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 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!
By The National Board
One day, a mom and a dad will walk out their child’s hospital room with heavy hearts and seek solitude together in the Safelite Serenity Rooftop Garden of the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. There, dozens of engraved pavers will line the walkway and represent to those parents that a community cares about them and their child.
This is why The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors is honored to be one of hundreds of donors who support the selfless cause of the Columbus Ronald McDonald House through participation in its rooftop garden paver program, and are truly grateful that such a charity exists for seriously ill children and their families.
The National Board has been tied to the good works of the Columbus Ronald McDonald House through the volunteerism of its employees and collecting items for the Wish List during the holidays. Additionally, in 2010, Nationwide Children’s Hospital donated its 40,900-pound watertube boiler to the National Board to be used as part of the training program the organization offers to pressure equipment inspectors from around the world.
About the National Board: Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, since 1919, The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors is a non-profit organization that promotes greater safety to life and property through uniformity in the construction, installation, repair, maintenance, and inspection of pressure equipment. Learn more at www.nationalboard.org.
By Dan Wyatt, Cardinal Health Employee
Beginning in January of 2014 my daughter, Riley, began to suffer from continual illnesses. After almost 2 months of constant doctors’ visits, she was finally diagnosed with HSP (Henoch-Schonlein Purpura). HSP is a form of blood vessel inflammation or vasculitis. HSP affects the small vessels called capillaries in the skin and frequently the kidneys. HSP results in a purplish skin rash associated with joint inflammation (arthritis) and sometimes cramping pain in the abdomen. As with most illnesses, its severity ranges from mild to extreme. Unfortunately we were about to find out Riley will soon be diagnosed with its most severe form.
On Riley’s 9th birthday (March of 2014) we were attempting to celebrate her birthday. We hadn’t even cut her cake when she leaned over to me and said “Daddy, something’s wrong.” Within minutes my wife and I were rushing Riley to Nationwide Children’s Hospital with severe internal bleeding. Within the course of one hour, Riley had lost all the blood in her body, twice. Without knowing the exact point of the internal bleed, numerous tests were being run while she was being given emergency blood transfusions. This is when we were told of the severity of the HSP and the critical situation Riley was now in. She was literally fighting for her life. After what seemed like forever, Riley was finally stabilized and moved into Children’s ICU, where she spent a week recovering. After still more tests, the doctors were not able to find the source of the bleed. She was eventually released with a high dose of steroids, to help with the internal bleeding, a course of 30 days of antibiotics to keep her from picking up any immediate infections, and pain medications.
A year later, Riley still suffers from HSP, however its side effects of the rashes, the severe stomach cramping and joint pain has been greatly reduced. Her specialist at Children’s finally gave the green light to discontinue the steroids and pain medications as of March 1st; and we hope that by the end of this year, she will be discharged from his care. At this year’s birthday celebration, Riley was surrounded by family and a dozen of her closest girlfriends! It truly was a celebration of her life!
I have been volunteering at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House for the past couple years and I have always been touched by the stories of those with children spending time at the hospital. After I became one of those parents who spent more time at the hospital, rather than at home with their child, volunteering here took on a whole new meaning. I grew even fonder of the services that both Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Columbus Ronald McDonald House provide to those in need.
By Megan Evans, Grants Administrator, The Licking County Foundation
The Licking County Foundation is pleased to partner with the Ronald McDonald House to support the Helping Hands Program designed to help support nights of rest for families of seriously-ill children. Bordering Franklin County to the east, Licking County residents often find themselves in need of a place to call home when their young ones require care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The Licking County Foundation, founded in 1956 to improve the quality of life for all citizens of Licking County, is partnering with the Ronald McDonald House for a sixth year to support Licking County families in need of a place to stay.
Licking County consistently ranks within the top five counties in Ohio to use Ronald McDonald House’s services. Although most Licking County residents are within an hour drive of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, for many families with a seriously ill child, having the ability to stay at the Ronald McDonald House while their child receives treatment directly across the street provides a source of relief. Staying at the Ronald McDonald House provides Licking County residents the precious gift of time with their child and saves them countless hours they would otherwise use commuting to and from the hospital.
Since 2006, Ronald McDonald House has provided services to over 1,200 families from Licking County with over 10,000 nights of rest. The superior facilities at the Ronald McDonald House give families the ability to stay together and be close to their ill child, allowing them to focus on what is most important—the successful recovery of their child. We truly appreciate our partnership with the Ronald McDonald House and their support of the Foundation’s mission to improve the quality of life for all citizens of Licking County, one family at a time.
By Carly Damman
February 14th, 2015 marked a special day for both Ohio University students and the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. On that day, over 130 students came together to dance for 12 hours straight while raising a total of $18,173 dollars for Ronald McDonald House families. February 14th marked the first ever dance marathon at Ohio University and the first ever dance marathon to raise support for RMHC of Central Ohio.
