For nearly two years, Paula Johnson Neal has been a volunteer at our Ronald McDonald House. She currently staffs our front desk on the first Sunday of every month and greets arriving visitors and families with her warm smile. The Sunday afternoon shift is typically the busiest check-in time for families. Professionally, Paula has worked as a teacher and preschool director for 25 years. She currently works at the YWCA of Columbus as the preschool director over the organization’s center serving children experiencing temporary homelessness. In addition to volunteering in her spare time, she enjoys zip lining and writing.
Her interest in serving children and families in their deepest times of need matches RMHC’s mission to create, find and support programs that directly improves the health and well-being of children and their families. Paula says witnessing families in distress can be heartbreaking, however, she believes the benefits of being a comforting resource outweigh it. “My employment and volunteer status reminds me that we never know what children and their families are going through. The importance of teaching kindness to all – especially children – needs to start early.”
This past June, Paula decided to combine her love of writing with her love of children by becoming a published author of a children’s book titled, “I’M GONNA HAVE A GOOD DAY!” As Paula describes it, “It’s is a multicultural children’s picture book that provides a window into a classroom involving a bully named Gabby. Gabby wants to have her kind of day at the expense of her classmates.” Fed up with Gabby’s words, “I’M GONNA HAVE A GOOD DAY,” not matching up with her actions, Gabby’s classmates take a stance. “The book’s cliffhanger provides an opportunity as a conversation starter for teachers and parents with children to discuss the importance of instilling and displaying kindness,” Paula says.
Paula points out that the urgency of the message this book carries during this critical time in our society can’t be understated. “This book is very important because children, as young as 4 years of age are experiencing some form of bullying type behavior in preschool, grade school and on the playground.” Paula goes on to say that, “Many may argue young children are learning how to socially and emotionally interact with their peers. Sadly, behaviors that are precursors to bullying and actual bullying do exist in many early childhood settings.” In addition, Paula adds, when consciously and unconsciously left unaddressed, rather than used as teachable moments, “children displaying precursor behavior and children on the receiving end may enter kindergarten socially-emotionally ill-prepared.”
Editor’s Note: Paula has chosen to further support the mission of the RMHC by donating a portion of the books proceeds during the month of January to RMHC of Central Ohio. Her book can be purchased on her website, paulajohnsonneal.com.
On Christmas morning, many folks were waking up early to prepare for excited children, (who may have already been awake), to open presents under the tree. But the Lyons Family, along with the Laube, Davies and Jones Families, were all waking up early to prepare for something different. They were headed to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House to make breakfast for families having to stay at the House. Donna Lyons says she got the idea to bring her young daughter to make the holiday morning breakfast for families after she had volunteered at the House putting up Christmas trees. That was 27 years ago. They’ve come to make breakfast every Christmas morning since then, growing the team along the way. In this video, Donna introduces the family members who served our families the morning of December 25. Thank you to these families who have made this particular meal a Christmas tradition.
Here at the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus, we’re fortunate to have the support of many organizations in the Central Ohio area. One of the comments we often get from folks who participate with groups that come to the House is how much they gain by being here. Meal groups participating in our Team Cuisine program learn new cooking tips. Cleaning groups pick up household tricks for removing tough stains. Some volunteer groups learn tips about making simple household repairs from our team of volunteer craftsmen. Beyond those more obvious gains, there’s also the reminder and appreciation for what you have and just the satisfaction of giving your time. Sharing the love just feels good to the one who is sharing. But the benefits of working at the House can have even more of an impact for special needs students who regularly come to help our House.
