By Ashley Martin, Red Shoe Society Member
I’m originally from Alabama (Roll Tide), but moved to Columbus after graduate school. I was very active in the volunteer community in Birmingham, so I was excited to plug in to the Columbus community. I looked at a few different organizations, but some didn’t fit my schedule and others made me feel like a cog in the wheel. I wanted somewhere that I could lead, get my hands dirty and see the impact.
I found out about Red Shoe Society from my friend, Courtney, who asked me to go to A Toast to Tinseltown! I was totally impressed with the quality of the event that the Red Shoe Society had pulled together. Around the same time, I had some friends who had a son who was born with a serious illness that led to them spending most of his short life in a hospital. I knew that I wanted to be able to help a place that provides families like them rest during one of the most difficult times of their lives.
The Columbus Ronald McDonald House is magical. It’s filled with the smiles of happy kids and the parents seem at ease with their family all together. As a Red Shoe member, I have been able to cook and serve breakfast to our families, play games & blow bubbles with them and much more. I’ve also been encouraged to step up and be a leader within the organization as a fairly new member, which was really exciting! This year, I implemented a program for our members that helps new folks plug seamlessly with a friendly face.
If you’re looking for a place that you can plug in and really make a difference, I encourage you to check out the Red Shoe Society. Plus, it gives you a great reason to buy lots of new red shoes! 😀
By Amy Gooden
In January 2007 my son Joshua was born five weeks premature and suffered severe digestive complications. A few days after he was born he was transferred from Genesis Hospital in Zanesville, Ohio to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Columbus Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It was a very bewildering and overwhelming time. My husband’s company closed and he was unemployed. I had been off work and on bed rest.
The first night we were at Nationwide Children’s Hospital the wonderful staff allowed us to stay in a special room directly across from the NICU. The next day we searched the area for a local hotel close to the hospital. Although we did not have the financial resources, we were prepared to charge each night of our stay on a credit card. We did not know how long our stay would be and the cost each night was well over $100 a night. Just before checking in at a local hotel we received a call from our case worker at Nationwide Children’s. She said a room was available at the Ronald McDonald House and we could stay there at no cost. It was such a blessing! What a relief to know we did not have to worry about how we were going to pay for our stay. Plus, the hospital was just across the street. We did not have to worry about transportation to and from the hospital.
There was something about the House that was so very comforting. Each night when we returned from the hospital, a local company or volunteer organization had prepared dinner for all of the guests. It was cold and dark outside. I can’t explain how comforting it was to receive a warm meal and sit quietly among the other residents knowing my son was just across the street.
Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Central Ohio provided us with a private room with our own bathroom, a completely stocked and modern kitchen, laundry facility, and a media room. All they asked of us was to clean up after ourselves. Each guest was assigned an area of the House to keep clean. Our area was the library. The library was already a very clean place, but we checked it every day to make sure it was swept and dust free!
It is through those gestures that makes RMHC such a remarkable place. At that time, my husband and I were not able to provide any funds for our stay at the House, but I remember as we were preparing to check out, I thought, someday I will give back to RMHC of Central Ohio for their generosity.
I first had the opportunity to give back to RMHC when I became the advisor for the Rotaract Club at Muskingum University. One of our ongoing projects for is to collect aluminum pop tabs. Since January 2014, the Rotaract Club has engaged the entire campus community to collect pop tabs. On April 28th our club will take a tour of the House and present our pop tabs. We haven’t been able to weigh our tabs yet but I can tell you that I have a giant tub of pop tabs that we will have to roll out of my office!
In July, I will be a contestant in the Dancing with the Divas contest. It is a dance competition and fundraiser similar to the television show Dancing with the Stars. The contest is in its sixth year and is hosted by the Dancing Divas, which is a group of women who promote the love of dance for all ages. Each contestant picks a charity to raise funds; thus, this becomes my second opportunity to give back as my charity will be Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio! My Diva partner and I will be performing a tap routine to Singing in the Rain. I haven’t tap danced since I was 11 years old, so we have started practicing! I have no doubt that we will have a fabulous routine for the show! I am very excited and so happy to be able to finally give back to RMHC.
Today my son is a happy, healthy and enthusiastic 9 year old! Thank you to the wonderful staff at RMHC for helping us through such a stressful time in our lives. The Ronald McDonald House is truly an amazing place, a place of comfort and hope.
