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 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.