Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 43 - Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House

I have never volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House. As mentioned in a previous post about a new volunteer experience, early in my "I have never..." journey I decided I would volunteer at one new place a month. In turn, I sat down and made a list of the top places I wanted to donate my time. With the Ronald McDonald House near the top of that list, I started researching ways I could help the Ronald McDonald House organization. Once Rachael caught wind of my research, she was quick to point out a friend of ours, Erin, volunteered at the local Ronald McDonald House each Monday. With knowledge I had a direct connection to the organization, Rachael and I talked to Erin about my goal to volunteer at the organization during a recent trip to the Milton Winery. After Erin confirmed she would be happy to let me shadow her during an upcoming volunteer shift, I made plans to meet up with her tonight and put in a three hour shift at the Ronald McDonald House.

The Ronald McDonald House
With my plans made, I drove to the Madison Ronald McDonald House immediately after completing work today. Upon arriving, I entered the building and was greeted by a group of smiling faces behind the front desk in the lobby. Among them was Erin, who waved back behind the desk to introduce me to everyone. After some brief introductions with the remaining volunteers, the director of the Madison Ronald McDonald House, Tara, took me in her office to provide some background on the organization and the history of the Madison Ronald McDonald House. We chatted about the organization's near 40 year history and the recent 20th anniversary celebration of the Madison house before walking through some of responsibilities I would have during my volunteer shift. It was apparent from our conversation Tara cared deeply about the organization and maintained a passion for the well being of all the families supported by the Ronald McDonald House during their times of need.

After our discussion Tara and I walked back into the next room where the rest of the volunteer group remained. The group was in high spirits and laughing as they caught up and prepared for the night's events. A few minutes after I arrived back at the group Erin stated we could begin our volunteer shift by heading to the kitchen. I followed her down a short hallway and into a wide room with several tables and booths bordered by a two full kitchens that wrapped around a massive island counter top. The island was laden with fruit and slow cookers full of food that Erin explained was cooked by a volunteer group from a local business. Erin invited me to grab a quick bite to eat with her before we began our work for the night. Accompanied by a woman named Bonnie, Erin and I grabbed a light meal from the spread of food and sat down at one of the tables in the adjoining room. A moment later Bonnie joined us with a small plate of her own.

Over the next few minutes the three of us talked over our meals, discussing the volunteer history Erin and Bonnie had with the organization. The two of them explained their years or service with the organization and the surprisingly long tenure of the volunteers at the Madison Ronald McDonald House. I listened on, humbled by the commitment to the charity that the two of them shared. As we talked, tenant families at the Ronald McDonald House trickled into the kitchen and grabbed something to eat. Bonnie and Erin were quick to ensure the room remained clean and well stocked with food items as more families entered. With everything in order, Bonnie, who was already well passed the end of her volunteer shift, decided to head home for the night just as another volunteer, Vern, entered the kitchen. Like Bonnie, Vern sat down with Erin and I and talked about the Ronald McDonald House and his experience with the organization. He shared stories from his years of volunteer service and from his eventful life as he caught up with Erin and got to know me. I couldn't help but feel welcomed by the warm and caring personalities observed in those first few moments at the house. It was clear each person that volunteered was there for a reason and that heart and compassion were at the core of all their actions.

Lunch with love!
After wrapping up our meal and doing a little cleanup in the kitchen area, Erin and I made our way back to the lobby. Erin walked me to the back of the front desk where we found several volunteers sorting through contact cards to ensure tenant records were up to date. After getting a quick update from the other volunteers, Erin turned to one of the Ronald McDonald House staff members, Keegan, to ask what tasks needed to be done. Keegan pointed out a few tasks we could address during our volunteer shift, which included making bag lunches for kids staying at the house, cleaning some public areas in the building, and vacuuming heavily trafficked areas of the building. In turn, Erin and I went to work cleaning up a play room used by children staying at the house, making lunches for the following day, and doing our best to undirty the many area rugs and carpets throughout the building's many gathering areas.

Before long I was surprised to find we had burned through 90 minutes of our volunteer shift. With only one hour of my shift remaining, I felt like I had accomplished a lot to help the Ronald McDonald House staff and tenants, but the entire experience had been a relaxed, team effort. After Erin announced she had to leave a little early due to a personal obligation, I told her I would stay through the end of the volunteer shift to ensure the volunteer crew covered all the needed responsibilities for that night. With roughly 45 minutes left in the volunteer shift, I did what I could to help the crew tidy up the house and take care of loose ends before we all gathered behind the reception desk one last time. For the last 15 minutes of the night we talked about what we had accomplished and shared stories about our personal experiences. Like earlier in the night, each person I learned more about shared a common thread of care and amity that ran through all of their words and actions. After three hours of house work, everyone there, myself included, clearly felt great about their contributions to helping the families of the Ronald McDonald House.

The Ronald McDonald House Crew

Tonight was one of those volunteer experiences that leave a lasting impact. Before today I knew the Ronald McDonald House did great things for families facing medical issues, but I was unaware of the sense of duty and dedication that each of the organization's volunteers share. There are truly amazing people that give their time and effort to the Madison Ronald McDonald House, and they do it for all the right reasons. I don't know when I will have the time to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House again, but I know I will definitely make it priority when given the chance. This is a special place that does incredible work because of truly special people. I haven't done a plug during my "I have never..." blog before, but I will say this; if you are ever looking for a great place to volunteer, give the Ronald McDonald House a try. I promise you won't regret it.

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