By Joel Merrill
As the Facilities Director of the largest Ronald McDonald House on the planet, I am blessed and honored to work with many individual and group volunteers. Volunteers are what keep the Columbus Ronald McDonald House running.
Volunteers keep the Ronald McDonald House clean, maintained, and are always a ray of sunshine for the guests that stay here. They are the reason we can provide such a wonderful, clean place for the families of sick children that are being treated at our local hospitals. It is through the selfless efforts of our volunteers that we are able to take a little of the daily stress away from the families, so they can focus more energies on their child. It is easy for us to get caught up in the everyday grind and lose (even temporarily) sight of the real reason we are here. That reason is to provide a welcoming clean place for families to unwind, gather their thoughts, and recharge their emotions.
I recently was humbled by the interaction with a first time volunteer, Amie. She came to help us work on a house that we are remodeling for long-term stays for families to stay in. Amie came after her regular work hours at her job with a commercial real estate management company. She was happy to help with whatever we needed done. She helped me hang drywall for a few hours (until it got too dark to see). Amie was concerned she wasn’t helping enough (as is the case with the volunteers that I am blessed to work with). The majority of people may not realize just how much it means to the House that they come in and help. Even if it is for an hour, it is such a wonderful thing. It helps the morale of the families and gets much needed work done. Laundry cleaned and folded for rooms ready for a new family, families fed, play areas for the families maintained and/or built. For every hour a volunteer spends helping us, they save the limited staff here that hour. That is priceless for us.
I think there was an unexpected blessing for Amie, too. As we were touring the House at the end of her volunteer shift, we met a family from Minneapolis, Minnesota as they were walking with their child, Lydia. Lydia and Amie became fast friends and played and talked for a few minutes on the Safelite Serenity Rooftop Garden. We rode on the elevator with the family to the first floor. Those few minutes had a huge positive impact on Lydia’s family and me (I am sure on Amie, also) and will not soon be forgotten as we all go about our lives. Lydia is such a sweet, sincere, engaging child. She is full of wonder and a great example of the courage and strength all of the children at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House possess. Amie epitomizes the heart and spirit of volunteerism. It is humbling to see how much positive impact just a few minutes of time has on people when they volunteer. Thank you to Amie and all of the volunteers for reopening my eyes to the wonder that we call the House.
By Aren Carmen
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into the first time I stepped through the doors of Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio. I had heard the stories, the praise, the positivity that surrounds the house and their mission. I was nervous, painfully so. What could I do to help with something so big, so grand, so important? The first tour did nothing to quell my anxiety as we walked past room after room and I tried my best to soak up every statistic that was thrown at me. From play areas to family rooms, kitchens to offices, I was in awe. The scale of the house baffled me, the passion of the staff inspired me, but the families were what made everything fall into place. From day one I knew that this was not going to be any old internship.
Every time I walk through the doors now, it’s not anxiety I feel, it’s motivation. There’s an aura in the house, the offices, the staff themselves that drives everyone further. Pushes them a little harder to do anything and everything they can to support the families that need the help we provide. This summer I learned what a labor of love truly was. The staff and volunteers that keep the House up and running taught me that in their daily actions. They don’t seek praise, they don’t want anything but to see a family through the hardest times of their lives and finally out that door to get back to their homes happily. The families taught me what it meant to be gracious and strong in the face of tribulation. Despite the situations that led them to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, they stayed optimistic, friendly, and supportive of each other. I saw the power that a sense of community has in combating despair and fear. I watched families check in, weathered and drained. I watched them check out, bright with life and beyond thankful. I heard stories that tore my heart in two and met kids that I never wanted to stop talking to. I spoke to people that challenged my thinking and others that redefined words like love, courage, and strength.
