So if you're a nerdy ex-scout, a connoisseur of the outdoors or just enjoy the occasional jaunt through the forest preserve, taking this class will help you save a life in cases of delayed emergency response.

Happy Friday! Now, Allen Ginsberg, if you'll kindly take us into the weekend.

And maybe make an image
of my wandering, a little
image — shrine by the
roadside to signify
to traveler that I live
here in the wilderness
awake and at home.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Dear Red Cross...

Once again I was greeted this morning by an amazing story of a selfless little girl from Hinsdale, IL. When you are a kid, the most exciting day of the year, apart from Christmas, is your birthday. You look forward to a party with all of your friends, lots of cake and a pile of gifts you can’t wait to unwrap! This year for her 10th birthday, Alex Angus decided to forgo the standard birthday gifts and instead raise money for the Red Cross. After the earthquake hit Haiti, Alex eagerly looked for any opportunity to help. Here is a letter she wrote the Red Cross:
Help Haiti!
Dear Red Cross,
For my birthday instead of getting presents, I donated money for Haiti. When I heard about the earthquake, I knew I had to do something. I felt so bad! We raised $450 just from 1 birthday party! A lot of friends came to my party so I hope they will raise money just like I did. I really hope this will help a ton! I’m glad I could help!

What an amazing girl! She inspires a genuinely giving attitude and the Red Cross of Greater Chicago is so proud to accept her donation.

-By Cassandra Wilander, Marketing and Communications Intern

Spring is in the air...

Spring is in the air, and that can only mean one thing... Tornado season is coming! Tornado season in the northern mid-west runs from April to June and Illinois has been the target of some of the worst tornados in history. Do you know how to stay safe if a Twister is coming your way?

Take our true or false quiz and find out!

1) Most tornadoes last about an hour.

2) Tornadoes are signaled by complete silence.

3) Tornadoes can occur during thunderstorms.

4) You should have a tornado plan and practice tornado drills at home.

5) The southwest corner of the basement is the safest place during a tornado.

6) If the power goes out during a tornado, you should inspect your home for damage using candles or flashlights.

7) If you are in your car when a tornado strikes, you should drive as fast as you can in the other direction.

So, how did you do? Let's find out!

1) The length of a tornado depends on it's strength. Most weak tornadoes don't last more than 10 minutes, but a violent tornado can last more than an hour with winds greater than 205 mph.

2) Tornadoes are often signaled by a loud roar, like the sound of a frieght train coming your way. Other signals include dark, often greenish sky, a wall-like cloud or large hail.

3) Tornadoes occur as part of servere weather conditions, like thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes.

4) Being prepared for a disaster can help save lives. Practicing a tornado drill in your home, at work, and anywhere else you spend time is crutial to being ready if a tornado comes your way.

5) In a tornado, staying in any low, window-free place is your best option. If you have a basement, stay in the most structurally sound part of that basement- the southwest corner is no better or worse than any other.

6) Using candles after a tornado is a bad idea. There may be a gas leak that could be ignited by the use of a candle or open flame. Three times as many people have perished useing candles after a disaster than from the disaster itself.

7) If a tornado warning is issued, you should get out of the car and find shelter on the lowest floor of the nearest building. If you can't find shelter, take cover in a ditch- lay flat, protecting your head and face.

For more information about Tornado and other Disaster Safety, contact the American Red Cross (312-729-6159) and enroll in a Community Disaster Education class!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Beginning a New Chapter with Hala, an Iraqi Woman Who Heals Through Helping

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. For the Red Cross, it is a tragic reminder that during times of war, women's voices often go unheard and their specific needs are overlooked. Women displaced by armed conflict – often living alone with their children – are frequently exposed to sexual violence, discrimination and intimidation. Many face poverty and social exclusion as well.

Yesterday, I had the honor of hearing a young woman's story that put in stark clarity the harsh realities of armed conflict's impact on women.

Hala, 20, a student at DePaul is an Iraqi woman who had to leave her Bagdad home with her mother and brother when she was only 13 years old. In 2003, her mother, a Bagdad University professor, fled to Syria with her two children, leaving their extended family behind when she and many of her professional colleagues faced kidnapping and death if they chose to continue to work.

When their savings ran out a year later, they returned to Bagdad, where they lived in a church during some of the most violent years. Hala’s school was near the green zone, so, in addition to the kidnappings and deaths her family’s loved ones endured, Hala witnessed the impact of war on her way to and from high school. When the conflict became unendurable, Hala and her brother were forced to flee to safety to Syria again, but this time without their mother.

“The time was very confusing. We had a great life and a great education. It wasn’t easy, but what people don’t understand is that we had a good life and a peaceful one.” She shared with me. “The violence became so bad. ‘What now?’ I asked myself. We realized one day that we had to move on.”

In Syria, Hala found relief and healing through volunteerism with the Red Crescent Society and a local environmental campaign. “This is where I began my healing process. I was a victim in Iraq. Now I was helping. I was wearing this Red Crescent vest and it was a big thing to be able to help someone just register their name.”

