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 Bob Tidwell
My name is Bob Tidwell. I am a volunteer at the Columbus Ronald McDonald on Tuesday night, and my role is the House Host. The volunteers on Tuesday night and the Family Service Managers are just great. I’m proud to be a part of that team.
The House Host position was created by RMH as it was expanding earlier last year when more rooms and more community spaces were added. This meant there was a greater need for helping patients and their families get checked in and settled at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Previously, I was a Housewarmer. When this new position was posted, I jumped at the opportunity as I enjoy the personal interaction with families, including the patients. In the process, I moved my hours later and later, as it seemed many families were checking in later after a long drive from their homes. Now I work from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday evenings. I’ve checked in families from North Carolina, Western Pennsylvania, Boston and many other cities, states, and countries.
Some families arrive in Columbus in the morning and go immediately to Nationwide Children’s Hospital or any of the other area hospitals with their child. The family, minus their child (who has now been checked in to the hospital) then comes to RMH after an exhausting day at the hospital to get checked into the House. Their needs seem to be different than those families who come to RMH late with their child still in tow so I try to adapt. However, these families all seem to have one thing in common—they look frightened and their look seems to say what is going to happen to my child? Either way there is visible relief when they understand there’s a place for them to eat and sleep. I tell them they are in the best place in the world—the hospital will take care of their child and RMH will take care of them with love and compassion.
When families check in, I like them to understand their basic needs will be taken care of: where they will sleep and where they will eat. As we walk around, I try to understand their needs, particularly if they plan to be here a night or two or for an extended period of time. Laundry facility, a spa where they can get haircuts, gym, movies, game room, library, etc. For families who check in late and are worn out from the drive, I give them an “efficient tour” and encourage them to read the facility information in their room or explore the House when they have a free moment.
When I was a Housewarmer, I certainly had the ability to say hi to folks over the weeks and make this experience more personal for them. The position of House Host, however, makes it possible to remember names (not always) but at least remember them and why they are there. It seems a great idea to touch as many lives as possible and a great strategic decision by RMH to create this position.
I was so touched when one of our families, who I had checked in and seen many times since then, came up to me and asked if I had eaten. I told them I had not. They then offered me some of food they had prepared for themselves. I think it’s symbolic of the appreciation of the families to RMH.
I love it when families come in late and have a little girl in tow, invariably going into Children’s for special testing or a procedure. I ask if they would like to see The Princess Room. The joy and awe on these little faces (and the parents) is incredible when they see it and go in. Maybe the visit is for open heart surgery or some other complicated procedure and they won’t have a chance to see it again. It’s wonderful for me and hopefully for them as well.
I also volunteer at another area hospital’s emergency room every week, also where I have the opportunity to work with families of patients who are brought in for emergency treatment. The personal dynamics are virtually the same—fear of the unknown. Though at the hospital it’s more of a short term issue while at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, unfortunately, is generally longer term. The support of RMH is an incredible benefit to our families and we should all feel proud for contributing.