American Red Cross Announces 2018 Class of Heroes in Chicago and Northern Illinois

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is honoring local people who demonstrated acts of heroism in the community at the organization’s 16th Annual Heroes Breakfast.

“The American Red Cross is proud to honor the heroes among us whose extraordinary actions have impacted our communities and inspired us all,” says Celena Roldán, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois. “From the nine-year-old girl who rescued her whole family from her burning house, to the police officers who saved an infant in a submerged car, to the young father determined to uplift and encourage other young fathers — this collection of leaders have demonstrated that all have the power to leave an imprint upon the world.”

Bob Chodos, Vice Chairman, Newmark Knight Frank will accept the philanthropic Heritage Award on behalf of the Turning the Tide Committee for Hurricane Relief. This committee is being honored for the fundraising events they held to support those affected by Hurricane Katrina and in 2017 for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Both events raised more than $1 million for Red Cross disaster relief efforts.

Hero honorees were selected in 11 community service categories. They were chosen by an independent committee of leaders in the business and civic community.

Heroes Breakfast

Thursday, May 3

7:30-9:30 a.m.

Hilton Chicago

720 S. Michigan Ave.

To purchase tickets or for more information call 312-729-6178 or go to

The 2018 American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast honorees include the following group of local standouts. 

Blood Services Hero: Olivia Shorter

Seven-year-old Olivia Shorter is committed to educating others about the importance of donating blood. Olivia was diagnosed with sickle cell disease when she was just seven days old. Sickle cell disease can be managed but requires medical care and regular blood transfusions. For her seventh birthday, rather than having a traditional birthday party, Olivia hosted a blood drive in her community to raise awareness of sickle cell disease and to encourage people to donate blood.

Community Impact Hero: Sheldon Smith

Sheldon Smith has made it his life’s work to end the cycle of fatherlessness and change the narrative for African-American men in this country. In 2009, he started The Dovetail Project, an organization designed to support young African-American fathers in Chicago through a voluntary 12-week training program that includes parenting workshops, financial literacy training, and more. In 2017, 92 fathers graduated from his signature program, the most in the organization’s history.

Disaster Services Hero: Claire Liszkay

Nurse Claire Liszkay commits her life to medical disaster relief, despite any personal risk. During the 2015 Ebola crisis, Claire was the first nurse at Northwestern to volunteer to care for symptomatic patients. After that, she served for six weeks in Sierra Leone to treat those afflicted with the virus. Upon her return to the U.S., she was quarantined for three weeks. Following the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Claire helped set up a self-sustaining clinic for those impacted. Most recently, she was in Bangladesh providing medical relief to Rohingya refugees.

Emergency Medical Assistance Hero: Leona Di Amore

Leona Di Amore sacrificed her own safety to save the life of another. While visiting her daughter at college, she heard students screaming as a crisis erupted. Leona ran toward the screams and found a student who had a 10-inch stab wound. With no way to know if the scene was safe, Leona administered first aid to the student, applied pressure to the wound, and kept the student calm and conscious as he started to lose feeling from blood loss. The student was hospitalized and recovered because of her quick thinking and life-saving skills.

Firefighter Hero: Captain Michael Casagrande

Captain Michael Casagrande has saved lives through home fire prevention and fire safety. As the leader of the Kankakee Fire Prevention Division, Captain Casagrande and his team canvassed the city of Kankakee to install smoke alarms in every home that needed one. He used his knowledge of the local community, including the migrant community, to ensure equal access to this life-saving resource. Through his dedicated leadership, more than 10,000 smoke alarms were installed across the city of Kankakee since 2015. Four documented lives have been saved through his fire prevention work.

Global Citizenship Hero: Nasir Bin Zakaria

Nasir Bin Zakaria was inspired by his personal experience to help fellow refugees. At 14-years-old, Nasir was forced to leave his family and flee from Myanmar. Twenty-three years later, he was granted refugee status and arrived in Chicago. Nasir started working as a dishwasher and quickly realized how difficult it was for Rohingya refugees to adjust to American life. In 2016, Nasir opened the Rohingya Culture Center to create a space for Rohingya refugees for education, advocacy, and social gathering. Chicago is now the home to more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees, one of the largest communities in the U.S.

Good Samaritan Hero: Kate Dzierzanowski

Last November, Kate Dzierzanowski heard a car strike something outside her St. Charles office. Concerned, she went outside where she saw a vehicle had hit a guardrail. She alerted her co-workers to make the 911 call as she assessed the man in the vehicle. He looked unconscious and the vehicle was smoking. Kate couldn’t find a pulse on the man, so with help she dragged the driver from his car. She then started performing CPR. When the paramedics arrived, the man was taken to the hospital. Kate attributes her ability to respond to this situation to her employer for encouraging all employees to become CPR certified and paying for the training. Her quick thinking and actions saved a man’s life that day.

Law Enforcement Heroes: Officers Ryan Davenport and Joseph McDermott

Each day, Belvidere police officers Ryan Davenport and Joseph McDermott put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others. Last March, without hesitation, the officers swam to a woman and infant in a quickly sinking vehicle in the Kishwaukee River. At serious risk of hypothermia and other dangers, they were able to pull the mother and child out of the vehicle and get them quickly to shore. Within three minutes, the vehicle was completely submerged, with only its tail lights shining through the water.

Military Heroes: Roy Sartin and Eli Williamson

Veterans Eli Williamson and Roy Sartin returned from military service overseas to find themselves facing huge amounts of college debt. In talking to fellow veterans, they found issues like debt and unemployment to be pervasive. So, they created “Leave No Veteran Behind,” a program that leverages veterans’ skills to solve community issues while providing employment and debt alleviation services, in exchange for community service. One program, in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools, has veterans line the most dangerous streets of Chicago to make sure kids get to school safely. “Leave No Veteran Behind” has provided 925 transitional jobs and relieved $150,000 of student debt.

Nurse Hero: Rebecca Christiansen

As a nurse, Rebecca Christiansen saw firsthand how healthcare professionals can at times paint a dire picture for parents of babies born with disabilities. She experienced this directly, when her own son, Ryan, was born with Down syndrome. After Ryan’s birth, Rebecca created Celebrate Differences, an organization which not only provides programming for disabled adults and children, but also job skills and other resources. Rebecca also runs A Pinch of Happiness, a spice shop in downtown Oswego that employs young adults with disabilities. Rebecca’s work brings acceptance and joy, as well as workforce development, to her community.

Youth Hero: Charmin BoClaire

Having learned about fire safety at school, 10-year-old Charmin BoClaire saved her family in a raging house fire. Charmin was able to get her mother, four-year-old sister and 10-month-old brother safely out of the house. It took two trips, and she had to help her mother extinguish flames on her legs. She kept calm and took swift action during an incredibly frightening moment. Her family is alive and together thanks to Charmin’s heroic efforts that day.