November 27th, 2019
As we reflect on what we are thankful for this week, the first thing that comes to mind is the team of over 550 volunteers who are the backbone of our House. We are so grateful for their compassion and support of our mission, year after year. Two examples of this everlasting support are Hospitality Volunteers Mary Harker and Carolyn Gillespie.
Carolyn’s relationship with RMHC® started when her husband, original Board Director Gary Gillespie, and founding member, Jim Pihos, started looking at places to build Milwaukee’s first Ronald McDonald House®. However, her interest and involvement started in 1989, thanks to the Red Hat society. This is a group of women known for wearing, you guessed it, red hats and purple jackets that volunteer within the community. Carolyn and the 10-15 other women that were a part of the local Red Hat chapter made dinner at RMHC on a regular basis, “Meatloafs, stews, turkeys at Thanksgiving. We did it all.” Mary joined the group in 2004.
In the early days of the organization, it was an all-hands-on-deck operation. Mary shared, “in the beginning, one or two volunteers did all the check-ins, managed the waitlist, House up-keep, everything.” Mary and Carolyn’s roles have changed over the years as our House has expanded twice since 1984.
Along with training new volunteers and helping in the front office, Mary is affectionately known as the Queen of Laundry by staff, as she manages our weekly laundry delivery.
“I got in to laundry during the expansion when ImageFirst started donating partial laundry service. When it came back on Thursday, which was my shift, it just became my thing to manage.”
Both ladies are really jacks of all trades. In addition to their Hospitality Volunteer shifts, Mary and Carolyn are dedicated shift substitutes, participate in our Lunch-2-Go program, set up the Christmas Villages that line the Great Room each year and are on the Holiday Boutique Committee.
“The first Boutique was a bazaar held here in the lower level. We would get everything donated, especially homemade items. It would take us a week to set it all up and then on a Saturday morning, people would line up, all the way down the drive at 8 a.m.! We had a bake sale and everyone would rush in to buy it all,” said Carolyn, one of the founding members of what is now our Holiday Boutique.
When asked about any favorite memories they have throughout the years, Carolyn was the first to mention their sensational Secret Garden picnics.
“We used to hold a family picnic for 40 guest families in the Secret Garden. Purely on volunteer support, we would grill out and have Ronald or a clown come for the kids.”
To Mary, volunteering here is contagious. “I always feel good when I leave here. It’s a good feeling doing something to help someone out during a bad time.” Carolyn added, “it feels good helping families feel more comfortable and more at home.”
Despite the changes that Mary and Carolyn have volunteered through, Carolyn says, “the House has not lost the love and homey feeling. It’s still all about the families.”
As we round out our 35th year, both are excited to continue supporting our families.
“Let’s keep it going!”