Adieu to the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill

Last night I finished proofreading the twelve translations I had promised the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. With that job finished and emailed I sadly finished my volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House. It has been an amazing four years. I have met the most amazing people: other volunteers, staff, families of hospitalized children and of course many of the children being treated. Although I have learnt a lot getting my PhD, what I have learnt at the House every Monday from 6 to 9 pm are the simplest, most basic lessons on humanity, on what our job is on this planet. It is not about the latest phone, gadget, money, clothes, whatever. It is about seeing a child smile, it is about helping each other out, even if all you do is get them a roll of toilet paper.

This last semester I was so frantically working on finishing my dissertation and finding a job, that I had to take a few months off from volunteering. But as soon as I delivered my thesis and stopped going to job interviews, I was back at the house; vacuuming the lobby, cleaning and preparing rooms for incoming families, cleaning up the kitchen, doing orientation tours for families, sorting soda can tabs for sale, taking the trash out, and just helping out. By far the most rewarding three hours of my week.

Besides helping at the house and translating documents, this year I again volunteered at the Spring fundraising Gala. The theme this year was Storybook Gala Under the Sea, which means: “The Little Mermaid”. This year I helped during the live auction, I was a “spotter” for my half of the massive dining room. I had to “rile up” the bidders, and jot down the data of the winning bidder. I naively thought I might bid on a nice box of Romeo and Julieta Cuban cigars, but when the bidding started at $500, I realized I would not be smoking a single one of them – the winning bid was $2000!!

My last few weeks volunteering were a bit on the sad side, as we all knew I would be leaving soon, so the whole shift team met for farewell drinks at Zog’s to mitigate the sadness. We had a blast! Our boss is Michelle, the evening manager. She is a bit of the mother goose for all the volunteers, at least during our shift. I love her management style, very understated, she speaks softly but easily gets her point across. I have three partners in crime that volunteer at the same time. Bill is the one that has been with me since the start. He volunteers chair massages for the families of the hospitalized children – although sometimes we get to sneak a massage for us. He is a star! He comes from the Seattle area, but he has had just about every job you can imagine. He used to work construction, even building a restaurant for Sonny Bono in LA! Although he has retired, he still volunteers building houses at Habitat for Humanity and gives chair massages at the USO lounge at RDU airport and at the Ronald McDonald House. He is like a big brother for me. Margaret is a hot shot executive at a Fortune 500 company, but you would never know it. She is quiet, brilliant, and funny, in fact the complete opposite of me. Our youngest addition is Sara, she was a senior at UNC and a manager of the UNC Football Team, so she always had great stories and anecdotes. I am going to miss them all so much.

Naples Florida does not have a Ronald McDonald House, but I am sure I will find new volunteering opportunities.

Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill

The best time of the week for me is Mondays from 6 to 9 pm when I volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. I love my team: evening manager Michelle, night manager Antoinette, volunteer chair masseur Bill, and my shift partner, the Batman to my Robin, the Ginger Rogers to my Fred Astaire, the Ying to my Yang, etc., Margaret! There are also the Therapy Dogs with their owners and the different dinner groups that cook for the families.

The first question people ask me when I tell them I volunteer at the House is what do I do there. Well, on a typical evening there are families to welcome and check into and out of the house, there are rooms to set up for incoming families, there is always tidying up to do, vacuuming, helping out volunteer dinner groups, cleaning the kitchen and dining room if the dinner group has not done so, I also manage the ADP Sorority volunteer girls that come in to help out – they are great! I am also the official announcer of dinner on the PA. I do this in English and Spanish for our Hispanic families and I occasionally throw in the accent of whatever geographic area dinner is from! I am also the official receptionist for the people who bake goods for the house, mostly high school kids that get Community Service hours. A big part of that job is making sure the quality of the baked goods is up to the high standards of the House. Another part of my job is just to hang out and be there. Sometimes you chat with members of the families because they need to talk, so you listen to their stories.

You see, we get so caught up in our lives and we think our lives suck and we bitch and complain. When you listen to a parent whose kid is in the hospital for whatever reason, or you get the privilege to actually hang out with the kid, and you realize that maybe my life is not so bad. It is not unusual, when I finish my shift for me to leave the house crying. So if the weather allows I prefer to ride Rocinante to the House so my tears dry in the wind.

Speaking of Rocinante. The other day was a quiet evening in the house (some rooms were closed for renovations), and the House had just launched a fundraising campaign selling Ronald McDonald socks. The campaign asks those who purchase socks to take an “interesting” photo with them and post them on the House’s internet site. So we wheeled old Rocinante into the House to take our pictures with the socks on. Good times!!

Then there is the annual volunteer recognition brunch in which we celebrate the volunteers that have been there since forever and have worked literally thousands of hours, amazing!

So now you know where to find me on a Monday evening. Come on down and I will show you around.