Donna Miller started a volunteer meal group from Community of Christ Church in Grove City after she was invited to come see the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus by a friend who was already volunteering at the House. That was over a decade ago and the group has continued to come, even during the pandemic, just in smaller groups instead of as a large group.This is Donna’s experience as a meal group organizer in her own words.
My daughter, Taylorann, was born with a number of congenital birth defects and diagnosed with a multitude of other VACTERL Association conditions. As naïve first-time parents, her mom Tracy and I could never have imagined the complex journey our little girl was to begin from the moment hospital staff whisked her away shortly after discovering some of the visible birth defects.
It was a prolonged labor but nothing that caused any suspicion by the doctors and nurses that she would arrive into this world with a complex medical condition. Shortly after her birth, once the umbilical cord was cut and she rested on Tracy’s chest, the post-birth prenatal team began their examination.
I still vividly remembers the faces of the prenatal team as they discovered “something” during the exam. They then noticed the cold stare of a father who sensed that “something” was not right, and immediately motioned me over from the side of the delivery bed to explain what they had discovered…and what wasn’t discovered.
The team tried to minimize the issue and explained to me that surgery would be required. A pediatric surgeon was called in to provide further examination and details of what was to follow. Still under the influence of medication and an epidural, Tracy had no idea what was going on only a few feet away from her bed and was only told after Taylorann was taken from the room.
A week after she was born, Taylorann left the PICU and as new parents, we left with additional fears of unanswered questions about her medical condition along with a long list of scheduled doctor appointments and medical tests.
This was the beginning of a journey with parallel pathways; the path of the intense, complex and medically focused life of Taylorann, alongside a long road of little to no understanding from an outside world.
With little guidance and limited information available on her condition, additional congenital defects revealed themselves with each medical exam and surgery. Tracy and I did our own research and pushed hard for answers. We remained vigilant and quickly realized we needed to be our daughter’s advocates. This meant, at times, being bolder with communication to her doctors than we would normally be. Yet in doing so, we grew to love her surgeons, nurses, and care-givers and developed a great relationship with them. What they may have lacked in knowledge about her specific condition, the majority of them made up for it in their care, compassion and continued fight for our daughter.
Her doctors kept her alive, performing surgeries that – years later – were validated by specialists at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as having been done properly. That is not always the case for many kids having surgeries performed at their local hospitals.
As Taylorann grew from a baby, to a toddler, to a little girl, and then to a teenager, and now as a young adult, her medical journey took her to physicians and specialists at multiple hospitals across Ohio. Having landed the majority of her overall care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in late 2014, Taylorann now has a collaborative team of specialists that continue to manage and maintain her overall medical care.
Living outside of Cleveland, the multiple surgeries, procedures, illnesses and hospital stays at Nationwide Children’s, resulted in a personal introduction to the incredible people and charity of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. It wasn’t as if we weren’t familiar with Ronald McDonald House Charities, but it was the first time we had to be on the receiving end of its care and mission.
Receiving was difficult at first, especially for me. However, with the long days and nights across the street at the hospital, I quickly came to the realization that pride was preventing me from truly receiving the blessing of care that the Ronald McDonald House offered for my family as well as myself.
Over the last six plus years since their our stay, we simply cannot express the gratitude and love we have towards – not just the charity itself – but an affinity to the staff and volunteers as well. In the midst of stress from Taylorann’s hospital stays at Nationwide Children’s over those years, the Ronald McDonald House has become a cornerstone of support, a place of rest, a comfort from hunger, and a pillar of love. That allows Tracy & I the ability to provide the best possible support for Taylorann while she is hospitalized.
Early on, and long before Covid-19, Taylorann’s sisters would stay at the House on weekends while visiting from Cleveland. Her youngest sister Karissa, in the first few years of stay, would spend hours in the Princess Room while her middle sister, Kendall, loved the Blue Jackets Clubhouse stairwell. For those stays during warmer months, both would enjoy the outside play area, especially the water sprinklers. Tracy and I, when not at the hospital, would spend time in the Buckeye Family Room on the third floor catching up on emails, voicemails and other outside responsibilities. Kendall, now a nursing student in college, fondly recalled those Clubhouse play days just last month when she once again came to stay with her sister over a long weekend at the hospital.
