A big part of our passion here at the New Orleans Moms Blog is being able to give back to our community. Last year, our charity of choice for the holiday season was The St. Tammany Project where we adopted a family. This year, the charity of choice for the New Orleans Moms Blog is the Ronald McDonald House of Greater New Orleans. I was very excited to work with the RMH as, through my son’s NICU stay, I met quite a few families who stayed there. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know everything the RMH did and was very excited to take a tour last month to see how we could get more involved and learn all about what the RMH had to offer.
What is the Ronald McDonald House?
The New Orleans Ronald McDonald House was established 30 years ago, on December 10, 1983. It is centrally located to serve all area medical facilities; many guests’ children are patients at Children’s Hospital, Ochsner Medical Center and Tulane Medical Center. There is no income criteria for staying at RMH; however, patients must be domiciled greater than 25 miles away and must be referred by a medical provider. It has 15 rooms, a large kitchen, a well-stocked community pantry, laundry facilities, a toy room and three family rooms with televisions, DVD players and video game consoles. RMH is normally at full capacity and serves 4,000 family stays each year.
How does the Ronald McDonald House help families?
When parents get hit with the worst news of their lives – that their child has been injured or diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and that they have to travel to a distant community for treatment – RMH is there to take a couple of worries off of their plate. A clean room to sleep in, clean clothes, hot meals and a hot shower means parents do not have to stress about paying for expensive hotels or temporary housing. Guests may stay one night for a child’s follow-up appointment or for several months with a premature baby or a child with cancer or other illness receiving long-term treatment. RMH has provided this home-away-from-home for families from 63 out of 64 parishes in Louisiana, 38 states, and 12 countries (most recently, it had families from Spain, Pakistan and Trinidad staying here).
In addition, the RMH provides transportation to and from the hospitals each day as well. They have two part-time professional drivers on staff, one in the evening and one in the morning, who drive the RMH van. It’s a big help, even for families who have their own car here, to save on their expenses and the alleviate the challenges of navigating in a strange city. Evening meals for all the guests are usually prepared or catered by volunteers. Local school and church groups cook regularly, as do community organizations, including the Elks Club, Rotarians, the Masonic Lodge and Kiwanis.
A spotlight on a Ronald McDonald Family
Twenty-nine years ago, Kassandra Lewis brought her daughter Danielle to New Orleans for a treatment for a rare congenital disorder. This surgery was the first of among 35 treatment that Danielle has had to undergo in her life. As an infant, her left leg was amputated below the knee. The Lewis Family, from Lafayette, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House numerous times as Danielle received many treatments.
In an extremely rare twist of fate, Danielle became pregnant when she was told over the years she would never be able to have children. Her son Caliph Newton was born in May 2013 and has the same disorder as his mother. At almost exactly 29 years to the day of Danielle’s surgery, Caliph’s right leg was amputated. The Ronald McDonald House of Greater New Orleans has been there with the Lewis Family through their long 29 year journey.
“Ronald McDonald House has been such a blessing, and I will tell anyone who will listen,” Kassandra says. “This has been our home-away-from-home and I am so thankful, and that’s why I take pride in helping keep everything clean and helping other families when I stay here. You can be an asset here, to get to know the other parents and what they are going through, and be a shoulder for them if they need it.”
How you can give back
After vising the house last month, I left feeling inspired to help others in need and have found numerous ways on how you can give back. Donations are always encouraged and they even have a wish list of items in need. Preportioned food items and diapers are things they are especially in need of, or if you wish to make a monetary donation, you can do so online.
One of the biggest things they need is volunteers. From clerical work to family dinner programs and housekeeping programs, they are in need of volunteers. Is your teen in need of service hours? Make sure to check out how they can give their service to a great organization.
Our family had an extended stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis this year during my son’s bone marrow transplant. Johnny developed an infection that his body couldn’t fight and he died on November 30th. His funeral was this past Saturday. We asked people to make donations to the Ronald McDonald House here in New Orleans and in Minneapolis.
The Ronald McDonald House, or RMH as we called it, was an amazing place, especially for my daughter Molly. She donated her bone marrow to Johnny on October 23rd which was the day after her 13th birthday. She never had her birthday at home with her friends here, but she celebrated with here new friends at RMH. She also went to the school they had at RMH in Minneapolis. Because Molly was the oldest at the school most of the time there, she became a teacher’s helper and big sister to the other kids. Molly spent more time at RMH than us because my husband and I were going back and forth to the hospital to take care of Johnny. The staff and families at RMH became a very important part of Molly’s life and gave her tremendous support. We will never forget them. We are all connected now. One day when we are ready, we will visit our neighborhood RMH.
Molly is now applying to Cabrini High School. We have seen her mature so much during this terrible time. I know she will never forget how much others have supported us.
To Mary Olivio, please feel free to contact me directly. We can tell you more about our RMH experience and you can tell Molly about your Cabrini experience. If we have the strength to leave the house, we may go to Christmas on the Bayou at Cabrini this Saturday.