Chicago-area heroes honored by American Red Cross at annual breakfast

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago honored 18 people for extraordinary acts of heroism and community service at the 22nd annual Heroes Breakfast at the Hilton Chicago Tuesday morning.

Honorees included people like a firefighter paramedic who happened upon an active shooter situation at the grocery store. Nicholas DeLeon of Engine 122 helped shoppers to safety and rendered aid to a woman who’d been shot.

"I don't feel like a hero," said DeLeon. "I think everyone I work with is a hero and they deserve an award as well. There's a lot of acts of courage and heroism that I see every day. No one takes this job for an award or recognition."

But recognition is exactly what DeLeon got, receiving the Firefighter Hero Award.

Nancy Economou received the Global Citizenship award. She was in high-end jewelry sales until meeting a child in the Philippines who had been severely burned by a kerosene lamp. That’s when she learned that many children grow up without electricity or light.

"I thought, 'wow what's it like to live in darkness and how do you raise children?'" said Economou, a mother of five. "How do you become an entrepreneur? How do you live without having electricity? So, I was compelled to bring solar lights to people and started Watts of Love."

Economou patented a solar-powered light that she provides to people in need all over the globe. People like a grandmother in a remote village in Uganda who was raising 10 grandchildren on her own.

With lights and financial literacy lessons, she was able to save the money that would otherwise have been spent on kerosene so that she could buy chickens and pigs to feed the family.

Also honored at the breakfast, were four boys who helped save the life of a drowning man, a South Side crossing guard who hosts an incredible annual toy drive, and a woman who gave a kidney to save a life.

The American Red Cross thanked all of them for making a difference in the lives of so many.