Taylorann, having been hospitalized four times in the last eight months during the pandemic certainly has made our stays at the Ronald McDonald House look a little different. Regardless of the changes needed to be made for everyone’s safety, the family will forever be thankful to the staff and volunteers. Covid-19 didn’t stop the need for help, it magnified it. And thus, it became clear that there were indeed personal sacrifices made by the staff in order to provide the services offered to families. The added stress and responsibilities never diminished the care, concern and support provided prior to the pandemic.
The Ronald McDonald House has become an integral part of our family; not just in receiving but also in our continued giving. I fuel my coffee addiction by mainly going to McDonald’s leaving change in the drop box or rounding-up the total, collecting aluminum can tabs, educating family and friends about Ronald McDonald Charities, and donating resources.
And like the Mission of Ronald McDonald Charities, Taylorann desires to help and use her life experiences and her medical history to become an advocate for kids with long-term medical conditions. Although her college education started two years later than most her age, and has been interrupted with the most recent hospital stay, the resilience ingrained from years of challenge will undoubtedly serve her well to accomplish and fulfill that desire.
Until then, she continues her battle and longs to persevere. Even in illness, she encourages, motivates and inspires, not just younger kids with similar conditions, but also adults who have had long-term medical procedures. As for her family, it is of great comfort to know that as her journey continues, the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio is steadfast in its mission to provide the home away from home when needed.
The RMHC garden is growing again. When two dilapidated houses behind our main building were acquired and raised by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio in late 2019, that gave rise to the opportunity to turn the 10,000 square feet area into a resource for the many more families we began serving after adding 57 more rooms in 2014. And so the planning began to grow a garden in the void left by the houses that were torn down. Our volunteer director, Kate Becker, was able to help convince Scott’s Miracle Gro to provide a grant through The Columbus Foundation as seed money for the project. Next, she was able to convince longtime volunteer craftsman, Bill Mount to be our chief gardener (for which he immediately won an award from Franklin Park Conservatory & Garden). Bill was able to convince some local businesses to donate nutrient dirt, some plants, & seeds. He has a big tractor and was all set to bring it to the planned garden area to rototill the ground. Only one problem: This was city soil. It was full of bricks, rocks, & archeological finds such as bottle caps and pieces of drywall. The bigger items needed to be removed.
Kate was working on recruiting more volunteers and volunteer groups to come work in our garden with the ultimate goal that the produce grown in our garden would be used by our Chef Blair Arms to make meals for our families. Then, the pandemic hit. Suddenly, volunteers couldn’t be at the House. But we persevered. Staff was filling in doing all kinds of things that wouldn’t normally be part of their duties. That included helping move the big rocks and other large items from the garden space, while everyone was at least six feet apart and wearing masks. The precautions also allowed Bill to come back with his big tractor & rototiller to break into the ground and ready it for planting.
After allowing small groups to come back to work in the garden, we even had a team of Nationwide Children’s Hospital physicians help plant the first rows of vegetables. Local real estate agents & brokers came in small groups to volunteer safely in the garden area too.
So despite the pandemic, we were able to harvest more than 1,000 pounds of produce to help feed the families staying at our House in 2020.
Now, a year after it started, Bill & Kate (pictured together at just arm’s distance this week) are back in the garden and beginning to plant this year’s crop, with the help of staffers Blair Arms & Mekia Hilles (pictured sitting on the ground this week) and some volunteer craftsmen. More volunteers are expected to be invited back as we ramp up preparations for growing season and families are expected to begin helping in the garden even more this year!
After months and months of hard work, Bobcathon is finally here this weekend! No matter what obstacle they were faced with this last year, the students at Ohio University have not stopped working to raise funds that are critical in helping families at RMHC.
