August 1st, 2018
Susan D. has been a volunteer at RMHC since 2015. She used to be a hospitality volunteer, and now focuses on projects for the House. We had the pleasure of interviewing Susan about her time and experience as a volunteer. This is what she had to say:
I had just retired after teaching English and Theater for 35 years, and was looking for volunteer opportunities, things that I would enjoy doing that I never had time for when I was a full time high school teacher. My children were both out of college and for the first time in a long while I finally had the flexibility to volunteer. My husband, through his work, had recently been given a tour of the Ronald McDonald House and came home and thought that I might enjoy working there. He was incredibly impressed by the facility, their commitment to the community, and he enjoyed meeting the people who worked at the House. I reviewed their web site, and then looked at the available volunteer positions and just began the application process. Thinking back on this, my daughter while she was in high school shadowed the physical therapists at Children’s Hospital and loved the work they were doing with the children. This volunteering eventually led her to choosing her career as a physical therapist.
This House is committed to helping families who are undergoing a medical problem or crisis with a child. To be able to offer these families a caring, nurturing, and safe place to be while their child is at Children’s Hospital is the best of what we as a community, and a world, can do for making a scary, overwhelming situation something that a family can deal with. A tiny bit of hope, and love, and optimism can be the best healing medicine for everyone. If I were ever to be in the position of a mother with a sick child, I would want a place like the Ronald McDonald House to help me. I love the fact that we have this special House in our community. I hope people who stay here and are not familiar with the Milwaukee area come away with a good feeling about our city and that we truly care about their family.
It’s the little things that make being a volunteer special. Yes, I put together the hospitality bags that greet all of our guests upon their arrival, and I hope that the items within the bags are needed and used by our guest families. I’m sure they are most appreciated. But it’s the times when I can give that little something extra that makes me proud to be a volunteer at Ronald McDonald House. One day I heard a young girl crying outside of the room where I make up the hospitality bags. Her cries became louder and I could hear what she was saying to her mother; she was going to have another procedure done that afternoon and she didn’t want to go through it again because it was so painful. The mother was trying to explain to her that she knew it was going to hurt, but that she needed to be strong. I didn’t know if I should say or do anything. I then remembered what my own mother did as a volunteer at a hospital in my hometown. My mother made small stuffed bears out of fabric for every child who came through the emergency room of the local hospital. The child was encouraged to hug the bear when he or she was frightened. I went out to the little girl and her mother and asked if having a stuffed animal to hold would make it a bit easier that afternoon. They both said, “Yes!” I went and chose three stuffed animals so she could choose the one she wanted. She selected a brown teddy bear and began hugging him immediately. She even stopped crying. The child was soothed. The mother was grateful. And I felt so happy to be able to help. It’s the little things that one remembers about being a volunteer.
To know that you are making a difference in families lives when they need to focus on helping a child get better. They shouldn’t have to worry about where they’re going to sleep or making lunch or dinner, or getting to the hospital. All of these problems are solved by being a guest at the Ronald McDonald House. When you make a pot of coffee for them and they are so grateful just to be able to sit down for a minute and relax. When you take a child to the Magic Room, and you open the door and their eyes grow wide looking at the floor-to-ceiling toys and they get to choose a special one. And sometimes that choice takes 15 minutes and it’s almost like Christmas Day watching their wide-eyed wonder. That’s so special! I always leave the Magic Room feeling great, and I must admit I always think about what toy I would take if I were them. (Probably one of the dolls.) Those are some of the “gifts” you experience as a volunteer.
When I was a House Volunteer I always liked taking the children to the Magic Room. I love seeing the children playing in the play kitchens on the second and third floors. I love seeing the guests play with McNugget the dog. Recently I was sitting outside the House Manager’s office when McNugget was just leaving the House. Sitting next to me was a mother and her teenage daughter, who looked tired and frustrated. McNugget saw her and his handler encouraged the dog to go over to the teenager. The girl bent down to pet him and began playing with him, smiling and laughing as McNugget just cuddled up to her. The mother turned to me and said, “That’s the first time in three days my daughter has smiled.” Seeing these interactions are my favorite things of being a volunteer.
I make-up the hospitality bags on the third floor of the House, and when I need to put the tags on the bags, I do that in a corner of the dining area off the kitchen. Usually I’m doing about a 100 tags at a time, so I have to cut the ribbon, and attach the tags one at a time to each individual bag. Every once in a while, a mother or father will stop and ask me what I’m doing, how long I’ve worked at the house, just questions to pass the time or not think about what they’re going through. I like having these conversations right outside the kitchen. A kitchen is a place that’s warm and inviting and usually holds good memories for the families. Just recently I had a conversation with some guests from upper Michigan and all of us were familiar with certain places in Ohio and Michigan, like Cedar Point, Mackinaw Island and we started sharing memories of growing up there. It was lovely. Later, as they were leaving, they said it was nice for a brief moment to talk about something else other than being sick. The kitchens are where you see the families trying to keep some normalcy in their lives, cooking food for their children, sitting down and talking with them, just being together. I like the kitchens.