Community Connections is a series devoted to the many organizations that Highmark supports and partners with in building stronger, healthier communities. In each post, we’ll get an informative, inside look at a nonprofit’s mission, programs and resources from one of the Highmark professionals who works with these organizations every day.
I’ll never forget my first visit to Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Central Pennsylvania, located in The Sweetest Place on Earth®, Hershey, PA.
It was 2010 and the Ronald McDonald House, located across the street from Hershey’s pediatric hospital, was undergoing a major expansion. While I was touring the new guest rooms and other additions, a young couple walked through the door. The house manager embraced them as they both sobbed, the wife clutching an empty baby blanket. I assumed their baby wasn’t coming home with them anytime soon … or ever. That sad memory has stayed with me.
Fast forward to 2014: I’ve recently toured the house again. And again, I thought about that couple.
Kelly Mehaffie, Assistant Development Manager, was my tour guide on this visit. In addition to her other duties, Kelly also heads up the house’s efforts for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. As we moved through each room, we shared tears and laughter as she recalled stories of the families and children who have come through the house.
One of her favorite memories is of a child who was recovering and staying at the house. His head was completely wrapped in bandages and he was running around the house at full speed yelling, “I love the Ronald McDonald House, I want to live here forever!”
This house is a home away from home for families of children who have traveled to be treated at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital, typically for specialty care for complex or serious conditions. Some families stay for a few nights, some stay for a year. Occupancy rates are 80-85% year round.
The 2010 expansion brought the guest room total to 35 and added an extra kitchen, a playroom and a family office space for parents who need to keep working while their child is in the hospital.
My favorite rooms are the kitchens and the playroom.
One kitchen is used by families who prefer to make their own meals or need a separate space to prepare foods for family members with allergies. The other kitchen can be used by all of the guests. Food items are available to the families at no charge, and on any given night groups of volunteers can be found making dinner for the entire house. The amount of counter space would be a dream for bakers like me!
The playroom is my other favorite. Full of stuffed animals and toys, it’s a truly happy space. The room, with a large window and Ronald McDonald and Hershey murals on opposite walls, brighten the space. Ah, French fries and chocolate — everything a kid could love! The space was created for kids, but Kelly will tell you that dads can often be found in there blowing off steam playing video games.
The house was quiet as we toured the rooms that morning. Most families are up at the crack of dawn to head over to the hospital to spend the day with their children. The house comes alive at night when the lounges throughout the house fill with families watching movies and the kitchen bustles with volunteers making meals. Oh, and did I mention there are pet therapy visits every evening?
In addition to the house, there is also a Ronald McDonald House Family Room ® located on the 7th floor of the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Central Pennsylvania and the Ronald McDonald House Family Room® inside the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital would not be possible without the help of more than 400 volunteers.
If you live in the Hershey area and would like to assist this organization in helping families at a difficult time in their lives, there are several ways you can help.
First, You can volunteer to make a meal at the house–this is a great volunteer activity for company groups in particular since you’ll be making meals for every family staying there! Or you can volunteer to pull the hospitality cart at the Children’s Hospital, filled with snacks and activities. Call the house at 717-533-4001 x 165 for more information on either of these activities
You can also help by donating “wish list” items to the house like new toys, prepaid phone cards and single-serving food items. And of course you can raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Central Pennsylvania by joining them for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. Registration goes live February 2, 2015. Highmark underwrites the cost of the walk so that 100 percent of the money raised by walkers goes to participating organizations like this one.
Many volunteers and donors are previous house guests who said they could not have gotten through their experience without the comfort from the Ronald McDonald House. One father said it best:
“Thank you for always making us feel welcome. Staying at the Ronald McDonald House gives me and my wife a sense of community that is hard to express. We simply don’t feel alone in this battle for our child. Thank you is just not enough. We will always financially support this cause.”
You’ll be glad to know that on my tour this year, there were no empty blankets, just the friendly faces of staff and volunteers. More families than not go home with their children from this sweet house in Hershey.
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