By Zak Chappelear
The first time I stepped into the Columbus Ronald McDonald House was about five years ago. But before I even entered the House, I was very familiar with the charity’s mission and how it all worked. My mom and grandmother had already been volunteering at the House for quite sometime. My mom was a House-warmer, helping to ready guest rooms for those families about to arrive at the House. My grandmother was, and still is, a Kitchen Host. She makes sure volunteer meal groups and the families staying at the house have what they need to get cooking, while also helping to make sure dining and serving areas are always neat and clean. I was between jobs at the time, and knowing I had some extra time, my mom and grandmother invited me to go with them to volunteer on one of their shifts. I was a little hesitant at first, but eventually decided to go along with them and check it out.
As soon as I walked into the house, I was welcomed by some of the nicest people that I had ever met. Throughout the entire first day, I just kept meeting lots of great people from the staff to the volunteers. Everyone was very helpful and great to work with, so the time flew and suddenly my volunteer shift was done. After that first day, I was hooked. It left such an impression on me knowing that I had just helped the House that was keeping families close while a child was in the hospital. And the families expressed their appreciation. That’s why I wanted to become more involved with the House. When I came back to do more, my first assignment was to help with transporting the big, heavy barrels full of all the collected pop tabs to the recycling plant. Since my dad also owned a truck, we decided to make recycling the pop tabs our job. Not only was it fun, it was cool to see how all those little aluminum pieces turned into a big check for the House. Seeing the generosity of volunteers of their time, and donations from the community of items as simple as milk jugs full of pop tabs, allowed me to make up my mind: I was going to continue to volunteer. That day, for me, would eventually be that start of more than 4 years of serving the House.
Since I wanted to be more involved with the House, I started to look for new ways or other opportunities to volunteer. My background is in construction, so I naturally felt the calling to help with the building maintenance. As I began to work with the Facilities Director, I fell more and more in love with the House. There’s just something heart-warming about helping to make sure the heats working in the room of a family that’s come from a far warmer climate; just baring Ohio’s cold winter to do what they can for their child’s health. Or making sure the refrigerator’s working for that new mom whose pumping and has to store her milk for when her baby needs it. After about a year and a half volunteering in my free time , I felt I had learned all of the nuts & bolts of how this big House works while also forming long-lasting bonds with fellow volunteer craftsman. And that’s when I was fortunate to be offered a full time job to work as the House’s Facilities Technician .
Those bonds with the volunteers and staff at Ronald McDonald House have solidified over my years working at the House, to the point where the whole RMHC team feels like a family. I’ve learned a lot from this extended family. My experience has allowed me to gain invaluable knowledge that I will take with me as a venture into a new facilities role at my church. One of the unique things about my experience working at the house was that I was honored to work with members of my actual family as, together, we helped to serve the families staying in the House. And I’m not the only member of my family whose grown (in more ways than one) from serving these out-of-town families. My mom also moved from a volunteer position to a staff position. Now, as the Program Manager, she has an important role in making sure the families are comfortable whether they’re staying at the House or visiting the new Ronald McDonald Family Room at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital. My dad still comes in from time to time to volunteer with facilities projects. My Grandmother is still one of the amazing volunteer Kitchen Hosts, a role she loves too. And my aunt, who sometimes cuts hair for families staying at the House, also joined the staff as one of the weekend Volunteer Coordinators.
As you can see, The Ronald McDonald House isn’t just a place where families can come together and have a safe and warm place to stay while their child is receiving treatment. It’s also a place where families can work together to help provide that safe warm place for other families. Whether it’s volunteering as a family, or a group of friends to clean and make beds, or co-workers making meals, or even staff members making sure the House is running 24/7, it’s all worth the time given and much needed. Not to mention that you always end up having a lot of fun! It really can be like one big happy family, even if you’re not actually related!