Usually, Bobcats would be joining together in person to dance and raise funds for families at Ronald McDonald House. This year, students will be coming together from wherever they are to walk, bike, run, swim and hike their own 12K to represent the 12 hours that they would typically be dancing for the kids. They know that families at RMHC cannot take a break from their fight, so these students cannot either!
Bobcathon has raised nearly HALF A MILLION dollars for RMHC, but they need your help to reach this milestone by Sunday!
Angie Hartley has been with our Development Team for more than a decade. Over this last year, we’ve all been working hard to keep the doors of our Ronald McDonald House open. Those doors can only stay open with revenue and that’s something Angie is focused on throughout her workday. She took a moment from her important work to answer a few quick questions about her time at RMHC of Central Ohio. Below is the result of this Q & A.
How long have you been working at RMHC and what is your current position with our chapter?
I have been working at RMHC Central Ohio for 11 years and currently serve as the Senior Development Director. I started in January 2010 as the Development Director and moved into my current role about six years later.
What drew you to work here?
There were a few things that drew me to RMHC. What first drew me to RMHC was the opportunity to work with Dee Anders again. Dee was my boss at a previous non-profit and I really enjoyed working with her. She was teaching me so much and she’s successful in fundraising. I wanted to continue to grow and learn under her so when the opportunity came for me to join her, I was very excited. The second thing that drew me here was the mission. I am a firm believer that to be a successful fundraiser you have to believe in the mission yourself. When you do believe in the mission, it never feels like a job, it feels like a passion you get to share with the rest of the community and invite them to come along.
I became a mother while working here and it truly made me thankful to have resources like this in our community. It wasn’t until a few years later that we would get to understand firsthand how beneficial RMHC is to families of hospitalized children. My son had to be hospitalized for four days for pneumonia. While my husband and I chose to stay bedside, we absolutely did not get the rest, nutritious meals, and – more importantly – the breaks we should have taken to be in the best state possible for our son. Seeing him hooked up to all the machines and having to wear an oxygen mask, we just felt like we couldn’t leave him. I still have a photo of my son and me holding hands while he slept in the hospital bed and I slept in the recliner next to him.
What’s the most challenging time you’ve had here?
I would have to say the most challenging time I have had here was during the pandemic. Our doors remained open to serve families in what was truly their greatest time in need. The community plays an integral role in the services we can provide through time, talent and treasure they provide. We had to completely reinvent how we approached fundraising and did not have a “play book” to work from to help us navigate these new waters.
I believe the best part from all of it was that our team became closer, we became creative and flexible in our approaches and continually adapted to the ever-changing restrictions and environment. I think we all grew in different ways that we never would have without the pandemic.
We are continuing to grow, learn and adapt and it will be interesting to see where this takes us moving forward. I’m grateful to the wonderful team, volunteers, board, and community we have who remain dedicated to the mission and programs of RMHC. Without them we couldn’t do what we do!
What have you enjoyed most about being a part of our chapter?
What I enjoy most about being at RMHC is the fact that we get to work in the same building as our families are staying. We get to be immersed in the programs and mission. We meet the families and become connected to them on their journey. It makes you feel good knowing that you are playing a small part in helping them on their road to healing.
Do you have a particular story about a moment with the chapter that’s especially heartwarming?
In the past 11 years, it is hard to narrow down a moment that was especially heartwarming as there are so many. But a few that stick out in my mind include a time when I was providing a new corporate partner with a tour of the House. We entered the kitchen and I was explaining the Team Cuisine program to them and how it is a great way to engage their associates. At this time a little girl (whose family I have interacted with for days) walked up and held my hand. It was this sweet moment that made us all smile. Her parents tried to get her to return to them, but she wanted to help me finish my tour. When I returned her to her parents in the kitchen the group had an opportunity to talk to learn about their journey. It really stuck with them and with me.
What do you see for the future of the chapter?
I see wonderful things on the horizon for RMHC! We are really working hard to meet the needs of the community and our partner hospitals. The growth I have seen in our organization over the past decade makes me excited to see what the next decade will bring.