For these students, learning even more about life at the House helps them to grow to become their full potential. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio partners with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities in a program called Summer Youth Work Experiences where students get real-world work experience as they help to keep our House in tip-top shape. OOD recently produced a video which follow the work of Max, one of the students that benefits from working at the Ronald McDonald House. You can watch the video here:
Sometimes, the special needs students who come to the House also leave a positive impression on our families and their child patient. Be the One is a program that was started at Walnut Ridge High School by Dawn Heideman, a teacher in the Columbus City School District, after witnessing the impact of tragedy on a student’s life. Dawn decided that she would be the one individual to provide comfort, guidance, and encouragement to students who had experienced traumatic anger, depression, & loss in hopes that those students will be the one person to go on to make a difference in another young person’s life too. The program expanded two years ago to Linden-McKinley High School and now helps 125 students who have been through traumatic life experiences at a young age.
Several times a year, Dawn brings her students here to the Ronald McDonald House to meet families of seriously ill children and to spread joy by hanging seasonal decorations in our large dining room. Last year, her students met with a patient named Orian from Maryland staying at the House. The students and Orian developed a bond after learning that he had been bullied because of his disabilities. Inspired by the Six Word Memoir project, Be the One students were encouraged to write a book of their own experiences for Orian who has been encouraged by the book every day. Read about the Be the One’s gift of the group’s book to Orian in a blog from Six Word Memoirs by clicking here.
On June 27, 2017, Judy Skinner worked her last day as a volunteer at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House after serving families there for 35 years. over that time, she had been featured in many social media posts, blogs, and news items about her service to our families. But when she walked away from the House on that day in 2017, she didn’t stop volunteering for RMHC of Central Ohio altogether. In fact, within a month of leaving her position as Housewarmer at the House, she went to work volunteering at the newly opened Ronald McDonald Family Room at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital. The RMFR doesn’t have a full-time paid staff member. It is a volunteer who keeps the room open and available every day for family members who have a baby in the NICU or a child who has been admitted to the hospital. For those family members who visit the room when Judy happens to be volunteering, they get the attention of our most experienced volunteer and a mother who understands the importance of having a space for respite while caring for an ill child in a hospital.
Judy and Tom Skinner had a 13-year-old child undergoing treatment at Children’s Hospital in the late 1970s and RMHC of Central Ohio did not yet exist. “Greg, our son, had leukemia for 14 months and passed away,” Judy tells us. She says she never forgot the families she and her husband saw at the hospital adding, “It seemed the best thing to do following that experience would be to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House. It was my main way to help people who had been in my same situation.” So, after volunteering at the House since it opened in 1982, and through it’s expansion in 2014 to become the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world, Judy, who lives in Clintonville, felt it was time to slow things down a bit, but not stop completely. “The Ronald McDonald Family Room was a nice way to continue helping in some way, closer to home. Talking with families going through that same situation feels good because I know it helps them.”
The RMFR at Riverside Methodist Hospital just celebrated it’s second anniversary. Thanks to volunteers like Judy, thousands of families have been able to find respite from the stress of having a child in the hospital, if just for a moment. This month, RMHC of Central Ohio kicks off a volunteer-driven campaign to support the Ronald McDonald Family Room. If you would like to show your appreciation to volunteers such as Judy, for keeping the RMFR open and available for families, click here to learn more about the #MyWhy fundraiser.
Just after the new Nationwide Children’s Hospital tower opened, a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House invited a friend – whom he knew to be a talented woodworker – to join him and check out the large wooden animal sculptures in the hospital’s new building. After the two checked out that new building, the volunteer brought his friend across the street and gave him a tour of the Ronald McDonald House. It was at that moment that George Geissbuhler decided he would volunteer at the House that his friend had shown him. It’s now been three years this month that George has been one of our craftsmen volunteers and he says, “This is just quite fun. I love it.”
George has the most fun working with wood (he also volunteers at the Furniture Bank), here at the Ronald McDonald House. Yet, he not only helps to fix furniture, he also works on all kinds of projects including cleaning filters & fixing air conditioners. “We do the stuff that nobody else wants to do,” he says. “I would say the least enjoyable for us, mostly, is sanding a room. You remove the wallpaper and you have to sand the wall of the glue and then paint it at lunch, then paint it again,” he explains. Then George corrects himself, “Actually, the worst job, is grinding the floor when we’re replacing the floor in a room with water damage. It’s a job that’s not very pleasant, but it’s a VERY good feeling when you’re all done when a room was just kind of beat up and when you’re all done, it’s just like a brand new hotel room.”
