Celena Roldán, BSW ’98, MSW ’00, Our 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Headshot of Celena Roldán
Celena Roldán

The Board of Visitors of the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work chose Celena Roldán as the school’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient. Celena is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross of Illinois. This is the second largest Red Cross region in the country, annually serving 12 million people and responding to more than 1,600 disasters annually and collecting more than 100,000 lifesaving units of blood. Prior to joining the Red Cross, Celena served as the Executive Director of the five locations of the Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago, which was founded in 1870 to strengthen low-income, primarily Latino families through skill-building, access to critical resources, advocacy, and collaborative action.

In addition to her leadership of the Illinois Region Red Cross, Celena, who was named one of Chicago’s “Most Powerful Latinos,” by Crain’s Chicago Business, has extensive and significant community development experience at the city, state, and national level. She was Co-chair for the City of Chicago’s Universal Basic Income Task Force, a member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Early Childhood Task Force and served on the Illinois Human Service Commission. Currently, Celena is a member of the national board of UnidosUS, which partners with 300 affiliates across the country to serve millions of Latinos in the areas of civic engagement, civil rights and immigration, education, workforce and the economy, health, and housing.

That Celena chose social work as a profession is not surprising. Her mother, Dr. Ida Roldan, is on the faculty of the Institute for Clinical Social Work in Chicago and maintains a private practice. A trained disaster mental health worker, Ida and Celena have responded to Red Cross disasters together in her beloved Puerto Rico and across the United States.

Reflecting on her education and experience at the School of Social Work, Celena explains, “Over the recent past, the Red Cross has responded to one of the busiest disaster seasons in history and we are all living through a pandemic unlike any our world experienced in more than 100 years. Through these monumental changes and challenges, I have often thought about the training that I received through the School of Social Work. I have relied greatly on the compassion, reflective listening and learning, and leadership development, that I learned through this program. This recognition means so much to me, particularly during this momentous time in our history. Social workers are needed now more than ever, and I am appreciative of the strong foundation I received.”