Posts Tagged ‘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.

It has been nine months since my last entry. In my defense, it has been a crazy year. I am at Miami International Airport and this is the first chance I have to write, it feels good.

You see, I was busy finishing and defending my doctoral dissertation, which was a very difficult but rewarding process.

As soon as classes started in the Fall I was having my twice weekly coffee with Irene, my director, to finish and fine tune each chapter. At the same time I was teaching two classes: Advanced Intermediate 204, a new class for me, and Intermediate 203, my “standard” class. Oh, and I had to write an academic article if I wanted to have any chance of applying for a university job. On top of all that I had to prepare my job search, but those items will have their own blog entries.

The work only got more intense in the spring. I was assigned an extra class from the regular Spring load of one section, this one teaching Advanced Spanish at the Gillings School of Public Health. I had to give up my volunteering shift at the Ronald McDonald House, as well as cutting down on the number of concerts and plays I went to (although I did not totally give that up).

April was when the proverbial rubber met the proverbial road. Finishing and editing my dissertation and going to job interviews. Spring Break was anything but break, driving to Charlotte and flying to Florida for job interviews.

But everything came to a head on April 8. That morning I spent two and a half hours locked up in a conference room with four of the professors on my committee, and Ana Rueda from the University of Kentucky looming over all of us, Skyping in on the massive screen, like a science fiction overlord, only much nicer and sweeter! I also had like ten spectators: old students, friends, including Mandey from Zog’s, my friendly librarians Teresa and Becky, and colleagues that came to give me moral support. Poor things, they had to endure my grilling session.

I passed. Walking out of the meeting, feeling exhilarated but exhausted and numb, I had a message on my phone. Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida – my top choice for work – had made me an offer while I was defending my dissertation. Coincidence? I think not.

After defending I thought things would slow down, wrong again. I still had to do edits on my dissertation, dress up as Don Quixote for a marathon reading celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death, chair a panel at our Carolina Conference on Romance Studies, teach and wrap up my four years in Carolina. My mom and my little sister came for my hooding ceremony and we had a blast. After that I moved to Florida and had only enough time to dump my boxes before heading back to Spain for my nephew’s First Communion, which explains why I am sitting at the airport now.

*with thanks to Murray Head from his song One Night in Bangkok

This year I had the privilege of ending my summer holiday by inviting my younger sister and her two oldest kids to spend a few days with me in Chapel Hill. It was fantastic! We all flew at the end of July into North Carolina only to find that the battery had died on old Helmut. So the next day, after a delicious breakfast at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe and jump starting the car, we headed out to Audi Cary where they lent us a wonderful Q5 for the day while they changed the battery!

We drove to Raleigh where we visited Ray Price Harley Davidson, with its great drag racing museum. Then we went to downtown where we visited the Museum of Natural Sciences and had lunch at the Museum of History.

During our ten days here we went to church, visited every corner of campus, the Basketball Museum, the Planetarium, the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Wilson Library, the Ackland Museum, Hillsborough with its fantastic Matthew´s chocolates and Ayr Mount plantation, we even went to Duke (shhhh!!) and Durham.

They met some of my favorite people from Chapel Hill: my classmate, office mate, and little sister (in the absence of my real little sister) Alejandra who picked us up at the airport, Patrick my mailman, the folks at Ye Olde Waffle Shop, Missy Julian Fox, the folks at the Ronald McDonald House, Father Bill and Adam at church, the folks at Trader Joe’s, even the High Priest, Professor Frank Dominguez.

The culinary experience was just as awesome, we went to Five Guys, Suttons, Maple View farm for ice cream, Buns for their grilled salmon sandwich, Mellow Mushroom for Pizza, Top of the Hill, Akai Hana for sushi, and the highlight being North Carolina barbecue.

Other highlights were when we played soccer on one of the soccer fields, or when we set up the big screen digital projector home theater to watch Disney’s Alexander and Annie, volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill, visiting the Mall (and the outlet mall), Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, and of course Walmart, which Jimmy loved.

We had a blast. My niece, infused by the entrepreneurial spirit of the land set up a table on the street to sell her hand-made bracelets. Unfortunately, living in a dead-end street in August meant that she did not have many costumers – although she did manage a couple of sales, the proceeds of which she donated to the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill!

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Within the last month I finished my third year of my PhD studies and Chapter 2 of my dissertation, so I finally got to updating my poor abandoned blog, only to have the Greek internet swallow the blog post I have been writing for the last 10 days (more on that later), as if it were a multi-billion Euro loan from the European Central Bank. So, back to the old drawing board.

