While most of the world has hunkered down at home, due to the pandemic, and folks leave just to get essentials or some exercise, our skeleton crew is still here, working to keep families as comfortable as possible while they must be staying here. We’re also working without the thousands of volunteers that keep our House up and running. We asked a few of our operations staff members to tell us what work like has been like since Covid-19 came along and what makes them smile behind the medical masks we all have to wear these days.
Kate Becker is our volunteer director. Though the majority of our volunteers have been asked to stay home at this time, there are a few volunteers still coming to the house somewhat regularly. For instance, work continues on the new volunteer-driven garden behind the House, mostly thanks to a few craftmen volunteers led by Bill Mount. The absence of our regular volunteers are sourly missed during this, national Volunteer Appreciation Week and Volunteer Appreciation Month. But Kate says the volunteer calendar really started to change over a month ago. “Meal and project groups began cancelling as corporate partners told their employees to stay home,” she said. “Almost overnight my team and I had to pivot to complete work more than 20,000 volunteers did previously.”
Instead of overseeing volunteer groups preparing breakfast, lunch & dinner for a hundred people, Kate’s staff became the sous-chefs working with our head chef Blair Arms, who usually works directly with meal groups. “My staff balances helping to ensure we are still serving 3 meals a day, seven days a week, with restocking guest rooms, storing food donations and leftovers, doing laundry, and reaching out to the community to have meals catered for the families who are still living with us,” she says. “We’ve adjusted our schedules so that we’re covering as many hours in the day as possible, along with working on the weekends. We’re now at a point where we’re starting to focus on helping the facilities team here with small renovations. Our House occupancy has gone down and the empty guest rooms have provided an opportunity for renovations that would have previously been hard to coordinate with a full-House. We’re wearing many hats these days!”
Kate points out, though, that this has been a very inspirational time. “Through it all we’re been incredibly grateful and the Volunteer Department team has been so flexible and willing to jump-in where they are needed most. It’s been a wonderful thing to see donations for food and cleaning supplies coming in from the community. We’re proud to serve the families at RMHC of Central Ohio and willing to do whatever work is needed to ensure these families can be close to their sick children.”
Our program director at RMHC of Central Ohio is Darla Stover. Family service managers make up the staff members in her department. It’s a job she knows well because she was once an FSM herself. She also spent some time working in our development department. Darla has been working second shift and helping out at the front desk, now that we have fewer FSMs working. She says, “While working second shift, I am helping the development department secure sponsorships as well as helping the volunteer department by doing laundry and stocking the housekeeping rooms.” Darla’s trademark smile may be hidden by the mask she must wear now, but it’s still there. “What makes me smile are dinners delivered to our families and staff from local restaurants,” she says. The dinners, donated by Everstream, are a real treat on second shift these days. “We are getting spoiled!” Darla says. She says that’s not the only thing that keeps her going these days. “Chocolate helps to de-stress as well daily workouts that the hospital wellness center has provided.”
The program manager who works with Darla is Vicki Chappelear. Vicki supervises the family service managers. She used to be a family service manager as well, so she knows the work that she’s back doing again since the number of our family service managers at the House is smaller during the pandemic. In place of the volunteers that usually keep the front desk running, Vicki is there to help families on a daily basis. She says, “Things have been so quiet in the House with very few families and no volunteers. I have primarily been working at the front desk which has allowed me to interact more with the families something I really enjoy. Since we are mirroring the restrictions at the hospital, we have had many conversations with families about the changes. We are all helping each other navigate the new policies.”
As for having to constantly wear a mask these days, Vicki says that can be a challenge itself. “It has taken a while to get use to wearing a mask—I would not have made a good surgeon.” Like Darla, Vicki also finds herself doing work normally done by House volunteers. She says, “While not having volunteers, I have restocked rooms and done laundry. I enjoy doing laundry because the room is warm and smells good. I have enjoyed seeing all members of the staff come together to help keep the House running. I am truly blessed to be a part of this team!”
Vicki says, despite the coronavirus outbreak, her focus is unwavering. “Even though things are very different right now, the mission remains the same. We are still caring for families who have sick kids and walking that journey with them. We continue to celebrate with them when they get to go home or empathize when things are tough. There’s no place I’d rather be during this time than helping families during a difficult time.”
Mike Berry continues to be a familiar face at the front desk, albeit, a face with a mask on. He’s one of the family service managers working through these challenging times at the House. “We are simply here for the families,” he says. “Over these past few weeks during our social distancing, we have dealt with heartache and celebrations. Not one of these families care about what’s happening in the world at this time. We are here providing comfort any possible way we can. That is why I continue to wake up everyday and come to work.”
Working with Mike often times is FSM Megan Renner. She says it’s a lot more quiet with fewer families in the House because siblings can’t stay at the House currently. What else makes it quieter in the House, we asked. “Less volunteers… we miss you all and hope to see you back at the house soon!” What keeps a smile on her face under her mask? “Still seeing our families that are checked in reaching milestones daily, seeing them happy, less stressed due to our services,” she says.
Overnight manager Amanda Toth agrees with Megan that it is quieter in the House since the pandemic struck the U.S. “It’s a lot quieter in the house and not nearly as many families are here and little ones running around which makes me sad, but I know it’s safer for them to be home.” What makes Amanda smile bhend her mask? “Having families members come up to me and thank me for still working through these hard times and how much they appreciate us keeping our door open. A lot of them will tell me if it wasn’t for us they truly don’t know what they would do. Just that statement motivates me to continue to do what I’m doing no matter what is happening in the world.”
Thanks to all of our staff members taking on double duties and work usually done by volunteers. Our families would be going through a tough time even without a global pandemic, and our operations staff continues to work toward making their stay as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.