By Kate Ziegler
“We might not ever meet face to face, but I care about you and your well-being”.
The volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House at the kindest, most supportive and warm-hearted people I have ever met. Each day when I walk into work and smell homemade cookies, or see a group of kids making lasagna for lunch, or see a maintenance volunteer cleaning an air filter, it lifts my spirits in ways I can’t really put into words.
Not all of the acts of kindness that our volunteers perform on a regular basis are ever noticed. Our maintenance volunteers most especially typically fly under the radar. I can’t say that any of our families noticed that the air vents in the kitchen were cleaned this morning, that their bathroom fan doesn’t squeak, or that the fluorescent lights are never out. The maintenance volunteers at RMH work quietly behind the scenes to ensure our families are safe and well cared for so that they can spend more time at the hospital with their children and less time worrying about the small stuff.
It’s this type of giving that gets me out of bed in the morning. Each day I am surrounded by people who come into the Ronald McDonald House and say “I’m here to help make your day easier because I know you’re having a tough time. We might not ever meet face to face, but I care about you and your well-being.”
Take a moment to think about all the little things you do at home – changing air filters, cleaning baseboards, changing light bulbs…all of those things need to be done here too, except the people who live here can’t do them. If you stop by the Ronald McDonald House and notice that everything looks like it’s in its place, it’s because a volunteer made that happen!
If you are interested in becoming a Maintenance or Housewarming volunteer, visit rmhc-centralohio.org/volunteer.php
By Amber Fosler
When my friends and I partnered with Columbus Running Company to form Love 2 Reach (L2R), our goal was to use physical fitness as a way to reach out to our community. We would train to walk and run full and half marathons while raising money and volunteering time to a local charity. I was pregnant when we selected Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio as our benefactor. I knew it was a great organization but I could have never guessed what a huge impact Ronald McDonald House would have on my life.
I trained with L2R through much of my pregnancy. A month after my son, Elias, was born, I jumped back into training; this time with a run stroller and a sidekick. A week after Elias’s first training, he was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, biliary atresia. Two weeks later, he had major abdominal surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital but we were cautioned that most babies with biliary atresia need a liver transplant before they reach kindergarten. To say this was a stressful time is an understatement.
As he recovered from surgery, we tried to just settle into our life as a family of three. I struggled to find the balance of being back to work, being a new mom and training for a “comeback” half marathon. My husband has been amazing and knows that without running and race walking, I couldn’t possibly have any sense of balance. Getting in mileage is the one thing that is truly a stress reliever and he made sure I had time to get out there. Being out on the trails is the place I dealt with the emotions of my son’s diagnosis. It is where I went to feel like myself when the rest of my world felt like chaos.
Elias’s health took a very quick turn for the worse at the beginning of the year. I found myself crying as I called the airline to cancel my flight to Orlando for what was supposed to be my 10th half marathon. I was crying because my post-baby comeback race wasn’t to be. I was crying because my 6 month old baby was in Intensive Care.
January and February had more days in the hospital than at home. We faced life threatening complications, two calls to 911, two ambulance rides and two helicopter rides to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The only running and walking that happened was within the walls of a hospital.
Elias’s amazing pediatrician and the equally amazing team at Nationwide Children’s GI clinic saved my son’s life with his early diagnosis. They carefully monitored his care until his liver started to fail. Nationwide Children’s doesn’t currently perform liver transplants, which is how we found ourselves at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
My son was added to the national liver transplant list in January. By mid-February, Elias was in acute liver failure. He was running out of time waiting for a deceased donor. While my husband and I tried to get through each hour, each day with our very sick baby, a gift was in the works. My husband’s cousin, Zac, was evaluated to be a living liver donor. He was a match. On February 26th of this year, our hero, Zac, donated a portion of his liver to Elias. Zac selflessly gave Elias the gift of life and gave our family hope.
Since January, we have spent a total of 58 days at Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh. My involvement with Ronald McDonald House came full circle. The House came to my family’s rescue during a very dark time. They gave us a place to rest our head. A place to let out the emotions we tried to hide from Elias while he was in the hospital. It gave us a clean, safe place to bring Elias post-transplant before his team felt he was stable enough to return to Columbus. I have no idea where we would have gone without Ronald McDonald House. I went from knowing it was a great organization to experiencing it firsthand.
