2024 Class of Heroes

Heroes in twelve community service categories are being honored this year. Honorees were chosen by an independent committee of leaders in the business and civic community. The Red Cross pays tribute to the 2024 class of heroes through their stories of inspiration outlined below:

Chez Smith of Chicago Heights and Venisha Bonds of Dolton are the Blood Services Heroes

a photo of the 2024 blood services heroes, Chez Smith and Venisha Bonds

Gyrls in the H.O.O.D, a Chicago-based non-profit, is dedicated to empowering young women with a "Healthy, Optimistic, Outstanding, and Determined" foundation. Led by Chez Smith and Venisha Bonds, the organization launched a free phlebotomy training program to help address workforce challenges faced by women. Recognizing the financial struggles of many of the participants, the organization covered the cost of tuition, books, medical scrubs, and the state exam. With several certified students, Gyrls in the H.O.O.D is helping supply skilled phlebotomists to aid in a crucial field.


Jacqueline Reed of Chicago is the Disaster Relief Hero

a photo of Jacqueline Reed, the 2024 disaster relief hero

As a longtime Austin resident and community advocate, Jacqueline Reed spearheaded relief efforts in the aftermath of record-breaking floods that devastated the neighborhood in July 2023. As the chair of the Westside Long Term Recovery Group, Reed mobilized resources and volunteers, which have since helped around 75 homes become habitable. Reed's dedication highlights her lifelong commitment in Austin to building community resilience and supporting those in need.


Steve and Sheila Conner of Oak Park are the Education Heroes

A photo of Steve and Sheila Conner, who are the 2024 education heroes

Steve and Sheila Conner, motivated by their son Stone's disinterest in traditional math and science education, launched the HEPH Foundation in 2014 to revolutionize STEM learning. Utilizing innovative approaches to learning, such as gaming, sports, and music, the foundation's materials engage students and foster a lifelong passion for science and technology. Through tailored programs and partnerships with schools in the Chicagoland area and beyond, the Conners have engaged about 20,000 learners in STEM through the program they designed.


Patty Samar RN, BSN of Chicago is the Healthcare Hero

a photo of Patty Samar RN, BSN who is the 2024 healthcare hero

Patty Samar worked at Rush Medical Center as an apheresis nurse when she met Kirk, a dialysis patient. Samar befriended Kirk and when she learned that his donated kidney was failing, she helped launch a search campaign to find a live donor. Samar then decided to get tested herself and when she learned she was a match for Kirk's kidney donation, Samar did not hesitate to give Kirk the lifesaving gift of one of her kidneys.


Nicholas DeLeon of Chicago is the Firefighter Hero

a photo of Nicholas DeLeon who is the 2024 firefighter hero

On July 13, 2023, Firefighter/Paramedic Nicholas DeLeon was on duty at the fire station and was assigned to cook for his colleagues when he realized he needed additional groceries for that evening's dinner. While at the grocery store, DeLeon encountered an active shooter situation and quickly dialed 9-1-1 for help, after which he searched for fellow shoppers to usher them out safely while attending to anyone injured by the shooter.


Nancy Economou of Downers Grove is the Global Citizenship Hero

a photo of Nancy Economou who is the 2024 global citizenship hero

As the founder of Watts of Love, Nancy Economou works to provide sustainable solar lighting solutions to communities in need across the globe. After witnessing the dangerous effects of families using kerosene for illumination in the Philippines, she designed a solar light to aid these communities and to help promote financial literacy by enabling families to save funds previously spent on kerosene or batteries for entrepreneurship and education. Watts of Love empowers recipients via solar power and also helps them achieve additional financial freedom.


Angela Thompson of Chicago is the Community Impact Hero

a photo of Angela Thompson who is the 2024 community impact hero

Angela Thompson is a devoted Chicago Public School Safety Crossing Guard, stationed on a busy southside corner, who not only impacts the lives of children daily with her kindness and care on the job, but also through her cherished annual holiday toy drive. Over the past 14 years, Angela has organized this heartwarming initiative, initially single-handedly and now with support from her community. Since 3009, her efforts have reached 3,000 families in the Chicagoland area, highlighting her remarkable commitment to spreading love and joy to children.


Officer Kenneth Griffin of Chicago is the Law Enforcement Hero

a photo of Officer Kenneth Griffin who is the 2024 law enforcement hero

Kenneth Griffin, a Chicago Police Youth Officer, founded the non-profit 'No Matter What' in 2015 with a mission to invest in and support youth to reach their highest potential despite obstacles. Through mentorship, financial literacy, career readiness training, travel and mental health, Griffin works to connect youth to opportunities outside of their neighborhood and simultaneously help them discover the potential within themselves.


Daniel Viayra Chavez of Aurora and Joseph Elrod of Sandwich are the Lifesaving Rescue Heroes

a photo of Daniel Viayra Chavez of Aurora and Joseph Elrod who are the 2024 lifesaving impact heroes

On September 19, 2023, Daniel Viayra Chavez and Joseph Elrod, two water department employees with the City of Aurora, were doing routine maintenance work on an Aurora neighborhood sewer when they heard cries for 'ayuda' (help). Both Viayra Chavez and Elrod ran and found an Aurora resident holding an unresponsive one-year-old who was not breathing. Viayra Chavez immediately began performing CPR while Elrod phoned 9-1-1 for help, their efforts helped the child begin to breathe.


Fred M. Williams, Jr. of Waukegan is the Military Hero

a photo of Fred M. Williams, Jr who is the 2024 military hero

Fred M. Williams, Jr., a veteran of the United States Air Force, serves as the Member Services Manager at the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), where he has mentored and guided approximately 1,000+ youth aged 16 to 24. YCC members, through coaching and mentorship, complete their high school degree and receive training in skilled trades or IT. Inspired by his military background, Fred instills belief and support in the program's members by emphasizing their potential for success.


Matt DeMateo of Chicago is the Social Justice Hero

a photo of Matt DeMateo who is the 2024 social justice hero

Matt DeMateo, Executive Director at New Life Centers, an arm of New Life Community Church, provides youth programs covering mentorship, education, sports, peace-making, and community care to over 1,700 people each year. Since May 2023, New Life Centers via Matt's leadership are also a major part of the support and response efforts assisting the recently arrived migrants, by caring for those in shelters and helping over 1,400 families move into permanent housing.


Declan Devlin, Tiernan Devlin, Tommy Nitti, and Charles Valerio of Glen Ellyn are the Youth Heroes

a photo of the four young boys who are the 2024 youth heroes

On a Saturday evening, shortly after school had let out for the summer, classmates and friends Declan and Tiernan Devlin, Tommy Nitti, and Charles Valerio, initially jumped into action to retrieve a wayward remote-control boat in the middle of Lake Ellyn. On their way to the middle of the lake, with their paddle board and life jackets, they soon realized they needed to also pull a drowning man to safety instead.