My sixth semester has been very intense. All semesters are intense, but in different ways. This was my first semester dedicated 100% to writing my dissertation and it was a new dynamic for me. I find writing, especially in the academic style very difficult, every sentence is a challenge, and then it gets corrected by my director and sent back for retooling. So it feels like one step forward two steps back. But eventually every page gets cleared after a few drafts, so it is very rewarding to make progress.

My volunteering has also been very exciting. The volunteer coordinator at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill asked me to participate in their Annual fundraising gala, this year the theme was Disney’s Aladdin… and I was Jafar! They were nice enough to let me keep the costume so I re-used it for the Romance Studies end of the year party, which this year was themed as “Happily ever after” i.e. your favorite storybook character.

Other highlights of the year to which I will dedicate blog posts were:

Being a Graduate Research Consultant for my Thesis Director’s undergraduate literature class.

A plethora of cultural events: music, ballet, theater…

The French Department had me teach French for High Beginners. It was a challenge but also great fun.

I was the Department’s soccer coordinator for the year, or as I re-worked it: The Romance Studies Sports and Wellness Coordinator.

This Spring I presented at a conference at the University of Maryland and at our own home grown Carolina Conference on Romance Studies.

All this and more will be coming your way soon, so stay tuned!!!…

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.

Rocinante hanging w a '59 Chevy at the post office

Rocinante hanging w a ’59 Chevy at the post office

Warm and clean covered Helmut (and Rocinante)

Warm and clean covered Helmut (and Rocinante)

Rocinante @ 5 Guys

Rocinante @ 5 Guys

Rocinante and Helmut

Rocinante and Helmut

Burguer at the Saxapahaw General Store

Burguer at the Saxapahaw General Store

Rocinante has complained that this blog is titled antonioyrocinante, and yet it mostly mentions Antonio and not Rocinante. So here are some news on old Rocinante.

Unfortunately, the truth is that there is not so much to say about lovely, trustworthy, tough, old Rocinante. It has been a quiet semester for her. The only noteworthy outings we made where to Raleigh, the capital of NC, a mere 30 miles away, Cary, a nearby village some 20 miles away, and Saxapahaw a lovely hamlet with a reconditioned old textile mill and a General Store that has fantastic food!! It is a lovely ride on back roads to a great lunch, coffee, cigar and read!

Other than that I try to take Rocinante out at least once a week, even if it is down the road to grab a burger at the local 5 Guys or to run some errands! When not out and about, she sits on the driveway keeping Helmut company or – if it is raining, she comes inside with me until the sun comes back out and we can ride again!

Rocinante’s highlight, if you asked her, would probably be getting an oil change and her 24 K service done at Rommel’s Harley Davidson in Durham. She also got a new right hand (gas) grip, apparently they did not have the left hand one…

Neither one of us can wait until the Spring and getting over this exam to be able to go on a good ride!

As for Helmut, little can be said, he sits on the driveway, bored to tears. I was so remorseful that I bought him a nice cover so all the leaves from the tree he lives under would not fill his engine bay. We go to Trader Joe’s once or twice a week, and to the Ronald McDonald House when the weather is too bad to take Rocinante. I feel bad for Helmut, used as he is to blasting around New England enjoying 3 digit speeds. Now in our old age, the three of us live quiet lives – although occasionally we do stretch out our legs.

Ronald greeting families House mailbox This must have been taken in Spring

A few posts ago I mentioned the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. This house provides a (free) home for families of hospitalized children to stay for the duration of the child’s treatment. I am happy to have continued my volunteering there this semester. The way it works, is I work a 3 hour a week shift arriving at the house at 6pm. I say hi to the girls in the shift before me, check what is for dinner and then make the announcement for dinner over the PA. This is usually done in the accent or includes the language of the meal the volunteers have prepared. Thus if it is pasta I will make the announcement in English with an Italian accent and so on, always a good laugh! . Then we might have to check in new families, prepare rooms for arriving families, make sure the kitchen is clean, and manage volunteer groups – normally undergrads and usually sororities, I love cracking the whip!

The people there are fantastic, the volunteers, the staff and the families. I specially bond with the Hispanic families as they appreciate being able to chat in Spanish. When I can check in a Hispanic family to the house their eyes light up to know we can do it in Spanish!

Finally it provides for a huge reality check when you see what these families and these children are going through, one realizes one has a pretty damn good life. It is a humbling experience. Since my sister works for the Ronald McDonald Houses in Spain, it makes for a very strong bond with the house. Occasionally they will need extra help with special events where it is always fun to help out. You get to meet interesting people while helping out!