Comfort & Care: Ronald McDonald House Charities adapts to changing needs

Note: This guest post about Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Four States (RMHC) was written by Emily Gibson, RMHC Senior Executive Assistant for the April 2022 issue of Circle Conversations, the newsletter of the Rita J. Bicknell Women’s Health Fund. Because of space constraints, we had to publish a slightly shortened version of the post in Circle Conversations, but we’re publishing the full version here.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Four States has served our communities since 1996 through its mission, which is to create, find, and support programs that directly support the health and well-being of children and their families.

That mission is executed through its cornerstone program, Ronald McDonald House, and the Ronald McDonald Family Room program. The House provides temporary lodging for families of seriously ill children (ages 0-21) and ill expectant mothers, while the Family Room serves as a small oasis for families of pediatric patients just steps away from their child’s hospital room. Over 1,083 families from the nine counties that make up Southeast Kansas have called RMH home for over 11,200 nights.

A new challenge

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached our communities, RMHC was faced with the challenge of finding new ways to serve families. With limited operations in both their House and Family Room programs, the organization creatively solved the problems many families face. A few solutions included forming partnerships with four local hotels to house families at a minimum fee or no cost, gathering restaurant gift cards to cover parents’ meals, providing transportation with gas cards and no-cost taxi services, and gifting families “Comfort Bags.”

“[They] coordinated lodging, transportation, and food, so what else is there?” said Dr. Rahul Oberoi, Freeman Hospital neonatologist. “Now, mom and dad can just focus on their child. There’s no other entity, at least one that I could think of, that would help coordinate all those things in one go. A hospital can’t do it. A social worker can’t do it. But you have a team of volunteers and staff who are able to pull in every resource known that this family needed.”

NICU Mother’s Nursing Kits grant

In 2021, volunteer Christy Graham, Ed.D., expressed concern for the welfare of nursing mothers and met with a team of healthcare professionals to learn about opportunities to help them. With the team’s help, Graham created a plan to make a “NICU Mother’s Nursing Kit” comprising a nursing curriculum, a nursing pillow with a washable cover, a tube of lanolin cream, and an insulated hydration cup.

After the idea was hatched, RMHC applied for a Rita J. Bicknell Women’s Health Fund grant. In June 2021, $1,500 was granted to the charity to fund the NICU Mother’s Nursing Kits. RMHC staff members and volunteers are honored and excited to add these vital kits to their list of services available for families in need.

A spirit of service

If nothing else, COVID-19 proved that the people involved in Ronald McDonald House Charities have a resilience and dedication that can only come from an overwhelming spirit of service. As former RMH guest Amber Marrett of Baxter Springs stated, “These women have truly beautiful hearts. Caring comes naturally to them, and I am forever grateful for knowing them.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities staff members.
RMHC is staffed by the following: (Top row, L-R) Senior Executive Assistant Emily Gibson, Program Assistant Joy Morris, Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Blythe; (Bottom row, L-R) House Program Manager Jerri Sargent, Executive Director Annette Thurston, Associate Director Shirley Hylton

Featured image: RMHC volunteer Christy Graham, Ed.D, holds components of RMHC’s new NICU Mother’s Nursing Kits.