Hala tried to keep busy through food distribution and medical relief efforts that supported the more than 2 million Iraqi refugees who wanted to live and work in Syria, as well as the many poor Syrians who lived in Damascus. She took Red Cross First Aid and Disaster courses. “Everyday I would see people coming and I would hear their stories. I’d talk to them and listen to them. It was so meaningful to me. When you speak to them you add hope.”

Through her volunteer work, she met the founders of the Iraqi Student Project (ISP) who, ultimately, played a critical role in Hala’s enrollment in DePaul University, where she began school in August of 2009 supported by a 4 year scholarship. At DePaul, Hala translates and provides technology support for the International Institute of Human Rights Law when she isn’t working on her degree in Information Assurance.

“One day you have to grow up. You have to be older really fast,” she says. “When people tell me I’m mature, it is sort of good and sort of bad. Sometimes it would be good to just be a kid. ”

Hala plans to continue her healing process by getting involved in international and local relief work through the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago when she isn't focused on her studies. After graduation, she plans to return home to rebuild her country again.

International humanitarian law includes specific provisions protecting women, for example when they are pregnant or as mothers of young children. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago is currently offering a free International Humanitarian Law (IHL) course to the public because we have a unique mandate to educate the public about humanitarian principles and international treaties meant to save lives and alleviate suffering during armed conflict. Through a discussion-based approach, this newly updated course explores the concept of human dignity in the midst of war. The next class is March 27.

Since I began working for the Red Cross last fall, I have been shocked by the degree to which international issues hit close to home in Chicago. Through our chapter's involvement with International Red Cross and Red Crescent Humanitarian mission and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), we repeatedly see that the impact is local.

I haven't taken the class yet, but, like Hala, wearing the red vest is healing for me. Connecting with others who appreciate that suffering is a universal experience repeatedly makes my life better. I am incredibly inspired by the courage of this young lady and my hope is that we go to our first class together. I can't imagine a greater honor in my own Red Cross journey than to begin the next chapter together here in Chicago.

Do you care to join us?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Have Plans Tonight?

If you are looking for something FUN to do tonight head over to Circuit at 3641 N. Halsted, where our next Flirting for Disaster will be held, Try Your Luck. Flirting for Disaster is a social mixer series hosted by the Auxiliary Board of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. These mixers are a great way to network and meet other Red Cross enthusiasts.

Discounted tickets are available until Noon today – click here to buy your $20 advance ticket. Tickets are $25 at the door.

This exclusive Red Cross reception includes a complimentary champagne tasting courtesy of Barefoot Wines, in addition to three complimentary cocktail tickets for each guest. In addition to the drink specials, Try Your Luck features Passed Gratis Hors D’oeuvres, a giveaway for the first 100 ticket purchasers, a live performance from Miss. Foozie and enticing raffle prizes.

Raffle Prizes include:
  • A Day at the Races: A package for four to Hawthorne Race Track - including free parking, admission passes, official programs, lunch or dinner in the Gold Cup Dinning Room, a race named in your honor, and a group Winner’s Circle picture.
  • Climb to the Top with YPC: A one year membership to Young Professionals of Chicago and four adult tickets to check out Skydeck Chicago.
  • Date Night: A $100 Gift certificate to MADO and one bottle of Barefoot Bubbly - Premium Extra Dry Chardonnay Champagne.
  • It’s Time to Laugh: One FREE improve class at ComedySportz, and four tickets to see a ComedySportz performance.
  • Mission Accomplished: Two tickets to Mission Red Experience Auction - Flirting for Disaster’s Grand Finale Bash, and 2 bottles of “Vin De City Red” from Lynfred Winery.
    Turning Blue: Two tickets to see Blue Man Group.
  • Wine Lovers: Private in store wine tasting, a two hour group wine tasting good for 12 people.

    We hope to see you TONIGHT, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Circuit. For more information, visit or call (312) 729-6138. Proceeds support the lifesaving mission of the American Red Cross in our community, throughout the country and around the world.

posted by Rachael Garcia, Resource Development

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Know a thing or two about home fire safety?

Looking to make a difference in your community? Share your fire safety smarts as a Team Firestopper volunteer!

4 out of 5 Americans are unaware that home fires are the most common disaster threat. You can help us change that statistic. Teach households in the Chicagoland area how to prevent fires in their home by:

  • Maintaining smoke detectors
  • Creating a home fire escape plan
  • Learning how to use a fire extinguisher
  • Practicing safe home heating methods
  • Assembling a disaster supply kit
Join forces with us; help us to eradicate home fires in Chicagoland communities!

We have volunteer opportunities available in March, April, May and June! To volunteer, visit us, or call 312-729-6179 for more information. Don’t worry, we will train you!

Fire safety tip of the week: Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.

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!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Impactful Moment Today

I just returned from an appointment with a man who lost his home in a fire this weekend. The fire burned straight through the roof creating a massive hole that allows the cold air to pour into the kitchen. Luckily, no one was hurt. The Red Cross was able to give this man money for food and a list of referrals so he could find a more permanent shelter. As we conveyed our condolences about his home and wished him the best of luck, he said, “Thank you. Thank you all so much.” I think the stability of the Red Cross is very reassuring to anyone that has experienced something like this man has. This organization really takes care of its community, and it continues to be an honor to intern here.

-By Cassandra Wilander, marketing and communications intern