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Features - Posted March 25, 2010 4:03 p.m.
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photos by Jeff Harbin, Life of Riley Photography

All the Comforts of Home

Even though my family has done its share of hospital time, I’m one of the lucky ones. I haven’t needed to endure the stress associated with being in another city while a loved one endures a lengthy medical procedure. If you suddenly found yourself far from home with no family or friends to lend their support, what would you do? You’d probably stay at the Ronald McDonald House.

What began as the brainchild of Fred Hill, a former Philadelphia Eagles tight end, in an old house near The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has spread around the world as Ronald McDonald House Charities prepares to open their 300th house in 2010. The Houses are designed to give families that might otherwise be separated because of long-term medical treatment a comfortable place to live during a hospital stay.

When I visited our local House, Sally Strange, the volunteer director gave me a quick tour and made me feel at home right away. Sally has boundless energy and cheer and I could envision her going out of her way everyday to make her guests feel comfortable and cared for. The facilities are impressive and made me feel like I’d walked into the hospitality room of a nice hotel. The private bedrooms are equally comfortable and furnished to give guests an at-home feel.

One of the families I met had just delivered a baby boy at Northwest Texas Hospital. He was born 2 ½ months premature, so Cheyenne Hernandez and Cody Melton expected to stay at R.M.H. for at least three months before taking their son home. In fact, according to Jan Reid, director of the local House, the highest percentage of guests are moms with premature babies, approximately 70 percent. And they usually have to stay several months. Being able to stay at the House means the world to the couple. They were referred to R.M.H. by the hospital and both said they don’t know what they would have done without the support and care they’ve received.

“People don’t know how great the Ronald McDonald House is until they have to use it,” Cheyenne told me.

Without R.M.H., the couple would have to travel back and forth from Dalhart to see their son and talk to his doctors. Cheyenne was quick to tell me that she’s grateful she didn’t have to leave her son and is comforted knowing he’s close. Since their son is in NICU, they can stay up at the hospital as much as they want to, but there are only specific times that they can go in and touch him. R.M.H. provides them with a resting place when they aren’t visiting the baby along with one or two hot meals a day. Each guest family also has access to its own apartment-size refrigerator and pantry area so guests have the option of cooking for themselves and storing food for their family.

I attempted to shadow one of R.M.H. volunteers, Jane Henton. But when Jane signs in for work, she gets right to business. She’s got a job to do and two hours, one day a week to do it. Jane has been coming to the House every Tuesday for three years and as I watched her work, I was touched. She moves quickly through the facilities as if it’s her own home, restocking and organizing the kitchen and doing laundry. There’s always a to-do list waiting for her, but Jane has her routine down and knows where to get started. Some people have a special gift of nurturing and Jane clearly does. Maybe it comes from more than twenty years of experience as a teacher. Maybe it’s from raising children, or maybe it’s just her nature. Whatever the reason, Jane’s behind the scenes work was real and inspiring.

Jane moved to Amarillo seven years ago. Her children are grown and gone and she didn’t want to sit at home on her down time. She needed a purpose – something to do to help others. A few of her friends give their time at R.M.H. so Jane knew it fulfilled an important need. Also Jane told me since she works with Kindergarteners all day, it’s very calming after school to work and make a tangible difference behind the scenes.

If you’ve ever thought I can’t do much but I can do, then The Ronald McDonald House is the place for you. If you have a just few hours a week like Jane, you can still really make a difference either at the House or in the Ronald McDonald Family House at NWTH. From cooking and cleaning to clerical work, there are a myriad of ways to help families during possibly the hardest time of their lives.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

• Bake cookies or casseroles
• Clerical work
• Assist with dinners
• Get a group together and cook a meal
• Help with household chores
• Collect pop tabs (Contact the RMH for the house shaped boxes to display at your job, club, or school that helps store collected tabs)
• Be a Ronald House family room volunteer (Located at North West Texas Hospital; Shifts are 3 hours starting at 9 a.m. 7 days a week)

For more information about volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, call Sally Strange at 358.8177

by Michele McAffrey

Born and raised in Amarillo, Michele enjoys cooking for her large family and spending time with them on the weekend.
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