Elias is now 15 months old and is nearly 8 months post-transplant and he’s thriving. He’s gaining weight, meeting his developmental milestones and keeping us on our toes but now for good reasons. Life threatening complications have been replaced by an ornery boy unrolling toilet paper and playing in the cat’s water bowl.
Since we returned to Columbus in April, I’ve been able to hit the trails again. While I wasn’t able to commit to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Half Marathon due to a follow-up surgery Elias had scheduled at the beginning of October, I trained as if I was going to race. However, the stars aligned in the 11th hour. Three days before the half marathon, after 11 days in Pittsburgh for his surgery, we arrived back home. Someone gave me a race bib and on Sunday morning, I lined up at the start for my tenth half marathon and my first post-baby half marathon. It was like a big party at the end of a very long and heartbreaking journey. Passing by Nationwide Children’s Hospital during the race was very emotional since we spent so much time within those walls. Running through the Angel Mile was even more emotional because not a day goes by that I don’t feel gratitude that we are one of the lucky families and our little man survived.
Once again, running and race walking has given me an outlet to process everything my family has been through this year. It’s given me an outlet to relieve stress but is a reminder to be thankful that Elias is still my training sidekick and L2R’s unofficial mascot.
For almost a year old, this little girl looks healthy. She is full of giggles and smiles—however, there is more than meets the eye. Story’s story is a wonderful reminder of hope. Lauren, Story’s mother, was 20 weeks pregnant when she went in for a regular checkup, where the doctor became concerned about Story’s heart. Lauren and her husband, Adam, were sent to a high-risk fetal doctor, where they learned heavy news—their baby girl had a major heart defect.
The Hill family is from Kentucky, and their doctor knew their home hospital would not be able to handle the magnitude of Story’s heart defect, so Lauren and Adam were referred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The couple did not know where they would stay during Story’s surgeries and treatments, so they were referred to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, and knew this place would serve as their home-away-from-home during a scary and unknown time in their lives.
On October 23, 2013, Lauren made the trip to Columbus. Because of the magnitude of Story’s heart defect, Lauren would be giving birth at Riverside Methodist Hospital, which is known for their fantastic labor and delivery services. On October 28, 2013, Story was born and four hours after her birth, she was transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. On November 1st at a mere five days old, Story had her first of three heart procedures and her heart was the size of a strawberry. She was in the hospital for 3 ½ weeks. At five months old, Story had her second surgery, which was more intensive and invasive. The little girl had a blood transfusion and her heart was stopped while she was put on bypass.
Earlier this year, Story was not taking her feedings, but Lauren and Adam were convinced it was because she was teething. Her mother took Story to a scheduled appointment, where the doctor gave devastating news: Story was having heart failure. She was immediately airlifted from Kentucky to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. On July 3, 2014, Adam and Lauren made the decision to put Story on the transplant list.
Every morning, Lauren would wake up and say to herself, “Today could be the day that my daughter gets a new heart!” Even though there were dark days, Lauren and Adam never gave up hope. On August 17th, Lauren didn’t wake up thinking about Story receiving a new heart. Adam was in Kentucky keeping insurance going when Story’s doctor gave some unexpected news: he was stopping Story’s feeds and Lauren needed to call Adam, because they had a heart for Story! “We experienced so many emotions that day—we grieved for the family that had lost their child, fear for the major surgery our daughter would endure, and elated there was a match for our sweet girl.”
The surgery went well, and Story has had some bumps in the road, but she has been staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House during her weekly appointments. “The Columbus Ronald McDonald House is our home-away-from-home. The volunteers and staff are our second family. We love having our suite here at the House because we can cook and spend time together as a complete family and keep our life feeling normal in abnormal circumstances. We love what a homey atmosphere this place is—the smells and sounds are familiar to our own home. With the stress of being three hours away from our home, we do not know what we would have done without RMHC of Central Ohio. This place is a gift, just like Story’s heart is a gift to us.”