One of the first things that happened to me when I got the news that I would be working at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio was a conversation with a friend who told me about the impact RMHC made on his family when his brother was born. He said that they didn’t know what they would’ve done had it not been for RMHC. It took being a part of the reality of the mission to realize the gravity of his words. When someone talks about the impact that the House makes, it doesn’t stop at the bed they sleep in, or the food they eat. It’s in everything that you experience here. The families, the staff, the support, the feeling of community, the love that you sense in everything that is done here, it all culminates in a truly humbling and powerful experience that words could never capture. The memory that I will hold most tightly to was watching a family I saw check in early into my time here walk out, both children by their side holding massive over-sized stuffed kangaroos, as they thanked the volunteers at the front desk, thanked any staff that was close enough to be thanked, and took one last look at the House that they had needed so dearly. There is so much that can be said for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, but none of those words embody what Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio truly is. I’m beyond thankful I had the chance to be even a small part of the mission, to experience what this House means to the families it serves, and to have met the people that spend their days focused on helping others through trials that most could not even imagine. The Ronald McDonald House has given me a truly meaningful experience, one that I will never forget.
By Jennifer Tackett
Christmas 2013 was supposed to be magical. It was our first as a married couple and we were also expecting our first child. I hadn’t felt great that entire day so we checked my blood pressure and it was really high. We went to our local ER just to be safe. After a few tests they told us I had severe Pre-Eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome and the only cure was to deliver the baby! Our hearts sank and we were terrified because I was only 25 weeks pregnant. The next day on Christmas morning I was transported from our hometown of Pikeville, Kentucky to the University of Kentucky in Lexington which was three hours away because they had a higher level NICU for the baby. I was given so many medicines and steroid shots to try to help keep her in. Four days after being there, my internal organs started to shut down and my brain started to swell so they rushed in and did an emergency c-section. At exactly 26 weeks pregnant on December 29th we delivered a beautiful but very tiny 1 pound 6 ounce baby girl whom we named Autymn Layne. Her lungs were severely premature and she was placed on the ventilator. She was given a 50% chance of surviving at that time. During this trying time we were three hours from our home and didn’t know where we would stay to be close to our baby girl. The local Ronald McDonald House had just closed for renovation. We knew we would be there a few months and we could not afford a hotel for that long. We pulled our RV to a spot we found 45 minutes from the hospital. It was a long, cold winter traveling back and forth daily, but we survived. After five months we heard the Ronald McDonald House was opening. I will never forget the feeling I had when we checked in. I couldn’t help but cry during the tour thinking how blessed we were to be able to have such a nice and safe place to rest only minutes away from our baby!
After many months and failed attempts to get Autymn off the ventilator, we realized that her lungs were too sick to be able to allow her to breathe on her own. She was diagnosed with BPD (Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia) which is a chronic lung disease. In May 2014 she had to have a trach placed. This made her worse than before. We were told that she may not make it another 30 days. We were not willing to accept that for an answer. After some research, we learned that Nationwide Children’s Hospital had an actual BPD unit for babies just like Autymn. We knew we had to get her there ASAP. This hospital was six hours from our home, so naturally we thought what are we going to do? Where are we going to stay? We were told there was also a Ronald McDonald House in Columbus where we could stay. This lifted a great burden from our shoulders.
In July 2014, my daughter and I were airlifted to Nationwide Children’s as my husband, Erick, made the trip by car with our belongings. While I stayed with the baby and was getting her settled in, Erick walked over and got us checked in at the Columbus RMH. He came back and told me how nice it was and how nice everyone was to him. What a blessing it was to have such a nice, safe place to sleep and have a warm meal within walking distance from the hospital! The most important thing the Ronald McDonald House gave us was TIME with our daughter. A baby’s development improves so much better with the presence of both parents. Without the Ronald McDonald House we would not have been able to be with her daily and be the parents we wanted to be to her and help her thrive. It also allowed Autymn’s grandparents to be close to her and give her that special attention only a grandparent can! We would have only been able to afford to drive and see her a few times a month if not for them. For this we are forever grateful!
Nationwide Children’s truly saved Autymn’s life and five months after arriving in Columbus on NICU day 351 Autymn was released to go HOME for the first time! We can never thank everyone at the hospital and at the Ronald McDonald House enough for everything they have done for our family during this tough journey! The kindness shown to us from the Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers has truly changed us as people. It makes us want to give, help more, and be better people than we were before. We feel we are better parents and all around better human beings than we were before we started on our journey. Nobody can begin to imagine what a great organization RMHC truly is until you have a sick child, need a safe, warm place to stay and a place to go to after a long hard day at the hospital to escape the monitors and machines. It was also a place where we made lifelong friends with other parents going through similar situations. It means so much to have people to talk to that empathize with how you feel and what you are going through.