Although George points out the toughest jobs he has hated at the House, he quickly pivots to let you know, “I can’t imagine not coming here, frankly.” He shares that he knows he and the other craftsmen are needed here because of the families who need the House. George remembers, “We were at one of the Christmas Dinners here, and sat with a couple. It was a mother and a son. He had multiple surgeries. Hearing their story – they live in West Virginia and they were coming up like once a month. She said, ‘This place is like a home to us.’” George says hearing their story prompted him to confess to the family, “Your story is really why I’m volunteering.” He adds, “They couldn’t say enough nice things about the Ronald McDonald House and it just makes you appreciate… I have 3 children… how healthy they are and never had to stay at a place like this.”
George says he’s only toured one other Ronald McDonald House and that was while he and his wife were on a recent trip to New Zealand. They noticed a donation box for the local Ronald McDonald House sitting at the lobby’s front desk of their hotel. George asked where the House was located and decided with his wife that they would get a cab to go check it out. He says the House manager was so hospitable, giving the couple an hour tour of the House, and leaving them with a gift before they left. It was a rock with the Wellston RMHC logo hand-painted on it! One of only 5 that a mother staying at the House had painted.
He’s known at the House for his woodwork, making everything from the donation box at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital to wooden golf bag tags for golf outing participants and the plaque given to the golf classic’s namesake, Joe Mortellaro. But George tells us he’ll be making wooden items for sale at the upcoming holiday bazaar at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, so you can take home some of George’s work yourself. And, he says all of the proceeds from his items at the bazaar will go to RMHC of Central Ohio. Thank you, George, for all of the work you’ve done for the House over the last three years, including sharing your woodwork talent!
This will be the second retirement for Connie Sartori. Her first was from her job at Southwest Airlines. Her second “retirement” will be from volunteering at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Right from the start of her job with Southwest, she began volunteering with groups from Souwest Airlines. She’ll be moving to Florida, now that she’s retired after 25 years of service to our families. We had a chance to talk to her on her last day coming in with the Southwest Airlines meal group Tuesday night. That night, the Southwest Airlines meal group donated a brand-new grill to honor the occasion. Thank you, Southwest Airlines, for continually serving our families meals for a quarter of a century. Watch our talk with Connie in the video below as she was about to leave her last volunteer shift.
Q: Who are you guys?
A: We are a group of people that have worked together in the past and remained friends after we moved on to other jobs. We all decided to form a Maker Space Group and chose the name, Solid State Social Club. Our goal is to teach kids, teens and adults about technology and wood working. Wood working for geeks is CNC, we program the computer and the machine cuts out the parts for us.
The people involved with this project and current employer are:
Dennis Megarry – StateAuto Insurance
Tyler Wickiser – StateAuto Insurance
Josh Hamilton – StateAuto Insurance
Johan Van Zijl – Chase
Robert “Downtown Bob” – CoverMyMeds
Q: How did your group start a relationship with our Ronald McDonald House?
A: Robert was on a tour of the House after cooking a lunch meal for CoverMyMeds when he spotted the Game Room there with non-working arcade machines. Since I was already into building arcade gaming machines & Johan into repairing them, we decided this was a great start to our maker group. So we contacted Joel (the House facilities supervisor) and came down to diagnose the issues with the units there already. We were able to repair the pinball machine, and while we can repair the rest, we fund this out-of-pocket so plan to continue as soon as funds become available.
Q: What made you guys decide to do this? Have you done this kind of thing before?
A: I was already making custom arcade machines and Johan was repairing cabinets, so it was a great fit for us. Given how much RMHC benefits the community and children, we all jumped at the chance to help out.