When the first semester of my first year at The Ohio State University began I, like many college students, embarked on the journey of discovering what career I wanted to pursue post college. With over 200 majors offered at OSU, I had many to choose from. With a passion for design, as well as interests in mass media and visual marketing, I began to explore a communications degree and what a career would look like in this field.
Although the major of communications is pretty broad, OSU does an excellent job of narrowing it down into four undergraduate focus areas for students to choose from. After reviewing each focus area, the one that shined out among the rest was New Media and Communication Technology. This aligned with my interests in design as well as how to creatively use technology in marketing, such as social media, to grow brand awareness.
Fast forward a semester or two. I began growing a desire to see what this could look like in “the real world.” As great as the little paragraph description of a communications and visual marketing career was, I wanted to get first-hand experience to know if it would truly be the right fit for myself. Thus, began my search for an internship.
In this search I not only wanted to find a company that I could learn communication and marketing skills from, but also one where I could learn the value of developing relationships and impacting others within the community. When the opportunity to intern with Ronald McDonald House Charities presented itself, I couldn’t say no. I truly believe it is exactly what I have been looking for! I love the heart behind RMHC and their ability to impact so many families’ lives around Columbus and the world. It is truly something that I am proud to be a part of, even in the smallest way through a communication internship.
Overall, my goal for this internship is to get a better understanding of how the communications team effectively grows awareness around the RMHC brand and company. I hope to contribute to this in any way I can whether that is with writing more blog posts, helping with the behind the scenes of campaign projects, drafting emails, creating fun TikToks and other media content, or even just data entry… I am excited for it all and to be a part of the Ronald McDonald House Charities team.
As a volunteer for 15 years, Lisa Frabott has seen the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus more than double the number of rooms the House has provided when the chapter left its second building location for its newer third building location. When RMHC of Central Ohio moved from one location to the other, her role helping families changed with the size of the kitchens. She says the gratification she’s gotten from helping more and more families has grown with the House, as you’ll hear in the video below.
On March 3, Lisa Frabott (center) will be guest hosting our Virtual Trivia night celebrating the 39th Anniversary of Central Ohio’s chapter of Ronald McDonald House Charities. To learn more or make a reservation, click here.
What a year. That’s what many folks were saying about 2020 as that year wrapped up and people gleefully rang in the new year. Lots of people were glad to see 2020 end and that was no different at our chapter of Ronald McDonald House Charities. The year started out with positive possibilities. For instance, here at RMHC of Central Ohio, we were looking forward to opening a brand-new Ronald McDonald Family Room inside the new Nationwide Children’s Hospital Big Lot’s Behavioral Health Pavilion. It would be the second family room at a second hospital for our RMHC chapter. Then, the pandemic hit. That meant no grand opening and no tours of the beautiful new much-needed space for families inside a one-of-a-kind pediatric mental health facility. What’s more, it meant immediate and drastic changes for the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world and the existing family room at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.
“I can remember early on, we asked all of our employees to wear fabric masks because we were going to protect people,” CEO Dee Anders recalls. “This is before anybody started, really. And we got a little push back from people thinking this is odd. Then we got pushback from hospitals saying those are not going to work and then it was maybe a month later everyone had to wear any viable mask we could get and I was so glad that we had our staff do it because we stayed safe that way.” Of course, masking wouldn’t be the only major immediate change to take place at the House. Suddenly, we had to stop allowing volunteers to come in, yet everything had to be cleaned and disinfected even more than usual for an already especially clean facility housing families far from their homes. And there were still families that had to come to Columbus for the sake of their children’s health, pandemic or not. The hospitals stopped having elective surgeries and started having telemedicine appointments where possible. Visitors to the hospitals had to be limited to just the legal guardians of the patients and that’s all we could have at the House too. The RMFR at Riverside hospital couldn’t have any visitors and was repurposed as a place of respite for hospital staff who were now working around the clock with Covid-19 patients.