Update: Today is a wonderful day to celebrate with the Hill family. After being in Columbus for more than four months, Story is heading home today! We are so glad we could provide a home-away-from-home for this young family during a season of their lives.
By Carly Damman
It’s just a mere four letters put its meaning is far from simple. A life without hope might mean sleepless nights worrying about your sick child, long days at the hospital praying for the best, evenings spent scrambling to get food on the table and mornings waking up with a knot in your stomach because it’s going to be another gut-wrenching day with your child.
A belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. Persevering through the storm. Remaining optimistic through pain and agony. Faith in things unseen. A better tomorrow. A cure.
An injured runner not giving up on race day. A teenage girl and a dream that he’ll ask her to the dance. A failing report card followed by long nights studying in the library. A little boy and his aging dog. A feeling of wanderlust with empty pockets. A sick child but the will to continue the fight.
These are examples of hope; never giving up; always looking forward.
This is a word that’s tossed around Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio on a daily basis. However, during my short three months here, I’ve had a hard time really grasping the meaning of the word. Hope can mean so many different things for so many different people. For the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, hope is something that comes easier. With a comfortable bed, a warm meal, a hot shower and a bounty of spaces for relaxation and fun, families are hopeful. Hopeful that surgery will go well. Hopeful that a cure will be found soon. Hopeful that cancer treatments will finally work. Hopeful that doctors discover a breakthrough that brings their precious child back to health.
Working at the Ronald McDonald House has revolutionized my view of hope. I see it every day. A family that has been here for months and months greet me with a warm heart and a smile. Their child faces a life-threatening illness but still…there’s hope. It’s an honor to work at a home full of hope. Full of stress, worry, tears, challenges but above it all, full of hope that tomorrow will bring peace, comfort, joy and recovery.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio is a special place that carries hope through the hallways, the rooms, the kitchen, the staff offices, the volunteers’ hearts and the families that we serve. For me, hope now has a deeper meaning. It’s no longer an abstract, philosophical word. It’s tangible.
HOPE is our Ronald McDonald House families.
By Vicki Chappelear
On the eve of our grand opening weekend, I have to pause at the gravity that is taking place. “Grand Opening” even the name suggests a big event. What has taken place over the past two years at our current Ronald McDonald House, let alone from where we started more than 30 years ago with just 15 rooms, is staggering.
I was in the backyard the other day and I caught a glimpse of the House; I was taken back at the expanse. Then it hit me—this was all donated. Donated, given to us by people who care about what we do and why we do it. When I give tours to new families or community members, I always tell them everything they see has been donated, right down to the toilet paper! It is hard to wrap your mind around.
There are so many people who give of their time and resources to make it all possible. We have the most wonderful volunteers anywhere, whether they are preparing rooms for new families to arrive or a meal group coming in to prepare a warm meal. We can always count on them to be there to make Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio warm and comfortable for our guests.
I have the privilege of working with some of the most talented and caring people—people who care, not only, for the mission and purpose of the House, but also, lovingly care for families and cultivate and invest in relationships with those generous people who allow us to continue to serve families.
Thank you to all who have ever given, or will give in the future, to the Ronald McDonald House to help build more stories of hope.
On a personal note, my job is to work with the families, families who are going through a tough time. I cannot tell you how much being close to their children means to them. They often thank me with tears in their eyes or with generous hugs. They tell me they don’t know what they would have done without us. I could never fully communicate how truly grateful they are to have a place to stay and their most basic needs met. Thank you for being a part of touching their lives. You have no idea how far reaching and impactful you are in the lives of these families!
By Sarah Carey
On June 11, 2011, our grandson, Haden, was born with complex heart disease. He has had two previous surgeries in Cincinnati with his third surgery scheduled on July 28, 2014 at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus which led to our stay at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. During our month long stay at the Ronald McDonald House, we were able to be close to the hospital with someone by Haden’s side at all times. After long days at hospital, one of our favorite rooms was the library. We could just relax, read, or just mediate. To be able to stay at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House gave us comfort not only with the warm room, beautiful atmosphere, friendly hospitality from both the volunteers and staff, but with the peace of mind we were only minutes away from the hospital in case of an emergency. We were able to rotate shifts at the hospital and the Ronald McDonald House, so we were not burning ourselves out. Without the Ronald McDonald House, we would not have been able to have some stability in our schedules during a difficult time. The Ronald McDonald House allowed us to be able to be together as a family supporting each other without financially burdening ourselves. Our stay at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House helped lessen the emotional strain we were going through by providing their services to us. It gave us a home feeling during this time. We would like to thank you for everything that you did for us. Words cannot express our gratitude.