Autymn is now 19 months old and has been home for 8 months. She is the happiest baby you will ever meet and always has a smile on her face. She is meeting all of her milestones and doing great on a minimal amount of oxygen so we expect to be able to get her trach out this spring! We travel to Columbus once a month for a few nights for follow-up visits. It is so nice to know we can continue to stay at the Ronald McDonald House with Autymn. She loves all the different rooms she can play in during our stays! Every month I always say “we’re home” as we pull in the parking lot. It truly does feel like home away from home and we look forward to visiting and seeing our family and friends each month! Thanks again for ALL that you continue to do for not only our family but for ALL families with sick children!
By Keiana Mitchell, Community Partners Associate
While the House still seems new to me, it also feels like home. My first introduction to the House was in 2013 after I had helped renovate the exercise room. All of the staff seemed genuinely grateful and appreciative of the work we had done. A couple of weeks later, they sent a hand written thank you card, which I thought was endearing and I pinned it on the board at my desk.
Fast forward to 2015, and I was looking for a career change. I had worked in the non-profit world for a few years and I wanted to find a place where I felt like I could better impact the people I served. I saw a position posted at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House and remembered the thank you card and the people I worked with and thought I should apply. After meeting with all of the great staff, I just knew that this was the place for me.
I started my journey with the House in March and have loved every minute of it. There is no better feeling than walking the halls of the house and seeing the smiling faces of families despite what may be going on with their child at the hospital. Whether it’s a short conversation at lunch about Marvel comics or playing peek-a-boo with a little one, there is no greater feeling knowing that I can make a difference.
I often try to explain to my friends and family how the House has changed my perspective on what I do every day. The House is a great example of how you can make a difference in your community. From a smile, playing basketball with the little ones in our backyard, cooking a meal or brownies, you really do have the power to make a difference. I am lucky that I have the opportunity to do that every day.
By Stephanie Milan
I’m fairly new to my role here as Volunteer Manager at RMHC of Central Ohio, so when I went to unlock the Princess Room yesterday for my new friend, Sydney, I fumbled around a little, figuring out which magical key on my ring was the correct one.
This isn’t the first set of keys I’ve been given by the friendly folks of the Ronald McDonald House Charities; it’s actually my third.
The first set I received as a guest at the RMH in Cleveland while my newborn baby boy, Milo, was seen by a specialist after having been born 16 weeks early, weighing just over one pound. Those keys opened the door to a soft bed and a warm meal after very long and scary days in an unfamiliar place.
The second set of keys was given to me just months ago, when I began volunteering here just after Milo, at age three, had fought his battle with cancer as hard as he could, but had to let go. With a whole lot of sadness in my soul and way too much idle time, I found my way here. I will forever be grateful for those keys, as they opened my heart to a new way to heal through helping others.
But the keys I hold now, they unlock something much more than the doors to this house. They open a whole new world of possibilities. A world where guests become friends, volunteers are a family and the welcoming warmth of this enchanted house makes all people that enter feel like they are home.
Dear Ronald McDonald House Volunteers and Staff,
My husband and I would like to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts! Our baby, Clay, was transferred here very unexpectedly after being born prematurely. We have now spent almost a month at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as our son has grown and learned how to eat. We would not have been able to manage this without your help! We live two hours away and have a three year old son at home. While my husband has stayed home with our son, it has been a comfort knowing I had somewhere safe to stay that is so close to the hospital. This has allowed me to watch over our baby and be involved in his care. Everything from the room to the services you provide has went above and beyond. This is truly a wonderful place! Thank you all for being so good to our family!
The Boggs Family
By Katie Cannon, Team RMHC Member
I promised myself that I would run a half marathon before I turned 50. Being that my longest run ever was 4 miles, this truly would be a major accomplishment for me.
I am not a runner. In fact, I hate to run. When I saw that the Columbus Ronald McDonald House had a fundraising team for the half marathon, I joined immediately. Running for RMHC was the incentive I needed to keep on training, especially because I have personally witnessed why the Columbus Ronald McDonald House is a necessity for families at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I couldn’t give up on myself because I would then be giving up on the families that needed the RMH!
