Who is he? Bill Bell, 68, moved to Rockford from Freeport about a month and a half ago with his wife, Nora. The Bells have six sons and three granddaughters spread out from California to New Jersey. Bill retired several years ago and found very quickly that retirement didn’t suit him. About five years ago, he became a Red Cross disaster volunteer in southern Illinois and worked on all types of disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to single-family house fires. In 2006, AmeriCorps VISTA assigned Bill to the Northwest Illinois Chapter in Freeport as homeland security liaison. He now works for the American Red Cross Rock River Chapter in Rockford as its emergency preparedness and response manager.
Do you belong to any clubs/groups/boards? As a part of my job both here and previously in Freeport, I was involved in numerous committees and task forces primarily relating to disaster and social services. In Freeport, I was active in my church, a local ham radio organization and also was a member of the Eagles. I’m also a trained storm spotter.
What inspires you to do what you do? I think that not only myself, but any Red Cross volunteer is motivated by a spirit of compassion and a desire to help others in times of need.
What is up next for you? We are now working on improving our training program in an effort to increase our volunteer base. If any readers are interested in working with the Red Cross, please give us a call.
What do you do for fun? Just last year, I became a licensed ham radio operator. I enjoy singing. I was a barbershopper for several years. Two other interests that have been consistent throughout my life have been photography and model railroading.
What do you like best about your job? The people, both co-workers and clients. Being able to help people at the time of a disaster is a very rewarding experience.
What is something people are surprised to learn about you? I was the Grand Prix champion slot car driver of Bad Kreuznach, Germany, in 1966.
What is the best advice you have ever received? My father was a doctor who smoked heavily. I can still remember sitting down as a teenager with him and having him convince me not to start smoking.
What did you want to be when you grew up? My father was a doctor, and my first inclination was to pursue a career in medicine.
Do you have any funny life experiences? I feel that it is very important to have a good sense of humor. I tend consider myself a creative practical joker. My family used to, and still does, dread April 1 because they never know what I’m going to come up with. With six boys, there were many opportunities.
What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced? I spent six and a half years in the Army, and my wife and I moved six times in six years. In that time, we had four children, and as an only child, dealing with that many babies was, to say the least, challenging. In thinking back, did I mention how much I love and appreciate my wife?
What is something you think the Rock River Valley needs? Maybe it’s just because I’m a train nut, but I feel that bringing passenger rail service to the area would be a great asset to the community.
Compiled by Corina Curry – Rockford Register Star.
The eight member crafts group of Valkommen Plaza on quilted and donated blankets to the Nancy J. Smith Emergency Shelter. Adhering to their purpose that every needy infant should have a blanket to keep them warm, group members (Jeanette Crowell, Virginia Amberine, Carolyn Lee, Starlene Petrus, Berta Seeger, Nancy Waggoner, Amy Jackson, Anna Martin, Anna Kennedy and Marilyn Congleton) made this donation in response to a Register Star article on the increase in families at the shelter located at 809 Cedar Street, Rockford, Illinois.
If you’d like to volunteer or donate to the shelter please visit: rockriver.redcross.org
Hurricane Katrina had just hit the Gulf Coast, and there was no way to escape the constant barrage of sad story after sad story.
She grabbed the phone.
The then-Loves Park resident knew no one in harm’s way. Her home, car and all of her belongings were safely 1,000 miles from the devastation, 740 feet above sea level. She didn’t dial a friend to talk about what she had seen and how it saddened her. She called the American Red Cross.
“I knew there was a lot of chaos. I knew they’d need as many people as they could get,” Gilbert said. “I thought ‘People need help. I have the time. I have the energy. I should go.’”
Gilbert never did get to help with disaster relief efforts for Katrina. She had yet to go through training.
But earlier this month, she and two other Rock River Valley residents left their Rockford area homes for Louisiana and Mississippi where they played crucial roles in relief efforts for Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
For two weeks, Gilbert did damage assessment and client intake, meeting with hundreds of people whose homes and belongings were destroyed. Mike O’Brien of Rockton and Greg Larsen, who were on a three-week deployment, hauled hundreds of meals each day to shelters and people working in the field.
They, along with hundreds of other volunteers from across the country, worked from before sunrise until well into the evening making sure people were fed, had a place to sleep and were getting the help they needed to get their lives on track.
“I feel blessed that my family and my home isn’t in that type of situation,” O’Brien said. “It’s hard to live down there. Imagine every couple years having to run for your life because of hurricanes.”
Gilbert, O’Brien and Larsen are three of the Rock River Chapter’s 161 volunteers who are trained in disaster relief operations. The Rock River Chapter had more than 98 volunteers assisting in Hurricane Katrina efforts. That number includes volunteers on the Gulf and in the Rock River Valley who help evacuees as they relocated to the Rockford area. Gilbert, O’Brien and Larsen were the only ones to assist in hurricane relief efforts this past month.
Cedric Johnson, American Red Cross Rock River Chapter community relations and development specialist, calls them and other volunteers the backbone of the organization.
“Without the generosity and dedication of our volunteers, the American Red Cross would not exist,” Johnson said. “These are everyday people who realize the weight of our humanitarian mission: helping our neighbors when they need it most.”
Gilbert, a Realtor with Dickerson & Nieman, spent her days trudging through mostly rural areas of southern Mississippi going from small town to small town, doing face-to-face interviews with people at their wind- and water-damaged homes.
She saw a lot of tears.
“It’s very upsetting to see these people. They’ve just been through two storms in two weeks. They don’t know what to do. They’ve lost everything. They don’t have any money,” Gilbert said. “One of the first things I thought when I came home was ‘I will never complain again.’ It puts your life in perspective.”
O’Brien, a 54-year-old machinist, came back with similar thoughts.
“When a complete stranger is there in front of you and they’re pretty distressed, you’re there listening and trying to understand how they feel. They’re so grateful,” O’Brien said. “It’s very heart-warming.”
Staff writer Corina Curry can be reached at email@example.com or 815-987-1395.
Dylan may not know he’s homeless, in fact he’s a very happy 21 month old little boy, he stays at our Emergency Overnight Shelter with his Mom and Dad on 809 Cedar Street in Rockford Illinois. We have actually renovated our shelter to better serve families and children who are homeless an increasing demographic in our area of people in need.
On October 25, 2008 we will be having a Ribbon Cutting to open our newly renovated part of the shelter for children and families. On that day as well there will be a clean-up day where people can volunteer to clean up the shelter and the grounds surrounding it.
If you’d like to donate, volunteer, or learn more about our Emergency Overnight Shelter please visit our website at rockriver.redcross.org or call 815-963-8471.
This photo is available to the media for distribution. Courtesy American Red Cross/Matthew Marek.
For more information, please visit the Red Cross Online Newsroom for Hurricane Ike.
These photos are available for media distribution. Please click the photo for caption and courtesy information.
Red Cross volunteer Judy Sperling-Newton displays baby Katrina Paw, born to Ku Paw at a shelter in New Braunfels.
Photos courtesy American Red Cross/Bruce Newton
For more information on how Red Cross is responding to Hurricane Ike go to the online newsroom.
New pictures are now in from Golf’n for the RED. It was a wonderful day and a good time was had by all.
Just click here to see the pictures!