In this first installment of a new monthly series featuring questions and answers with American Red Cross of Greater Chicago Board Members, Better spoke with Chicago’s Vicki Znavor, a CIBC Bank retiree, author and professional mentor.
Better: How long have you worked with the American Red Cross and been a board member?
Znavor: I’ve been on the board for seven years. I joined when I was Chief Human Resources officer for what used to be called The PrivateBank in Chicago. I had talked with PrivateBank’s then CEO, Larry Richman, about ways I could give back to something I really cared about. When he had the opportunity to promote someone to the Red Cross board, he luckily thought of me and accepting the board position has definitely been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
What do you find most fulfilling about working with the American Red Cross?
It’s been so wonderful because of all the things that come to mind when you think about the Red Cross—all of the heart-warming acts that just give you faith in humanity. My colleagues on the board are just like this. They are all professionals or company presidents or local celebrities who are very successful in their careers, but they come together because they really care about people—it’s so special.
I chair the mission committee. This committee is responsible for overseeing the employee and volunteer experience with the Red Cross. Some of our volunteers are deployed and are out on an assignment for months at a time—away from their full-time jobs and families. The little things that I do are really nothing compared to what our staff and volunteers do.
Everything we do goes back to the mission of the Red Cross “to alleviate human suffering.” If you get to be even a small part of this, it means so much.
How do you encourage others to become volunteers for the American Red Cross?
People generally want to be part of something good. When I talk about the Red Cross, I often hear them say that they’ve never seen a tragedy where the Red Cross wasn’t there. Our volunteers are the ones who make this happen. They’re the ones putting themselves into very challenging situations in order to help other people. They are the heroes.
Are there currently any urgent areas of need for volunteers?
There is a blood shortage globally. The blood drives are first and foremost in most need for us. This is such an easy way for people to engage with the Red Cross and make a difference.
Touching on how incredible the power of volunteers is, do you have a personal volunteer story that you found the most impactful?
I co-chair the nominations committee for our annual Heroes Breakfast and this is where we celebrate our everyday heroes. This breakfast spotlights how different the world would be if we call did our part to alleviate human suffering, even in just a little way.
There are just so many incredible stories, but one that stands out in my mind is about a young man named Marqus Valentine. Marqus was our Blood Services’ hero. He suffered from Sickle Cell anemia his whole life and started a foundation called Sick Cells. With this foundation, he would travel the country with his sister raising awareness about this disease and sharing resources for where people impacted by this disease could get help. Sickle Cell is very painful and I didn’t know that before hearing Marqus’s story. And you would never have known how Marqus was suffering because he was so full of light and love. He passed away in 2020 and I’ve never forgotten how touched I was by him. I have never been to a Heroes Breakfast where I didn’t cry.
As a professional mentor, do you have any advice for others who would like to volunteer their time to the American Red Cross?
It has been the honor of my lifetime to be part of the Red Cross. Our volunteers are so important. They do so many amazing things without any expectation of a thank you. They just do it for the good of other people and to help alleviate suffering. Seeing this gives you faith in other people and hope that no matter what is going on in the world—we’re going to be fine. Everyone should want to be a part of this.
How to Help:
For the past 20 years, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago has held their annual Heroes Breakfast to honor individuals and groups for acts of immense bravery, dedication and service to the community. This year’s breakfast honored 12 extraordinary individuals that prove heroes walk among us, delivering kindness and making a difference every day. Get inspired by the heroes, then join us in supporting the Red Cross by donating and your donation will be matched twice.
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Ann Marie Scheidler is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and five children. She tends to be where her kids are, but if you can’t find her there, she’s proudly supporting Beacon Place as one of its newest board members. Beacon Place is a nonprofit organization that has changed the lives of 4,000 children and families in Waukegan. Their innovative programs take a whole child and family approach to education, enrichment and healthy lifestyles support.