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.
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
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.
Dear Ronald McDonald House,
Our son was born on March 4th at Fairfield Medical Center. He was in respiratory distress and was immediately transported to Nationwide Children’s Hospital J4 NICU. I was not able to join him because of my C-Section until March 6th. One of the hardest things I have ever done was watch them take my new baby away and known I would not get to touch, hold, or even see him for at least two more days. After I was discharged, my husband and I drove immediately to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
The social worker at the hospital had mentioned the Ronald McDonald House to my husband and by the time I was discharged and ready to travel to Columbus, they had a room available for us. What a blessing it was to be right there the whole time! My husband and I were able to take turns spending time in the NICU with our new baby and at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House with our four and six year olds. It was truly a blessing to be able to have our entire family together during this very trying and exhausting time we spent in the NICU. Being right across the street from the hospital allowed me to be able to nurse my baby almost around the clock and provide some much needed kangaroo care for both of us. Thank you for everything!
The Hayes Family
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!”
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.
By The Chisenhall Family
Our son, baby Joey, was born on September 2nd with HLHS, also known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and Jacobsen Syndrome fairly early into the pregnancy. My wife, Angela, and I are thankful for this because it allowed us to make the proper preparations needed to get Joey the best care possible for his condition. He will have to undergo a series of three surgeries. It is going to be a long journey, but we are fortunate to have many special people supporting us throughout our journey.
With that being said, Angela and I are also very fortunate to have the assistance of the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. We reside in central Kentucky, which is approximately four hours from Columbus. The Columbus Ronald McDonald House has helped relieve the financial burden of being away from home and allowed us to concentrate on the well-being of our baby boy. Every person that we have met has been so helpful and considerate of our situation. The Ronald McDonald House has also allowed us to meet other families that are going through similar situations, which has made a huge impact on our overall outlook of Joey’s condition. Thank you for everything!
The Chisenhall Family
By Mackenzie Schuler
I love the holidays, but I have especially always loved Christmas. I love the lights, music, decorations, the food, and the traditions. My favorite thing about the holiday, however, involves the memories with my family.
One of my favorite memories involves my entire family when I was 1 or 2 (this isn’t the part of the memory that I remember, friends—it’s a prelude), my dad and my grandpa Dave (who were avid outdoorsmen), decided they were going to plant trees for wild life. In two days’ time, my dad and grandpa planted 3,000 trees on my grandparents’ land. These beautiful pine trees grew for a number of years. Around the time I was in elementary school, the trees were large enough for our family to cut down our own Christmas tree. On Thanksgiving afternoon, after all of the food had been eaten, my grandparents, parents, sister, aunt, uncle, and cousin went outside to the field, where all of the trees were planted. As my sister and I scrambled to find our Christmas tree, I noticed how proud my grandpa was. He loved making memories with our entire family. To be able to say we cut down our perfect Christmas tree that my dad and grandpa planted on my grandma and grandpa’s farm is a memory I will always cherish.
Providing memories for families of seriously-ill children to cherish during an extremely difficult time is something our volunteers and staff provide on a daily basis at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. I see it everywhere—from families who congregate together while they do laundry and ask how each other’s child is doing, to parents who switch shifts and go over their child’s care over dinner, so one parent can rest while the other spends time with their child in the hospital. You see mothers of premature babies console each other over coffee. You see meal groups making a homemade meal for our families to eat so they can gain strength and focus solely on their child’s health. You see a parent getting a hug from a volunteer after a difficult day over at the hospital. During the holidays, you see families shop in Santa’s Workshop so they do not have to worry about purchasing presents for their loved ones and they can focus on helping their child heal faster—that’s a memory to be cherished. Seeing families have a holiday meal with their loved ones and not having to worry about preparing it so they can spend every minute with their hospitalized child is a gift.
These small gestures that are shown day after day at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House make a lasting impact on a person’s heart. Although this is an unfathomable time in families of seriously-ill children’s lives, the relationships and memories made at our Ronald McDonald House will be cherished all through each and every person that walks through our doors. There is no price on providing families of seriously-ill children the gifts of hope, relaxation, relieving stress and togetherness—these are the gifts you will find each and every day at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, and these are the best kinds of gifts. We are so blessed to have volunteers, donors, and community supporters who make every day a gift for our families.
By Ryan Wilkins
Moving stinks. Everything feels unsettled. I know, because my wife, three kids, and me all moved this past week. And the time between homes was even more difficult. In quiet moments, while I was feeling sorry for myself, I had a small voice in the back of my mind. It reminded me that it could be much worse. Imagine if one of our dear children was sick? Or injured? I have a lot to be thankful for. But nonetheless, the moving process was hard.
But it wasn’t so much the process of carrying things around, or unpacking. It’s that feeling of being unsettled. You know what that feels like, right? Have you ever had a time in your life that you felt unsettled? You probably know exactly what I mean. It can be really tough emotionally more than anything.
Moms and dads of kids going through a tough medical situation are beyond stressed out. So, everything becomes a source of stress, anxiety, anger, or whatever difficult emotion they feel. I think that is why the mission of the Ronald McDonald House is so universally loved and supported worldwide.
Think about it. What if your child was in the hospital and you didn’t know where to turn? What would you do? It used to be common for parents to take their children to the hospital, drop them off, and then head back home – sometimes for weeks at a time. Can you imagine? Then parents started hanging around the hospital, sleeping in the lobbies and eating out of vending machines – not a great way to live, but still better than not being there for your child. So you can see why people were so grateful when Ronald McDonald Houses started popping up in cities around the country in the late 70’s.
That gratefulness continues to this day. Nearly every day I hear a family tell me thank you for the Ronald McDonald House. How they don’t know what they would do without it. That they would go broke. Or not even be able to be here with their child. Let’s never let that happen, friends. Together, we will continue to help the families stay together when their children need mom and dad most.
The farther I get away from the process of living out of boxes and not being able to find any of my stuff, the more I realize just how difficult it was for our family. And that was without the added stress of being in an unfamiliar place with a child in the hospital. Thankfully for families with children being treated in Columbus area hospitals, the Ronald McDonald House is here to take away stress.
Come in mom & dad. Sit down and get a bite to eat. Rest – even for just a few minutes – in one of the most comfortable beds you’ve ever laid in. Take a shower, and put on some clean clothes. Then you can get back to the hospital and be fully there for your child. You are welcome here at the Ronald McDonald House. And the whole community of Central Ohio is behind you, cheering you on. You are family here. This is our House.