We always remember our big moments, specifically the ones that define portions of our lives. Most of us could probably make a list of them. Happy or sad, they changed something within us. My eight-year defining moment surrounded Sylvia.
I’ll never forget her laugh. It was the first thing I heard when I came in the front door of Ronald McDonald House in Madera. It lit the tile hallway and bounced through the large lobby. I ignored the volunteers at the front desk and followed it. When I found the source, I knew. Lengthy chemo treatments had left their mark. She was playing a game with her brother while her parents watched from the kitchen. Before I realized it, so was I. In between talking about boys and the bracelet I was wearing, she told me about her tumor. She said it, like it was as standard as our Monopoly Game. I followed suit until it was time for her to eat dinner before heading next door.
In that hour, I sat in the middle of her family’s most uncertain time and watched them wrapped in hope. They got to be all together right next door to the place where she received the best medical care.
She was my moment. I don’t think I realized what I was in the midst of. I just knew that whatever was happening at this place, I needed to be a part of it. A year later, we got the call from Sylvia’s mom. She’d been in remission and home, but gotten sick and her tumor never quite went away. The confusion and overwhelming grief I felt was weakened when I thought of the sweet memories her family had because of the house.
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There was the day she learned to bake with her mom in the east wing, the weekend they spent watching movies in the common area, the toys from the Marines near Christmas time, the homework help she got from Fresno State students, the look her father gave her when he saw her with makeup, and the quiet time after chemo.
Those moments happened because they could stay right next door to the hospital in a house that made everything a little bit better. That day, I made a silent promise that I’d work to share our mission for as long as it took, so other families would be able to have those same special memories.
In eight years, my connection to the mission of the Ronald McDonald House Charities has been cemented. I’ve watched thousands of families get what they needed to be 100% for their kids receiving care next door at Children’s Hospital Central California. Each family had a different story, but the house consistently took care of them. A warm meal from a volunteer, help with laundry or extra socks, chocolate chip pancakes, a knowing look, research of the new diagnosis, a hug, a coloring book for a nervous little sister. Whatever it took, that’s what was done.
Imagine the most difficult time in your life and someone, something, reaches out to make it easier, just because. That’s what I’ve gotten the gift of being around for eight years. As an organization, the Ronald McDonald House Charities has grown and adapted to fit the needs of families, and 2015 will be a year overflowing with forward movement. The eight acres of land meant to house a larger Ronald McDonald House soon will do just that. Part of my promise years ago was that I’d fight for the organization as long as it needed me. Today, I’m happy and so very proud to share that it no longer does.
I tell anyone who will listen that it’s impossible to completely understand the value of a Ronald McDonald House next door to a world-class children’s hospital, until you need either. The combination of the support for families and compassionate, comprehensive health care for their children gets kids healed and home more quickly. If you’ve taken a tour, volunteered, helped, listened, attended, bid, given, or been a part of either organization, it’s because of you that our neighbors and friends receive comfort and life-saving medical treatments when they need them. If you haven’t and would like to, please visit either or both places and become a part of the two of the biggest gifts in our community.
Beginning Monday, I’ll join the other side of the partnership as development officer for Children’s Hospital Central California. With me, will be my moment, gently tucked in a heart full of gratitude and a new promise to help ensure the children of Central California maintain access to the best quality health care available.