When you think about “the holidays,” Valentine’s day is typically not at the forefront of peoples’ minds. There are so many other “important” holidays; however, at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth, every day is like Valentine’s Day. It is evident from the moment you walk in the front doors that the House is filled with love. The House Operations Team welcomes every person with a smile and positive attitude, and the Marketing/Communications Team gets to play with children on the playground and take the pictures that encapsulate the joy of that moment. The Development Team carefully and diligently presents the mission to people who have a strong desire to financially support the House, and there are a countless number of Meal Groups and volunteers who serve RMHFW families. The love pouring into the House is visible everywhere you look.
At RMHFW, love is unconditional. Often the House focuses on milestones and successes of the children or families who are staying at the House. While there are definitely more happy moments than sad while visiting the House, the reality is, the families are here because they have a seriously sick or injured child. Many of the families have a huge impact on everyone at the House.
Angie Gallaway, Chief Development Officer, shared a story about a young man named Eriq, who arrived at RMHFW on June 18, 2015.
“He and his family were an inspiration to us all. Eriq was 19 years old when he was staying at RMHFW, and his parents, Joe and Charity, were with him every step of the way. Eriq and his parents were always so positive and did their best to live as normal of a life as possible while they were in and out of the hospital. I vividly remember having conversations with Eriq and his parents about their favorite restaurants while they were trying to decide where to go to dinner that evening.
A photo of Eriq from high school is hanging in the hallway at RMHFW, and it has always been one of my favorite photos. The photo shows Eriq with his arms draped with medals…. capturing what a successful athlete he was in high school. It is a true reflection of Eriq and his family…. they were so strong… through every step of his battle.
I will never forget the day that I received the phone call that Eriq had ended his battle with cancer. We were on our way to a high school football game, and Lauri (Chief Operating Officer) called me to share the news…. I just started crying. It was so unexpected. Eriq was such a fighter, and we just knew that he would be one of the ones that would make it! So, as we cheered at the football game that night, all I could think about was how Eriq had impacted my life. Always enjoy the little things and make a positive impact on what’s around you,” which is what all the staff members at RMHFW strive to do.
So many of the families that stay at the House feel a connection with one or multiple staff members. RMHFW harbors an environment where families feel comfortable and want to share the good and the bad with them. Lauri Adams, Chief Operating Officer, was with RMHFW from 1995-2005 then returned in 2013. Throughout her years at the House, she has experienced “joy, humbleness, heartache, and miracles.” Looking back, Lauri said, “I have always said the children who enter our House are my heroes. The perseverance, bravery, and strength of these amazing children never cease to amaze, inspire, and humble me. We hear so often how RMHFW has provided a “home-away-from-home” for our families, which gives them a sense of normalcy and comfort during the most difficult time in their lives. RMHFW has been a place where families have fostered lifelong friendships. I am so blessed and grateful I get to walk through these doors each day.”
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to see the fundraisers, events, and fun things the staff at the House get to participate in. These things are a large part of everyone’s positions at the House, but they all know how to prioritize what’s important. Chief Marketing Officer, Beth Lamb, hits the nail on the head: “Tigger says, ‘Make room for the real important stuff.'” That’s what the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth does for me…makes room for the important stuff: family, friendships, and community. Every person in this House teaches me how to care for someone else, and that’s really important ‘stuff.'”
The truth is RMHFW isn’t a hospital. The staff members don’t medically care for the families, but they do care about and support them every day. Caroline Speer, Communications Coordinator, knows first-hand about the “care” the staff members give to their families. “Although I haven’t been at the House for long, the connections I have made with the families are unlike anything else. I am lucky enough to have a position where I get to run around the house and take pictures of all of the families. I get to laugh with parents in the kitchen cooking cornbread (their sick kiddos comfort food) or give a sibling some sense of normalcy by playing hide and seek on the playground, or hold hands and pray with a mom who is hopeful that this time the transplant is going to work. Getting to listen to stories and be present for the families is why I love RMHFW. It is a special bond I will always cherish.”
CEO Jennifer Johns sums up perfectly why everyone at RMHFW is so in love with what they do. “There are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO many things I love about RMHFW, that it’s hard to choose just one; so I’m going to choose two because they go hand-in-hand. First of all, I love how inspiring our guest families are. I regularly witness their smiling faces, upbeat demeanor, and positive attitudes, even amid extremely challenging circumstances. Observing this makes me realize that whatever little problems or issues I may be worrying about are truly insignificant. The second thing I love most about the House is the amazing group of people I’m blessed to work with every day. I see how hard they work to fulfill our mission, and am grateful that they embrace their work and support each other to help families when they need it the most.”
There are so many reasons to love RMHFW and to make room for the “important stuff.” This blog is just a peek inside a few staff members’ everyday lives, and why they wake up every morning, ready to walk into the House that Love Built. With love in their hearts and smiles on their faces, the RMHFW staff treats every day like Valentine’s Day.