As an eager and ambitious college senior, I decided to help start BobcaThon at Ohio University. Little did I know it would land me a big girl job one day! BobcaThon became a reality due to hard work, passionate students and a desire to help the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. What a bittersweet moment for me when February 14th finally came around and the idea of a dance marathon became reality! Transitioning from being a student who helped plan the event to a full-time staff member at the Ronald McDonald House was a bit of a challenge for me at first. However, as soon as I stepped foot in the Student Center at Ohio University and saw the event come to life, the challenge was over and the celebration could begin! The students did such an incredible job honoring the families and embracing the atmosphere of a true dance marathon.
Reflecting on my tough transition from student to full-time staff member, I am repeatedly reminded of the transition families staying with us have to make. Can you imagine leaving your home, your friends, your family and your job to spend weeks, even months, at a hospital? It’s surely not an easy transition. It’s probably one of the hardest transitions a family ever has to make. My transition pales in comparison! I am so honored and so humbled to work for an organization that strives to serve families of seriously-ill children in their deepest time of need each and every day. I am beyond thrilled to continue working alongside BobcaThon students to make the dance marathon more successful each year.
For me, each hour of the 12 hour dance marathon symbolized an hour of anticipation for an RMHC family. An hour of waiting during a child’s surgery, an hour of celebration after a cure is found, an hour of praying for positive test results or an hour spent anxiously awaiting next steps on an already long journey. I admire the stamina of each BobcaThon dancer to stand on their feet for 12 hours straight but that’s nothing compared to the strength of our Ronald McDonald House families.
Remember to always take time to dance for the amazing families that stay at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House!
By Darla Stover
As I walk the halls of the Ronald McDonald House, I am amazed every day at the support coming from the Columbus community. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio is so fortunate to be located in such a philanthropic city. As of October 2014, the 1.8 million people in the Columbus Metropolitan Area gave $1.08 billion to charity. The philanthropic spirit of Columbus is very evident at RMHC.
Throughout the House are the names of companies, foundations, individuals and organizations that have chosen to become a permanent part of the Ronald McDonald House. On the guest rooms are names of both permanent and annual supporters of the House. The maze of hallways and 137 guest rooms proudly boast the names of those who have chosen to become long-term supporters of RMH. The rooftop patio overlooking the courtyard holds pavers with meaningful quotes, memorials, company logos, volunteers, families and individuals that have left a legacy atop the expansion.
Throughout the courtyard, gardens and play space, large rocks with supporters names inscribed in them dot the landscape. These donors were instrumental in leading a successful capital campaign to build the expansion that opened in September 2014. The hallways themselves, as well as the community rooms, boast of the donors who adopted them.
These people who walk through the front doors of the Ronald McDonald House immediately feel the energy of the supporters-families, volunteers, corporations, foundations, individuals, groups and staff members. How can I help? What can I do? What can I give? These are questions we hear all the time at RMH. The partnerships and friendships created at the Ronald McDonald House are long-lasting, meaningful and impactful. Corporate partners extend their reach to their foundations, employees and clients. Individuals invite friends from their social circles and associates from their work to be a part of this community of families all caring for their hospitalized children at their home-away-from-home.
Ethan Graham was born at full-term and looked so perfect. His parents, Ryan and Ashley Graham, could not wait to take him home to see his siblings. A couple weeks later, Ethan was not able to have any bowel movements, so his parents took him to the doctor. Ethan’s doctors knew they weren’t able to give the answers the Graham family was looking for, so they sent Ethan from Kentucky to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville. Vanderbilt could not give any answers as to what was going on with Ethan, so they sent him to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. While at Kosair, Ryan and Ashley found out Ethan had a bleeding disorder, so they sent Ethan and his parents to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The family had a nurse refer them to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, and they arrived right before Christmas of 2013.
Since Ethan has been treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, he has undergone three biopsies and two scopes. He has all of the symptoms for Cystic Fibrosis, but this little boy has not tested positive for this disease, so his diagnosis is still unknown. This has resulted in a lot of travel from the Graham family’s home in Kentucky to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. “We’ve met a lot of families over at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, only to find out the family we have been talking to is also staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. We met Story Hill and her parents (an amazing little girl whose story we told in 2014), and learned just how similar our children’s lives were—from living in Kentucky, to having the scary experience of having our children lifeflighted from Kentucky to Nationwide Children’s Hospital—it has been wonderful to know someone who has common ground that can relate to our family’s story.”
Ashley said she is continually blown away by the amenities at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. “We’ve taken so many pictures of Ethan in the library, so it has been fun to see him grow and change. The movie theatre has also been a lifesaver, because Ethan wants to stay up while his dad may want to sleep, so Ethan and I make our way to watch movies there late at night. I was here before, during, and after the expansion. I was here last Friday when they opened the NHL All-Star Tree House—what an amazing space! We love the Columbus Ronald McDonald House because of the volunteers and the sense of community. From listening to a little girl sing “Let It Go” from Frozen during dinner and applauding her for her performance, to bonding with other families in all of the beautiful common spaces, there is no place like the Ronald McDonald House. We are truly grateful for this place!”