I come from a long line of native Peorians, and I am passionate about our community—about the people, the rich culture, the natural beauty of the Illinois River Valley, the business community, Caterpillar’s worldwide headquarters and the educational opportunities. I am a proud graduate of Peoria public schools and Bradley University, where I met my husband.
Joe and I have a beautiful daughter, a perfect son-in-law and an adorable granddaughter. We love to travel and have enjoyed many exciting adventures. However, I realized at a recent Bradley reunion that my life sounds unremarkable. I am still living in the same town where I was born—on the same street where I grew up—married to the same wonderful man, and working in the only job I have ever had.
It is hard for me to think of my experience at the Red Cross as a career because it is much more than that. It is friends, challenges, opportunities to help, meeting new people, learning new things, making a difference in people’s lives, helping to make our community safer and healthier, working with amazing colleagues, solving problems, managing change, and doing really serious work… but having fun doing it.
Please reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2012.
Our work at the Red Cross is a balance of responding to current needs and anticipating and preparing for future needs. In 2012, we have taught nearly 50,000 area children about fire safety, first aid, tornado safety, seatbelt usage, bike safety, disease prevention, distracted driving, poison prevention and much more. The goal is to help them adopt healthy, safe habits now that will carry on in adulthood so they can lead healthy, safe, productive lives.
We helped hundreds of local people whose homes and lives were devastated by fires. Caring, experienced Red Cross volunteers arrived within 30 minutes of a call to the fire department and provided blankets, comfort kits, stuffed animals for the children, a debit card for clothing and food, and a hotel room. Red Cross mental health workers helped families deal with their losses, and Red Cross nurses made sure they had their medications, glasses and other essentials. We helped them access resources from other local agencies and worked with families until they got back on their feet. Families tell us that, sometimes, what meant the most at the moment was the Red Cross volunteer’s genuine compassion and understanding hug.
Military families count on the Red Cross in emergencies. We connected hundreds of families and relayed important messages to service members around the world. When military families encountered financial difficulties, we helped them get loans. When grandparents, caring for the children of deployed service members, needed help at Christmastime, we made sure Santa knew.
When a service member who recently served in the Middle East asked for help to repair his car’s air conditioner during this very hot summer, we discovered a heartbreaking story. He had been laid off from his job, and a few weeks later, his wife was downsized too. They were evicted from their home and were living in their car with three little girls. We helped him get his car repaired and put him in touch with other agencies that could assist. The best news is that we worked with a local employment firm, and they were able to get him a job. He and his family are happily making their home in a new apartment and their future looks much brighter.
We also incorporated 12 additional counties into our service area. We are responsible for about one third of the counties in Illinois and have oversight responsibility for the chapters in Bloomington, Decatur, Springfield and Quincy.
As we look to the future of central Illinois, we believe the most important contribution we can make is to ensure that the communities in our area are prepared for emergencies. We introduced a two-pronged approach this year. We are targeting preparedness initiatives for businesses and schools, as well as focusing on steps to mitigate and prepare for emergencies in the five state universities and many colleges in our region.
Chapters throughout the region launched “Ready Rating,” a free disaster-preparedness assessment and planning tool for businesses and schools. Research shows that the communities that recover fastest from a major disaster are those that are well prepared before it occurs. Ready Rating is an effective, no-cost way to achieve that resiliency. We are extremely pleased with our emergency management partners’ support and the number of businesses and schools participating in the program.
The second prong of our preparedness effort addresses the growing number of violent incidents on college and university campuses nationwide. We are working with the largest institutions in our region to build relationships, identify needed resources and develop plans to prevent and respond to emergencies.
How has your organization adjusted to changes in the business climate over the last several years?
We live in a world of rapid and fundamental change, yet I am amazed by the constancy of people. At the Red Cross, in the worst of times, we see the best of people. That never changes. We continue to experience the enormous power of caring, selfless, generous people. Our work is only possible because of the dedication of volunteers, the kindness of donors, the passion of our staff, and the wise leadership of our board and area businesses.
Eleven years ago, just four hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I gave goodbye hugs to four Red Cross volunteer nurses as they left to help the victims of that terrible tragedy. There was no assurance of their personal safety. They didn’t know if more attacks would come, whether they would be exposed to chemical or biological toxins, or even if there would be a place for them to stay. They only knew that the national Red Cross requested their assistance, and they were determined to help. That driving spirit of human compassion is the unchanging essence of the Red Cross.
We see this compassionate dedication in our local Red Cross volunteers who slept on the floor of an abandoned jail in New Orleans to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We witness the force of caring people every day, right here in our own community. Red Cross volunteers climb out of their warm beds in the middle of the night and rush to help a family whose home is burning. We saw it just a few weeks ago, when Caterpillar learned that the Red Cross’ Hurricane Sandy disaster operations headquarters in New Jersey was without power. Within hours, a generator was in place.
Our board members demonstrate unwavering commitment to the Red Cross humanitarian mission. When we were informed that Peoria should expect up to 500 Hurricane Katrina evacuees, our board chair at the time, Mike McCord, flew back from vacation and worked with us until after 1am, preparing to help those who would come to Peoria for shelter and assistance.
These are just a few examples of the unchanging kindness of the human spirit that we see every day. In an ever-shifting environment, the fundamental goodness of people doesn’t change.
What is your leadership philosophy?
My job is simply to lead good people in pursuit of a good cause. Our humanitarian mission and vision give us clear direction, our principles provide the sound framework for decisions, our values describe our behaviors, and humanitarian needs set our objectives. Our goal is to provide the right service in the right way at the right time and to do it better than expected.
We are united in our commitment to our mission, and every person is essential. It takes each of us, doing our very best every day, to ensure that the Red Cross will be there to extend a helping hand when someone reaches out in need. We firmly believe that everyone comes to work every morning to do a good job, and we try to give them the support they need to accomplish their miracles. We know that fulfilling the Red Cross mission has to be a team effort, and we work as a team, both internally and externally. We truly value our remarkable community partners—fire departments, police departments, public health departments, schools, businesses, emergency management agencies, hospitals, the United Way, and many other community agencies. Together, we are able to do far more than any of us could individually.
Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?
I am very fortunate to work with the Red Cross board members, who are also top business and civic leaders. I have learned so much from their questions and comments and from watching them make decisions. Their willingness to share their experience and expertise enriches the entire organization. It is a great privilege to have 20 bosses and mentors. I learn from each of them, and I try to repay their kindness to me by sharing their wisdom with our staff and volunteers so we can all become better leaders.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
When I make decisions as an adult, my inner voice reminds me of advice my mother gave when I was a child: “A stitch in time saves nine.” “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” “The road to nowhere is paved with good intentions.” “Actions speak louder than words.” “Be careful what you ask for; you might get it.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And, when I was a little girl, my grandfather admonished me to “never give up.”
What is one goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
I would like to be able to look back and know that I have made a difference to others so they are able to live their lives with the same joy and love that I have known.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Happy. Blessed. Optimistic.
How do you unwind after a long day of work?
I love my work, and I have the privilege of working with truly wonderful people every day, so I don’t ever feel a need to unwind. At the end of the day, I think we all feel good about what we have been able to accomplish.
If you could have dinner with anyone, past or present, who would it be? Why?
My family—because they are fun and interesting, and I love them dearly.
What is your greatest fear?
I keep hoping to outgrow my paralyzing fear of heights.
What is your favorite movie? Why?
My favorite movie is usually the one I am watching, if it makes me laugh and feel happy. iBi