Red Cross Shelter Work Shows ‘real need’ [from rrstar.com]

January 5, 2009

By Chris Green, Rockford Register Star

During the past four months, Dave Dinges has become quite familiar with the daily operations of the Cedar Street Red Cross Homeless Shelter and the vital role it plays in the community.

The Stenstrom General Contracting employee served as project manager of the agency’s recently completed $330,000 expansion and renovation project. However, Dinges said it was during the construction process when the project took on a special meaning for him. A woman looking to house a mother and her children mistook him as an employee of the shelter and made a request:

“This woman was looking for a place for them to stay,” he said. “That’s when I had my eyes opened to what the real need was here in Rockford – providing shelter to those who have no place to go.”

Dinges oversaw the completion of a 1,550-square-foot addition, which included a new heating and air-conditioning system, a larger dining and activity room, an area to prepare food, and plenty of storage space for donated clothing and supplies. More importantly, the former dining room was remodeled and has been designated to serve entire families, something Red Cross officials say they are encountering more of on a daily basis.

The shelter office also was expanded and equipped with new computers, filing cabinets and a one-on-one case management room.

Going the extra mile
However, Pat Ambrose, the shelter’s service coordinator, said she was most appreciative of the extra work provided by Dinges and his 16-year-old son, Eric.

When Dinges wasn’t on-site, he was in the community gathering thousands of dollars in donations, such as benches from Spider Manufacturing. The metal seats were installed in a newly created and heated waiting room.

He also gathered office furniture from Michaelsen Office Furniture in Machesney Park.

His son spent part of his Christmas break also in the community gathering donations from area businesses collecting 20 Rubbermaid large plastic tubs, most of which were filled with new bed linen, new socks and hats.

“They had this large storage space, and it was empty,” Eric said. “I just decided to go around and see if I could get someone to help fill it.”

‘A lot more room’
Richard Wooten, 42, and his fiancee, Kira Rhodes, and their 11-month-old daughter, Ameliana, have lived at the 48-bed shelter off and on for several months.

They said the expansion couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It’s not congested in here now,” Wooten said.

Rhodes added: “There’s a lot more room and privacy now. The problem I had before was getting (Ameliana) to go to sleep at night with all the noise. That’s been eliminated.”

Since its opening in 1995, the shelter has housed more than 6,600 individuals, and more than 1,500 people have found permanent housing with assistance from the Rock River Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Staff writer Chris Green can be reached at cgreen@rrstar.com or 815-987-1241.

SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM Kira Rhodes and Richard Wooten stand with their 11-month-old daughter, Ameliana Rhodes-Wooten, in a family area where Rhodes and her daughter have been staying Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at the Red Cross Homeless Shelter in Rockford. The shelter recently completed a $330,000 addition, which includes a larger dining area. The old dining area has been divided into three family rooms. The shelter policy is for men to sleep in the mens area, even if they are in the shelter with their family.

SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM Kira Rhodes and Richard Wooten stand with their 11-month-old daughter, Ameliana Rhodes-Wooten, in a family area where Rhodes and her daughter have been staying Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at the Red Cross Homeless Shelter in Rockford. The shelter recently completed a $330,000 addition, which includes a larger dining area. The old dining area has been divided into three family rooms. The shelter policy is for men to sleep in the men's area, even if they are in the shelter with their family.

SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM Eric Dinges (right), 16, and his father, Dave Dinges, stand in a new storage room Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at the Red Cross Homeless Shelter in Rockford. The shelter recently completed a $330,000 addition, which includes a larger dining area. The old dining area has been divided into three family rooms. Eric volunteered to solicit donations to the Red Cross by asking local businesses to contribute.

SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM Eric Dinges (right), 16, and his father, Dave Dinges, stand in a new storage room Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at the Red Cross Homeless Shelter in Rockford. The shelter recently completed a $330,000 addition, which includes a larger dining area. The old dining area has been divided into three family rooms. Eric volunteered to solicit donations to the Red Cross by asking local businesses to contribute.

SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM A new dining area Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at the Red Cross Homeless Shelter in Rockford. The shelter recently completed a $330,000 addition, which includes the larger dining area. The old dining area has been divided into three family rooms.

SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM A new dining area Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at the Red Cross Homeless Shelter in Rockford. The shelter recently completed a $330,000 addition, which includes the larger dining area. The old dining area has been divided into three family rooms.

Click here to see the article on rrstar.com

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Conrats to Barbara Olson Center of Hope & Dick Kunnert on Winning Excelsior & Excalibur Awards!

December 5, 2008

And the winners last night were Barbara Olson Center of Hope won the Excelsior Award who offers life skills training and job placement opportunities for 300 teens and adults with mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy and Dick Kunnert won the Excalibur Award for his work as an advocate for the mentally ill and homeless.

Those who were nominated for Excelsior included:

Judy Gard and Bob Willis attend the Rockford Register Star Excalibur & Excelsior Awards on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008, at Cliffbreakers in Rockford. Photo by SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM

Judy Gard and Bob Willis of the American Red Cross Rock River Chapter attend the Rockford Register Star Excalibur & Excelsior Awards on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008, at Cliffbreakers in Rockford. Photo by SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM

Carm Herman reacts as she walks to the podium after it was announced the Barbara Olson Center of Hope won the 2008 Excelsior Award during the Excalibur & Excelsior Awards at Cliffbreakers in Rockford on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 Photo by EDDY MONTVILLE | RRSTAR.COM

Carm Herman reacts as she walks to the podium after it was announced the Barbara Olson Center of Hope won the 2008 Excelsior Award during the Excalibur & Excelsior Awards at Cliffbreakers in Rockford on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 Photo by EDDY MONTVILLE | RRSTAR.COM

Dick Kunnert reacts after winning the 2008 Excalibur Award during the Excalibur & Excelsior Awards at Cliffbreakers in Rockford, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008. Photo by EDDY MONTVILLE | RRSTAR.COM

Dick Kunnert reacts after winning the 2008 Excalibur Award during the Excalibur & Excelsior Awards at Cliffbreakers in Rockford, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008. Photo by EDDY MONTVILLE | RRSTAR.COM


American Red Cross – Rock River Chapter Nominated for Rockford Register Star’s Excelsior Award

December 1, 2008

The Excelsior was established by the Rockford Register Star in 1979, honors an organization or institution whose work has a positive impact on life in the Rock River Valley. The winning organization receives a plaque and check for $500.

The 2008 Finalist for the Excelsior Award are:

Thanks to all those who nominated us!


Get to Know Bill Bell – Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager at the Rock River Chapter

October 10, 2008

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.


Red Cross gets lift from local volunteers By Corina Curry [from Register Star]

September 29, 2008
AMY J. VAN HORN | RRSTAR.COM Lora Gilbert talks about her Red Cross volunteer work, including a recent trip to the Gulf Coast to help hurricane victims.

AMY J. VAN HORN | RRSTAR.COM Lora Gilbert talks about her Red Cross volunteer work, including a recent trip to the Gulf Coast to help hurricane victims.Three years ago, Lora Gilbert watched as images of destruction and grief flooded her TV screen.

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 ccurry@rrstar.com or 815-987-1395.

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