This past weekend I traveled to Chicago with a group of friends to do some sightseeing and volunteering. A friend is currently working as an intern with the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s and arranged a volunteer service project for us.
The first half of our weekend consisted of typical sightseeing. We visited the bean in Millennium Park, explored the giant playground in Maggie Daley Park, took a walk down Navy Pier, bought popcorn from Garrett’s and pizza from Giordano’s. We also visited an Italian market with restaurants and shops called Eataly, and got cocktails and mocktails from Dylan’s Candy Bar.
The second half of our weekend was spent volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital.
ABOUT RONALD MCDONALD
Ronald McDonald houses are dedicated to keeping families close while children are hospitalized or receiving medical treatment. RMH provides places for families to stay during this time, either directly in the hospital or in one of their 365 house locations in 63 different countries.
Families often travel to different cities to receive medical care for their children, so these housing arrangements enable families to be with their child and close the hospital without having to pay for a hotel. They are provided with meals, a welcoming community and a variety of other services to help them during such a difficult time.
We received a tour of the facilities upon our arrival. We viewed rooftop gardens, where families can go to relax and get some fresh air; the commercial-sized kitchen, with food and meals that families can help themselves to; the hotel-like rooms, that accommodate the many families each night; a library for parents to use for research and any work they might be missing during their stay; playrooms for the children to let loose and spend time with others; common areas with games and sports equipment; and a meditation space for prayer and reflection.
This last room, the meditation space, had a lamp in the corner that was lit for 24 hours each time a guest or patient passed away. I felt chills when I saw that the lamp was on, and heard that it had been on almost every day for the past month.
The building was decorated with bright, vibrant art to honor these former guests, as well as donors, and had spaces that varied from open to private depending on whether or not guests want to engage with other community members. Staff members typically encourage this engagement, as it can help to interact with others who are facing similar struggles.
Although the building looks like a hotel, it operates more like a condo. Visitors are given a place to stay but they are asked to do their own laundry. Most meals are provided, but families also have the option to cook for themselves if they prefer.
After our tour was over we began to set up for the activity. We were making oobleck with the children (a slimy substance that changes from a liquid to a solid depending on its use). We began the activity with story time, where we read Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss.
Many of the children who came out to our activity had surgical scars, bruises from needles and IVs, and rashes that were presumably from radiation treatment, but you would never guess they were receiving serious medical treatment from the way they behaved. I find myself continually amazed by the strength, resilience, positivity and kindness that children show.
Our oobleck was a huge hit that night. The kids screeched with laughter as they mixed colors, explored the strange consistency, and – most importantly – were given permission to make a big mess without having to clean it up.
I found myself spending a majority of my time with one girl in particular, who was likely only five or so years old. She had peach fuzz in place of her hair, a rash across her face and a heart of pure gold. After making a few batches of oobleck together she moved on to some of the toys in the room with the other kids.
The playroom contained a horse, similar to the penny rides at the grocery store, that she wanted to ride. I helped guide her feet into the stirrups and noticed that her foot felt stiff. It was then that I saw the plastic on her ankle and realized that she had a prosthetic leg. I could feel a lump in my throat thinking about how much this courageous little girl has probably been through, yet it wasn’t slowing her down. She wanted nothing more than to play hide and seek and tag, sing along to Frozen, and to make new friends.
At the end of the night she gave me a hug and said “dank je wel” (thank you much in Dutch) before stepping into the elevator to leave. Her mother was taking her outside to see the city lights at night for the first time.
There are a variety of ways you can help the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie, or one closest to you:
I’ve seen firsthand the impact that RMH has on the lives of families. My sister and I have donated pop tabs in the past but this weekend was the first time I had physically visited one of their locations. Doing so only further reinforced my desire to have a career working with nonprofits. I’m hopeful that I’ll have the chance to return to this Chicago RMH in the future, or ones closer to my hometown, because the families I met this weekend have certainly left their mark on my heart.
Until then, it’s back to studying for exams, going to class and applying for jobs.