Last week I was invited to be part of a small group of Los Angeles mom bloggers to go on a tour of a local Ronald McDonald House. The outing was in support of this year’s McHappy Day- McDonald’s signature fundraiser to call attention to the needs of children that’s happening this Friday. I was skeptical at first, or just plain ignorant, because we don’t want to be giving away our article space to shamelessly promote big-buck companies. I finally decided to go because I’ve always been curious about what truly goes on inside those Ronald McDonald Houses I’ve heard of for decades now.
I couldn’t be happier I went and got a slap in the face in the process. Now I feel inspired to share the message with you about what the Ronald McDonald House Charities (or RMHC) are really all about, and, especially, about how they affect our Latino community at large.
Upon entering the Los Angeles-area house, which serves four local hospitals, I was immediately greeted with a happy-vibe feeling. Not exactly what I expected to feel in a house that’s inhabited by families dealing with a child’s illness.
Here is where I met one of these many Latino families that have made the Houses a home away from home. María Mendoza has been coming to the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House since her son Francisco, now 11 years old, was three. That’s when he was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma, the most common cancer in infancy. They live in Oxnard, Calif., about an hour and a half to three hours drive to the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Francisco’s first hospitalization for chemotherapy and radiation lasted two and a half months. The whole family-mamá, papá and abuela-had to temporarily relocate during the length of the treatment.
“We didn’t have any money to stay close to the hospital, but we couldn’t and didn’t want to leave our son,” María explained. They were staying in a family room in the hospital, but they weren’t guaranteed a bed every night. Neither of them could work since they had to be there, bed-side, full-time.
Then, a social worker asked her if she wanted to request a room at the Ronald McDonald House which was two blocks from the hospital. Closeness is a major factor when there exists the possibility of facing a life-threatening emergency at any time. María was skeptical at first because she didn’t want to be too far from Francisco, but she was assured this was a comfortable place where they could all be together, prepare family meals and be only steps away from their beloved son. All without a financial hardship to the already over-burdened household.
As soon as they walked in, she said she felt different and “welcomed by the warmth of family, smiles, friends and the feeling that we’re not alone in our suffering. We’re all here for a familiar cause.”
It’s been eight years now and the Mendozas still have frequent stays at the House. Francisco was treated from the neuroblastoma, but now lives with an untreatable brain tumor. Seven months ago he contracted pneumonia which worsened his condition and now he’s lost his voice and his ability to walk. As tragic as it all is, I can tell you I’ve never seen a kid so gleefully decorate a bunch of sugar cookies for his mom as he did that afternoon I met him. Francisco has found a second home, a safe-haven where he has friends, games, books, activities and a security he doesn’t even feel in his own house.
The RMHC self-describe as “a non-profit corporation that creates, finds and supports programs that directly improve the health and well being of children…right in their own communities.” They’ve been doing just that for 35 years now through their global network of local chapters in 52 countries, and serving 10,000 families each day who have to face the heartbreaking scenario of a seriously ill child.
The Houses were created as a safe haven, a “home away from home” for families with children who have been stricken with a serious illness that requires prolonged medical attention. But the RMHC isn’t only about the Houses, they also support and maintain Family Rooms in hospitals and Care Mobiles that bring health care services to needy areas.
María struck a chord when she told me how her perspective of those collection boxes that sit on every McDonald’s counter has changed since being accepted in the House, and being living proof of how far one dollar can go to change a life. She remarked, “I used to go to McDonald’s and never even thought about putting my money in one of those boxes. Now, I see them differently because I know first-hand how it helps so many families. I’m now always telling my friends and families that they need to give.” For me, those donation boxes now have a huge FRANCISCO splattered all over them.
At the Los Angeles house, I noticed how many of the faces I met were Latino faces. That got me asking, and I found out that a great number of the families being served by RMHC in the U.S. are Latinos. Doesn’t really surprise me considering we are the largest minority. In fact, over 50% of children seen by doctors and dentists on the Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles are Hispanic and, since 1985, $20 milllion scholarships have been awarded to Hispanic students by the RMHC/Hacer program.
We also got to meet another Latina and beautiful mom of two healthy boys-Dayanara Torres. The actress and former Miss Universe, who won the crown for her home of Puerto Rico, has been one of the spokespeople for the Ronald McDonald Houses Charities for three years now. This woman personifies elegance and class, while at the same time opening herself up to show the pride she feels at being a hands-on mom. Being a mother is what brings her close to this charity and being so active in it.
“I want to help. I want to support,” she tells the group of mom bloggers interviewing her. “I’m a mom. My kids are healthy, but they have been hospitalized and I know how scary it can be. Just to know an organization exists that does what RMHC does, which provides a home away from home, next to the hospital where your kid is getting treatment and you don’t have to go back to your house which could be 30 minutes, a couple of hours or flying distance away is comforting.”
So, what can we parents, blessed with a healthy child, do to contribute to RHMC’s causes?
Dayanara’s message is to “Go to the restaurants or go online to www.rmhc.org to get one or many “Give a Hands” for $1 each. That would be the best way to help out and do something good for somebody else. Volunteer, donate, tell friends about the RMHC. The more people know about it, the more people will get excited and support it.”
And that, my SpanglishBaby friends, is the reason I decided to take up this space and tell you this story, in hopes to inspire you, as I’ve been inspired.