Dee says, “It was a challenge only because there was so much uncertainty everywhere else and nobody had been through a pandemic and nobody knew what to do exactly. So I think the hardest thing about the whole pandemic was you would get one plan in place and you were thinking, ‘it’s good and here’s what we’re going to do’ and then somebody would shake that snow globe and it would be like, ‘okay, now we’re going to change that plan’ and it would happen daily… like twice a day!” But Dee says we had great partners to help our chapter through the start of the storm. “We got great direction from Nationwide Children’s Hospital; we got great direction from Ohio State; Ohio health; and even Nationwide Insurance jumped in and said, ‘Hey here are some things you should do.’ And then our global organization, of course, was on top of it because they have houses all over the world, so they even saw a different view of it. Just seeing what was happening to a house in Europe… houses in Asia… where everything was different.”
Having weathered this storm with the organization, Dee says the experience has changed her as a leader, for the better. “We had certain restrictions put on us for eight weeks from our global organization and I was counting down like 7…6…5… okay it’s the last week… then it was like, ‘ just kidding we’re going to extend it,’” she says with a smile. “There was so much uncertainty that I’ve never experienced before, and it shapes you. You know you’re thinking you got a plan and then you suddenly realize, two months down the road, no you don’t because you have no idea what’s coming. And if you would’ve told me last year at this time or even a month later that we would still be in this, I would’ve never believed you. Never in a million years.”
But Dee says what has always remained paramount for her and the entire organization, without even verbalizing it, was safely continuing the mission of our chapter: Supporting families who needed to have a child in Columbus hospitals. “The one thing that I kept hearing over and over and over from family members is that they were glad we were still open and they felt safe here. They knew that there was protocol here and they knew that we were following it and that we were concerned, and we took care business. People said we trust the house, and we felt safe and we did do a good job.”
Through it all, the staff has been a point of pride for Dee as CEO of the organization. She says, “You try to make sure you recognize your volunteers and your supporters during a time like this. But I tell you what, the staff at this place is second to none. They stepped up in every possible way. We knew we couldn’t have volunteers, so our volunteer management team… our service managers… they split their shifts. People that usually work 8 to 5 worked overnights to cover things. So, without this staff we wouldn’t have been able to get through this whole ordeal. They just stepped up in every way and did whatever was asked. We would have Family Service Managers that weren’t quite as busy at the front desk helping paint rooms and do other things too. Every single person pitched in and they were happy to do it and learned more about our mission in other ways. That was absolutely the best thing that happened to this place during the pandemic. Staff got to know each other and for them to step up and just embrace this place and take care of all the families that still came was amazing to experience.” Dee herself even pitched in, making holiday cookies while staffing the RMFR at the NCH Behavioral Health Pavilion for a 12-hour day and meeting with families.
As for what comes next, Dee says the organization and its supporters will be just as creative in dealing with whatever is thrown our way. “I think this is going to be a challenging year for us again, financially, because people are still uncertain what their futures look like. I think we’re going to be okay, but it’ll be another challenging year. We have a lot of special events and we had to sort of reinvent those over the past year. Hopefully we can get back to normal at some point. We’ll just be creative again and get it done in the meantime. This past year we got creative with starting a large garden, for example. We probably got a thousand pounds of food from that garden that families were able to eat. We made it because we’re an organization that people believe in and I’m confident we’ll make it again this year.”
The Ohio Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) youth program, BEST (Beef Exhibitor Show Total) is for youth ages 8-21 years and over the last few years, the group has co-hosted the Celebrity Showdown at the Clark County Cattle Battle with an online auction to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities chapter. This fun event features BEST program members dressing up in costumes along with the cattle they show. Sponsored by The Clark County Cattle Producers, this year’s fundraiser February 1-2 gained $37,000.
For some families, the 2020 holidays were an especially difficult time to be away from their support systems. But the staff and volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House help provide a home-like environment during an already tough time that was compounded by having to get treatment for a child while we’re going through a pandemic. NBC4’s Danielle Grossman came to the Ronald McDonald House Thanksgiving Day to report on a family that was experiencing the love coming from staff & volunteers during the start of the holiday season, when the family has to be away from home. Click the image below to watch the report.