Crystal and Philip Branch live in Buffalo, New York. But for nearly 100 days now, they’ve been living at our Ronald McDonald House. “We ended up in Columbus unexpectedly due to an emergency C-section,” Crystal says. “We were traveling for a medical procedure for our (unborn) twins when I went into preterm labor,” Crystal explains. That meant the couple’s trip to Cincinnati would have to stop suddenly with an emergency detour to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital here in Columbus.
Sadly, The Branches lost one of the twins, but their other daughter was born at 24 weeks gestation. Due to her extreme prematurity and some other significant complications, Charley, as their new baby was named, would be admitted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital when she was 4 days old. “She needed to be transferred for emergency surgery,” Crystal explains. “It was very late at night, we had not had a lot of sleep. We were stressed and worried about Charley being moved in her condition. It was comforting to know that we were so close to the hospital and could be there as soon as she arrived. We were surprised how inviting it felt.” Crystal and Philip had become familiar with RMHC of Central Ohio while Charley was in the NICU at Riverside Methodist Hospital. The couple found they were able to do laundry in the Ronald McDonald Family Room near the NICU. Crystal points out that the couple didn’t pack very many clothes for their trip because they weren’t expecting to be away from home for a long time when they started their road trip to Cincinnati.
Crystal gives the biggest reasons the Ronald McDonald House has been so important to her and her husband these last three months and more than a week saying it’s “The ability to have some of the weight lifted off of our shoulders with knowing that we have somewhere to stay and have home cooked meals. We can focus on our baby knowing that these stresses are taken care of.”
To further express her gratefulness, Crystal concludes, “The Ronald McDonald House has been such a blessing to us, with all of the stress that we have been dealing with it has been nice to know that housing is one thing that we don’t have to worry about. RMHC has lifted some of the financial burden off of our shoulders and we cannot be more grateful. Everything from the volunteers and employees who prepare home cooked meals, laundry facilities, and closeness to the hospital, we could not ask for more. Thank you RMHC, donors, and volunteers for allowing us to provide the best care and comfort to our daughter until she can come home.”
Ashley and Ben Watercutter are from the small town of Minster, about 100 miles West of Columbus. They found themselves making their way to Ronald McDonald House in August where they would stay while their baby girl was in the NICU recently. The family is home now, but wanted to express their thankfulness for our House and tell us about the gift of togetherness they received from our chapter because of the support we get from donors and supporters like you. The following is a Q&A email exchange with Ben so we could share with you their journey.
Q: Can you tell us about the diagnosis that put your child and yourselves on this journey?
A: Charlotte was born 3 months early at just 1lb 9oz. As she continued to get older it was evident that her breathing was not getting better and she was diagnosed with Severe Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD) due to her prematurity.
Q: How did you feel when you looked at what might lay ahead for your child and you?
A: There was and is a lot of uncertainty, Charlotte was born right at the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. We have taken everything in stride and are trying to make the best of the cards we have been dealt.
Q: Can you tell us more about the path you’ve taken along the way – doctors, hospitals, specialist, etc.?
A: Charlotte was born the day before Easter Sunday, after Ashley had been in the hospital for the previous week for preeclampsia. She was delivered via cesarean section. Charlotte spent the first 3 months of her life in the NICU at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. She received great care while there, but it became evident that Charlotte’s BPD was not getting and better. We were referred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and their BPD unit. We made the decision to transfer Charlotte here.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you were facing?
A: Our biggest challenge we faced prior to coming here was logistics. NCH is a 2 hour drive from our house. We wanted Charlotte to have the best care possible and we have had to make many sacrifices to accommodate this. After getting here the toughest decision we had to make was approving a trach and g-tube surgery. We were hoping to avoid this but knew it was a possibility. Ultimately we made the decision to proceed as it provides the opportunity for Charlotte to continue to thrive while her lungs continue to develop and grow.
Q: What’s the outlook for the future?
A: Charlotte needs time. A child’s lungs continue to grow for years. As she continues to grow new healthy lung tissue her condition will improve. The hope over the next few months is to get her to a point where she can come home and continue her journey outside the hospital. She is likely to come home on breathing support and we will continue to work with NCH to improve her condition.
Q: How did you find out about the House? How did you feel when you learned about the Ronald McDonald House?
A: NCH referred us to RMH, we were aware of RMH and what it offers prior to this experience. We are very thankful for the RMH.
Q: What surprised you about the house?
A: The house is very impressive and much larger and more accommodating than we could have imagined. We were given a tour of the facility and showed our room. Everything is very clean and the staff is very helpful. Unfortunately we are here in the Covid-19 Pandemic so a lot of the activities and special rooms in the house are not an option. Even without that part of the experience, the RMH is better than we could have imagined. Ben has been able to work in our room during the day and then spend the evenings with Ashley and Charlotte at the hospital.