By Angie Hartley
As the summer begins to wind down and children head back to school my family went on our annual beach vacation. My husband and I took a short trip to Sanibel Island, Florida to play in the sand, swim in the ocean and enjoy some quality time with our two-year old son. We were able to be together and enjoy the little moments with our son that we can easily take for granted. It was a chance to get away from the stress of daily life and reconnect with one another and enjoy the little moments that make a family special. While on vacation I was reminded of our families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, and how their summers weren’t spent on the beach or in the pools. It was spent sitting bedside in the hospital with their child.
While families have a child in the hospital they often stay with us at the Ronald McDonald House. Here they find a sense of hope and support among other families in similar situations. It is during these difficult times that we strive to provide them with a sense of normalcy and comfort so they can be in their best condition to support their child. As we were designing the new expansion and playground, we had a unique opportunity to provide families with a special place where they can relax and get away from the stress of their daily lives.
We have built a beautiful new rooftop garden on our new expansion where families can sit by the fireplace and watch the sunset in some of the most comfortable chairs around. Filled with beautiful plants and flowers, this is the most serene garden space for families to sit and relax. What is even more exciting is we are working on special artwork to be displayed in this space so families are encompassed with the beauty of nature.
In addition to the rooftop garden we have redesigned our playground to accommodate all of the families and children staying at the Ronald McDonald House. The new playground will be an amazing place for children to run, climb, explore, and use their imagination. Complete with crawl-through logs, a jungle gym, and a little playhouse village with cars these are just a few of the ways children can spend time with their parents and new friends made at the House. However, the new gem of our playground is the splash pad. Children will now have a place to beat the heat in the summer while staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Parents can relax in the gardens and watch their children be just that – children.
While we can’t provide our families with a beach vacation in Florida, what we can provide is a special place that caters to their needs, a place where families are able to get away from the stress and be a family. Just like it is important for families to take time to reconnect, it is even more important for families who are experiencing the hardships of a hospitalized child to have quality time to and find strength among one-another.
By DJ and Michelle Viands
On September 4, 2012, our view on life changed. Our trust and faith in God changed. After five weeks of bed rest and six long days of labor (trying to stop it), our son, Bryson Tripp Viands, was born at just 25 weeks gestation. Bryson was almost four months early, weighing only 1 lb. 11 oz. His right eye was still fused shut, but he was here and ready to show us what a miracle truly is. He was ready to show us that he was a fighter and that he was ready to ride the NICU rollercoaster. God had great plans for our baby and we put our trust in Him.
We lived two hours away and the social worker at the hospital told us not to worry, that the Columbus Ronald McDonald House would give us a place to stay so we could be close to our son at a time he needed us the most. Praise God! We didn’t have to be overwhelmed with worry on how we were going to pay for a hotel and meals. Our focus could stay on our top priority, our son. We already knew we were blessed by the birth of Bryson, but the Ronald McDonald House was another blessing given to us.
Bryson was in the NICU for a little over three months as his little body and lungs grew stronger. Because of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, we were able to be there by his side every step of the way in his NICU journey.
The Ronald McDonald House not only gave us a place to stay, but they gave us comfort, love and sometimes even a shoulder to cry on. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio not only fed our tummies with their wonderful meals, but they fed our souls and hearts with unconditional love and giving. It was a place that had so many other families that were worried and scared. Not all of the families had premature babies, but we all had sick children and it helped to hear their stories and comfort one another.
On December 8, 2012, we brought Bryson home from the NICU and said our thank yous and goodbyes to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers. Since we have been back home, Bryson has undergone a couple of surgeries and treatments, and like before, the Ronald McDonald House welcomed us with open arms. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio is truly a wonderful place and a home away from home. We are so grateful for all they have done for us.