My oldest child, Rachel, was born on December 4th, 1991, with a very serious heart defect. Her first three months of life and many, many future days and weeks were spent in Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
During this stressful time, my ex-husband and I had the luxury of our child being hospitalized in the city in which we actually lived. We could go home every night to our own bed; our families kept our fridge stocked with food, and we never lacked for visitors to sit with us during the scariest times ever of our whole lives!
I couldn’t even imagine dealing with a Rachel’s hospitalization, far from our own home and support system. Yet I met so many parents that were doing exactly that and remaining strong because of the Ronald McDonald House. Until my time with Rachel at Children’s, I just thought the Ronald McDonald House was basically a hotel that parents could stay in for a very small cost. Wow, was I ever wrong!
The Ronald McDonald House does provide the hotel-type rooms at very little or no costs. However, it provides so much more. RMHC families get a true family to go home to every night by just walking across the street, instead of driving hours to their far away homes. There are home cooked meals waiting every night. Most importantly, because of volunteers, there is a built in support system, to help through those very long and scary times.
Thank you to RMHC of Central Ohio! I am so proud to have helped this great cause! I thank you for being the incentive to check “run a half marathon before you are 50” off of the bucket list!
By Vicki Chappelear
A bright-eyed four-year-old, little girl walked into my office and gave me a big smile. She looked me straight in the eye, placed her hands on her little head and exclaimed, “I don’t have any hair!” She said it as if I didn’t know, but I did know. Her story is much like that of many of the kids I see daily.
I have the privilege of working with the families of kids who are pretty sick. I have seen all types of illness come into my office—cancer, spina bifida, heart issues or an illness yet to be diagnosed—you name it, chances are good I’ve have met a family dealing with it.
There is something that stands out to me about these kids—their resilient attitude. They do not sit around and feel sorry for themselves. I’ve actually witnessed five and six year olds comforting each other and having conversations about medical procedures I do not understand. Many of these little ones don’t know any different; this is their normal. Few of them know life apart from feeding tubes, wheelchairs or a complex cocktail of daily medicine.
The parents do an amazing job of trying to maintain their childhood innocence; their strength is incredible to me. What is a parent to do when their hopes of what is considered a normal childhood is dashed? When bikes are traded for wheelchairs and playgrounds for exams rooms and ORs? They do their best to keep things as “normal” as possible, all the while feeling the pressures of making wise medical decisions and the never-ending barrage of medical bills that they will never be able to pay. And yet, these moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas put on a brave face for their little ones.
I believe these amazing kids have a gift to see life for what it is, to embrace the life they have, to make the most of every moment. God has given them the strength to handle unimaginable trials with grace and a smile. They are not upset with their situation; they do not compare what they are going through with those who are not going through a life-altering experience.
I no longer see children in wheelchairs or children from whom childhood has been stolen, but rather, I see their smiles. The twinkle in their eyes and their love of life as they know it. It’s not about what happens to you or what you are going through, it’s about the eye through which you see those circumstances. These little ones are far wiser than their years.
So when I hear the squeal of laughter coming from a child in a wheelchair or even see the precious smooth, round head of a bright-eyed little girl, I smile because I am reminded there is joy in being alive. This is the path God has chosen for them and they embrace it.
By Diana Beil, RMHC of Central Ohio Volunteer
In 1991, my brother was a patient at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. For several months, my mother stayed at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House while he was in the hospital. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a group of coworkers who prepared a meal for the families staying at the House. Being there reminded me of all the stories my mother shared about her time staying at the House and how blessed we were to have the House during such a difficult time. After that visit, I realized I wanted to become more involved with the Columbus Ronald McDonald House and I have been volunteering ever since.
My favorite part of being a Housewarmer is the interactions with the families. It is a great feeling to know the simplest of tasks – providing directions, providing forgotten toiletries, etc. makes their day just a bit easier. I am always fascinated by the distance people come to receive care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I have a great sense of pride for the Hospital and the House, and feel confident telling the families that they are in the best place they can be for their child. I also have met some of the most generous people working at the House. It is nice being surrounded by others who value volunteerism and giving back to our community.
My mother came to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House with me a couple years ago to take a tour. It is very different than the small house she remembers. I can’t wait to have her come back and check out the new addition. I think the most rewarding part of being a volunteer at the House is knowing I’m making my mother proud and giving back to such a wonderful place that helped our family all those years ago!