By Andrew Sturgill, Romeo’s Pizza
Many things lead me to donate pizza to Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Central Ohio. The most influential was Joyce Mitchell, my late mother-in-law and her fight with cancer. I remember her saying to me one day that she wasn’t feeling very well from all the chemotherapy, “man, a slice of pizza sure makes you feel normal.” That statement stuck with me, because it’s so true. Everyone loves pizza, I joke all the time the greeting kids give the pizza guy is second only to Santa Claus. Joyce’s statement turned a light on for me. It made me think about how truly blessed I am. I have four beautiful, happy, spoiled, ornery daughters. Most of the days in life for my wife, Stephanie, and I is a circus.
From the impact of what Joyce said, I wanted to start doing a monthly pizza party for kids that were at Nationwide Children’s Hospital with long-term illnesses that were there receiving treatment. I wanted to help the kids “feel normal”, even if only for a brief moment. I also believe that I am truly indebted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital because I was a patient there for 20 years. As with most things I set out to do I aim for the stars and fall short, but the moon has a great view too.
As Joyce and I did research, we realized that doing the pizza party at the hospital was not going to be an option because of many red tape details. However, that is what led our search to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. It made sense; as a parent, I believe there is nothing worse than having one of your babies sick or in pain without the ability to remedy it. I reached out to Columbus Ronald McDonald House and the Volunteer Manager, Meika, and set up the first pizza delivery. Meika is so awesome, always happy and thankful. It makes me feel great when we donate. I asked her if I could bring my two oldest daughters with me on the first trip there to help teach them how good it feels to give.
That first trip was so amazing, it was the only time I hung around while the kitchen staff plus Meika prepared the dinner, because Meika wanted to give the girls and me a tour of the House. As my daughters and I were leaving after our tour, I was able to see into the dining area. The good vibes coming out of there from the few families that had gathered and the kitchen team was amazing. There were many smiles and even some laughter. It gave me a feeling of happiness that is hard to explain; I was hooked.
That brings me to a story I want to share. My District Manager (DM) and I were having a meeting about six or eight months ago reviewing sales, delivery performance, labor cost, and food cost numbers. On that day I was able to coach my DM on something that is more important than pizza or profitability. The DM asked me why we do Ronald McDonald House orders. He explained that the Columbus Ronald McDonald House is about 20 minutes away from our closest store’s delivery area and he wasn’t sure we would get any residual business impact from it. He pointed out that we don’t post it on our Facebook or other social media accounts. I believe my answer shocked him in a good way. I simply said, “it is because of how giving those pizzas make me feel.” He looked at me silently for a minute, confused. I explained to him I get more JOY out of giving those 20 or 30 pizzas to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio than I could ever explain with words. I challenged him to deliver an order. A month or so later at a different meeting he told me he had. He smiled at me and said that we should do that as often as the Columbus Ronald McDonald House needs us.
I wanted to share that because I think it speaks to the environment created by the staff, volunteers, donors, and parents at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. In one visit, the House hooked my DM the same way the House hooked me. In short, it makes you feel good being there. It’s a place you want to be a part of, even if it’s just a small part. It’s so funny because now Meika usually just texts me last minute when she needs a quick fill in dinner. I wonder if she knows I look forward to her texts. They make me smile.
I will continue to do all I can for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio for as long as I am permitted. It reminds me of Joyce, whom my family misses dearly. I would have never had the connection with RMHC without her. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio gives so much more to me than they know. No monetary amount or trade of goods ever comes close to the JOY I have when I get a text from Meika, and JOY is a really good thing.
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 Carly Damman
Running, as in life, involves highs, lows, exhaustion, excitement, joy and grief. I started running during my sophomore year of college and could not have imagined how the sport of running would impact my health, my friendships and my will power.
As a Ronald McDonald House staff member, I’ve had the privilege of managing our charity running team, Team RMHC. Team RMHC participants train for a half or full marathon race while fundraising for the families staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Not only that, but I’ve been involved in several races in the Columbus area representing the Ronald McDonald House as the charity beneficiary, including the Corporate Challenge 5k, the Color Run, the Hot Chocolate Run and the Red Shoe Run, just to name a few. Boy, how running has permeated every area of my life!
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Why does she keep talking about running? I hate running. Running has nothing to do with the Ronald McDonald House.”
But, oh, how you’ve been mistaken!
I run my race #forRMHC families and here’s how:
Countless hours in the hospital waiting room…
A year in and out of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Columbus Ronald McDonald House….
We are all running a race. A race we will finish through all the tears, setbacks, laughs and successes that life brings.
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.
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