Q: What has having the House as a resource meant to you? To your family? To your other children? Is there a particular part of the House that you found beneficial while you’ve had to be here in Columbus?
A: A place to live within walking distance of the hospital has been great. Without this as an option we could not afford to stay in Columbus and see our daughter everyday. We are also very thankful for the meals that have been provided. It takes a great burden off of the day not having to worry about meals.
Q: Is there a particular moment or special memory that you have experienced here at the house?
A: We met and got to know another couple here at RMH. It was nice to have someone to talk to about what we are going through.
Q: How has staying at the House enabled you to provide the best care for your child?
A: At least one if not both of us are able to be with her every day. It is very important to us that we can be involved with her care and development. We could not imagine how incredibly difficult life would be without RMH. It would be an emotional, physical, and financial struggle.
Q: What would you want other people to know about RMHC? If you were to be speaking face-to-face with all the donors and volunteers who help fund the house, what would you say?
A: RMHC provides stability and a safe place during the most stressful days of parents lives. Any money donated to RMH is directly helping families in need. It is a great resource for families in need.
Congratulations to Lulani Gaulberto, our new Executive Assistant here at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. Lulani is from Pickerington and was a volunteer at the House before becoming a Volunteer Coordinator and has helped the development team on several occasions organizing auction items. Happy Administrative Professionals Day, Lulani! We did a quick Q&A with Lulani today and she was gracious to answer our questions so the community can get to know her. [Photo credit: Lulani Gaulberto/Facebook]
Q: How did you first come into the RMHC of Central OH community?
A: I started volunteering in 2017 when I was in a work transition. I chose Mondays so that I could start my week on a good note!
Q: What has been your position lately and what kinds of projects have you been working on?
A: In the past year, I’ve been a Volunteer Coordinator helping prepare & serve meals, receive donations; helped in Development by putting together Auction packages and assist with the Bake Sale; I’ve had some shifts staffing the Ronald McDonald Family Rooms at the OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Big Lot’s Behavioral Health Pavilion; and I’ve worked two shifts as a Family Service Manager.
Q: Has there been a moment, since you’ve been with the House, that particularly touched you? Perhaps a moment involving one of our families or being at an event where you really felt you were part of something special?
A: I’ve had numerous moments but the most recent was when I was checking in a family from Kentucky. They had just arrived and she was very concerned about her granddaughter. She had not gotten any rest or sleep or a meal. I got her checked in and was giving her the details about the room, meals, their stay and then I told her that if she needed anything else, all she had to do was ask. I told her I would pack up dinner for her daughter and herself and gave her one of our Thirty-One Gifts welcome bags and she burst into tears. I nearly burst out crying myself but pulled it back in. I saw them a few days later when I came in to volunteer and she and her daughter looked rested and found out that the patient was doing well. How much better can it get?
Q: What are you looking forward to in your new position?
I look forward to contributing to all the House activities – raising money, fostering/planning/organizing/recognizing the amazing job that the McDonald’s restaurants are doing in their Round-Up campaign, supporting Dee Anders (our CEO) so she can do her thing, and being part of this growing chapter!
Kimberly is one of the many hardworking ‘Go-Getter’ volunteers here at Ronald McDonald House Charities. She has been volunteering at the house for a little over a year by, “doing just about whatever needs to be done,” she said. Kimberly and the other ‘Go-Getter’ volunteers help put sheets on beds, restock towels in the linen closet, do laundry, unpack boxes, clean out closets, take out trash, and anything else to help prepare rooms for families to stay in.
She first got started in volunteering at The Ronald McDonald House through a connection with her grandson, William who is currently being treated for cancer at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada. She explained that each time William has had to get treatment in Vancouver, they stay at the Ronald McDonald House and it has impacted their family greatly. However, in this past year, visiting her grandson was no longer an option due to the global pandemic. Wanting to stay connected to him, she decided to volunteer at RMHC in Columbus, Ohio. “It was very important to do something for me to feel connected to him while he was going through his treatment, so I came here for that connection.”
Kimberly shared that through her daughter, the mom of William, she has seen the weight of what it’s like to have a sick child. Her daughter’s focus has had to completely become the health and well-being of her child’s life. However, with RMHC help, some of this weight has been lifted off her shoulders and has allowed her to just be there for her child when he needs her the most. Kimberly explained that this why she continues to volunteer each week––that she is helping make families lives easier. “Everything I do here, however small, makes a family’s life easier and this is a time in their lives that they really need easy.” Kimberly hopes to continue to volunteer RMHC and help families in any way she can.
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.