By Madeline Hadley
When I applied to be an intern at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, I didn’t have any idea what I was getting myself into. To be honest, my choice to volunteer at the House’s office was really just a last-minute decision of how to spend the summer after my freshman year of college.
At the start of this summer, I had looked for jobs and internships but found nothing that really interested me. I remembered my older sister volunteering for the House a few years ago and knew that my aunt has worked closely with RMHC for several years, so I finally decided to utilize this connection and asked my aunt for someone to contact about volunteering. With my Business Administration and Marketing interests in mind, she advised me to reach out to Marketing Director, Ryan Wilkins and Marketing Coordinator, Mackenzie Schuler.
In less than a week, I started my internship. Little did I know that my position would entail much more than just marketing work. Throughout the month I’ve been here, I have done everything from bagging brownies for the Golf Outing to helping set up hundreds of center pieces for the Thirty-One Gifts Conference, in addition to assisting Ryan and Mackenzie in revamping the House’s marketing publications.
Along the way, I have worked with some incredible people who make the Ronald McDonald House such a special and inviting place for both guests and volunteers. I always feel welcomed and love working in such a Home-y (no pun intended!) environment. I can enjoy and take pride in whatever I do, knowing that I’m contributing to such an amazing organization. I cannot thank Ryan and Mackenzie enough for allowing me this wonderful opportunity as it turned out to be both a learning and fulfilling experience.
I never thought sitting at a desk could feel rewarding, but walking into the House every day and seeing the families that I’m working for reminds me that each task I do—no matter how big or small—is, in some way, having a huge impact on these families’ lives.
By Emily Smith
Almost three years ago, my family went through a horrific automobile accident that left my youngest brother, Will, in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury. He eventually was sent to Nationwide Children’s Hospital here in Columbus and was cared for by the most wonderful staff. Will spent over four months on the rehabilitation floor working hard on his recovery and my family was fortunate enough to be there 24/7. We live about an hour’s drive from the hospital, and without the comfort and services that the Columbus Ronald McDonald House provided, we would not have been able to be near Will as often or as comfortable as we were. I truly believe Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio had a direct impact in Will’s recovery because without it, our family would have been more stressed and not have been able to be as active in his rehab.
The Ronald McDonald House provided a home away from home where we could relax after a long and often emotional day at the hospital. The House was a short walk across the street from the hospital and they provided three meals a day, a comfortable bed to flop down on and get a good night’s rest, a warm shower, laundry, a workout room, a library of books, and the best part: a community in which you healed and comforted one another while meeting strangers and sharing your stories over dinner.
I come from a family of runners, always training with our minds focused on the next race ahead. Running serves as my outlet, my way of relieving the stress of the day and serves as my time to reflect on what has happened during the day. During our stay at the House, I became very familiar with the workout room and the treadmill and although I prefer running outside, I would look forward to the afternoons I was able to unwind to the monotonous “clop, clop” of my feet hitting the belt. Believe it or not, I trained for a half-marathon in that room.
A year after the accident and our long residence at the House, I decided to run the 2012 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon as a member of Team Ronald McDonald House Charities, also known as Team RMHC. It was my way of giving back to the two organizations that gave so much to my family, and a small way to say ‘thank you’ to the countless individuals who took care of us during our time in need. The run was incredible. Previous patients deemed ‘Patient Champions’ line the course and cheer you on, meanwhile you cannot help but think it should be the other way around. I knew my brother was out on the course and anxiously looked for him the whole race. By mile 25 I was exhausted and upset that he was not at the two spots my dad told me to look for them. However, toward the end of mile 25 I spotted Will—he was standing (with assistance from my dad) and was cheering me on. Needless to say, I was crying while I crossed the finish line.
I will be running the Columbus Marathon again this year as a part of Team Ronald McDonald House Charities and I encourage you to do the same. As a team member, we fundraise for the House—a place that provides a home-away-from-home for countless families going through what might be the worst time of their lives. The House is a beacon of hope and warmth and the reward you will feel giving to this place will be invaluable.
*If interested in learning more about Team RMHC, please reach out to Darla Stover at Darla.Stover@rmhc-centralohio.org*