Q: How was it all paid for? Do you have an approximate value of the machine?
A: This was all my personal donation. I bulk buy parts and usually have enough to build a few machines on hand so the expense of this was drawn out over the course of a year prior to this build. We all have families to support as well, so for the moment while we grow, we can only do things like this as we save up the funds. I build custom arcade cabinets for corporate clients who have an employee game room setup, as well as individual people. No two cabinets are alike so putting a cost on one is difficult to do. Depending on options, we’ve made them from $2700 to more than $4000. If we built yours for a customer, it would have been about $3000.
Q: What was involved in making it? Where was it assembled?
A: Making things like this is how I relax after a day in front of the computer at work. It is a lot of fun. Since our group is just starting out, we do not have space to setup shop so it was made and built in my garage (my garage is rather large).
This build though was extra special for us. Lynne Holmes, the graphic designer at the Ronald McDonald House, created the graphics for us. To finish the cabinet, our respective employers gave us each a paid day off through charity volunteering-for-a-day programs. So we need to give a big thank you to StateAuto, Chase, and CoverMyMeds! It wasn’t just us that were involved in this project.
Q: Does it have more than one game?
A: When we build one of these, the insides can go from inexpensive to OMG! Just depends of what people want. For corporate builds, as well as this one, we chose a commercial board which is pre-loaded with games that we bought off of Amazon. It has a lot of the ones adults grew up with such as: Galaga, PacMan, Street Fighter, TMNT, Asteroids, Super Mario, Tetris and many others.. There are more than 2,100 games on this board.
Q: Joel says you’re also repairing our other arcade games?
A: Yes, as funds allow we will be repairing all the machines there. The Ms. PacMan, for instance, has a blown transformer. But rather than just replacing it, the cabinet is in bad shape as well so we will most likely make a new cabinet for it, reprint the original graphics and when finished, it will be as good as new, or better.
Q: Do you have a message for the families that will be using this machine and the others you repair?
A: We built the arcade hoping that it brings a little joy to people when going thru a difficult time in their lives.
It’s been an exciting month for book-lovers who stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus, and we’re not talking about lovers of e-books. Our library has remained pretty much the same for years. But just a few weeks ago, a team of volunteers came in to revamp our library. Over just a few days this during National Library Week AND National Volunteer Week, a team from L Brands including Susan Geier, Carrie Kenneth, Chris Nowicki, Ed Kunzelman; and KP Designs & Associates painted walls and added new built-in cabinets and book cases. You can even literally curl up with a good book within an in-shelf nook!
The week after we reopened the library, 22-year-old Kendal White, a recent graduate from Ohio Dominican University, arrived at the House with a group of friends and supporters to donate books gathered during a recent book drive. White says he’s passionate about literacy and asked his community of friends, family, ODU alumni, & Central State University Columbus alumni to donate children’s books for our library. He hoped to get 200 books, but more than 1,100 were collected, including some books for adults. Thanks to his group of volunteers for sharing the books – along with coloring activities & games – to support our families. It was a great way to also wrap up National Volunteer Month.
Our innovative craftsmen welcomed Jeff into their ranks about a couple of months ago. His involvement with RMH began when Jeff and his wife, Lorna, were cleaning out their shelves and brought books to donate to the House. From there, he got involved with the craftsmen. Jeff loves working with his hands and filling in wherever needed, including the front desk every other Tuesday.
“You listen to the news every day and you only ever hear of the horrible things,” he said. When he’s in the House, it’s different. “I’m amazed at the number of people that donate here and help around here. I’m just trying to give back. I’ve had a pretty good life.”
When you see Jeff around, ask him to show you what a calliope is and sounds like. You won’t be disappointed!
Front desk volunteer Shirley Meyer completed her final shift with the Ronald McDonald House on February 11 after 20 years of service to our families. We had a chance to talk to her after she said her goodbyes to staff and fellow volunteers. Click the image below to hear what she has to say about her experience giving to the House.