A Home with a Heart

Last year, in lieu of presents for her seventh birthday, my friend’s daughter requested $7 donations to Charity: Water. As adults, we supported her readily and applauded her efforts. Her passion was contagious. She inspired my daughter to find a cause for which to raise money. It took us some time to find the right one. We researched, talked to many friends and narrowed it down. She wanted a charity focused on helping children, and one that was based in NYC.

After much deliberation, she chose The Ronald McDonald House. She was familiar with the organization through participating in the RMH Fun Run and had a basic understanding of cancer and how it affects people of all ages – even kids. We went on the website and the more we read, the more determined she became to help.

We were especially lucky to learn that Jennifer Ricca, a family friend, had recently joined the organization. I reached out to her, explained our interest and requested a meeting.  I thought that if my daughter was able to get an up-close-and-personal view, it would make more of an impact. Jennifer graciously set up a tour with Nelida Barreto, Director of Programs. Our tour lasted over an hour and I had goose bumps the entire time.

The facts: The Ronald McDonald House (RMH) NY provides temporary housing for pediatric cancer patients and their families. It is the largest facility of its type in the world. The House can accommodate 84 families, and is filled to capacity almost every night. Families have come from almost every state and over 20 countries. The House’s location in Manhattan is in close proximity to 13 major cancer treatment centers. Since its founding, more than 30,000 families have stayed at Ronald McDonald House New York. Many of the children who have stayed at the House over the years have survived their illness and go on to lead normal, healthy lives.

For 2012, the House has three new exciting initiatives:

  • Outreach: Programs and services for New York City area kids with cancer and other serious medical conditions and their families.
  • Inpatient: Bedside services for caregivers and families of Ronald McDonald House whose child has been admitted to the hospital.
  • Navigation: Helping new, first-time Ronald McDonald House families acclimate to the House as their “home-away-from-home” and supporting the health care experiences for their child.

As impressive as the formal description and initiatives are, the actual house is even more amazing. At the time of our visit, the rooms were in the midst of a renovation. We got a sneak peak and it felt like we had walked into a West Elm catalog. Everything was brand new, cheerful, crisp and beautifully decorated. The California Closets, the marble bathroom, the bright colors and art work made it clear that the rooms would be a refreshing respite for families dealing with an impossibly difficult situation.

We saw one of the four sparkling kitchens, laden with amazing appliances, shelves and cabinets for each family to cook what they wanted, (with 24-hour access). And if one is not in the mood to cook, a different chef prepares dinner for EVERYONE in the home every night. The spacious common living room is decorated with big comfy couches, a piano and a huge fish tank that takes up an entire wall. The chapel is peaceful, beautiful and non-denominational.

As any Manhattan dweller knows, access to outdoor space is a rarity. The deck includes not only a beautiful grill area, but also a garden area where you can plant vegetables, a butterfly garden and hopscotch grid with inspiring words instead of numbers. There is plenty of space for those seeking a break in some fresh air.

We were shown the Computer Room, the Music Room, the Game room and the various play areas- all of which left my daughters wide-eyed and eager to jump in. We happened to visit when summer camp was going on and my girls were invited to join in on circle time. While they made new friends, had a snack and heard about the various trips and activities planned for the week, I had the chance to meet several staff members, volunteers and CEO, William Sullivan.

I kept remarking that we were taking up way too much of everyone’s precious time. After all, this was just a seven-year-old wanting to raise some money. I had no doubt that everyone we met had much better ways to spend their time. However, it was made clear to me, in a sincere way, that once you show an interest in helping the house you become a member of their uniquely special community and every dollar raised is significant and appreciated.

There is an endless amount of programming and a wide variety of events, available all day, every day for each family member. Programs and services are made possible by more than 250 volunteers.  Some of these include tutoring, English as a Second Language, homework help, arts and crafts, music lessons, a recreational teen program, martial arts, and a computer technology program. A two-month summer camp program is also available, which is packed with activities and field trips.

In addition, RMH offers mental health counseling services, stress reduction classes and emotional support. There is an equally full event calendar throughout the year including Spring Socials, Diva nights and Fall Balls, to name just a few. These are all opportunities for cancer to be forgotten and for fun to take the forefront, if only for a few hours.

The vibe in the house is most striking. Having two small children, I was nervous about what we’d see. I wasn’t sure how ready I was, or how my girls would react to being surrounded by children who were very ill. What we experienced was a home full of happy children, doing all sorts of fun and amazing activities. They were led by a group of dedicated, enthusiastic and extremely loving staff and volunteers.  When we left the house, my daughter said, “Mommy, I know those kids are sick, but they all look so happy and healthy to me!”  She nailed it. It’s a very happy home and an extremely special place. We felt honored to have been given the opportunity to step inside and experience the love.

My daughter has decided to raise money by holding mini-auctions, selling items made by herself and her sister. In the past month, we have raised over $100 by selling a variety of artwork, jewelry and crafts to generous family and friends. We have many ideas for auction items and are in the process of figuring out a way to expand our efforts and to have an online presence in order to reach more people to help us achieve her goal.

Speaking of goals, she has an ambitious (and attainable) one. The nightly cost for a family to stay at the Ronald McDonald House is only $35. Her goal is to raise enough to fund a family stay for a full year– that’s $12,775. Our initial goal is $1,000. She intends to slowly and steadily work her way up to the full $12,775. Our entire family is excited and committed to this cause.

If you’d like to learn more about this amazing ‘home away from home’ and see how you can become involved, please check out their website.

If you’d like to help Leila reach her goal of $12,775, please feel free to email us at [email protected].

Like any parent, the thought of dealing with pediatric cancer is unimaginable and terrifying. However, knowing that a sanctuary like The Ronald McDonald House exists, and that we can help in a small way, makes it a bit more comforting.


Prior to becoming a stay at home mom, Mina was an HR Recruiter for years. Now her time is spent happily juggling the demands of two young daughters while trying to expose them to the endless adventures the city has to offer.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Guest writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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