I have been involved with Ronald McDonald House Charities for the past 20 years, and am currently one of the trustees of the Charity. I experienced a very special moment that led me to making Ronald McDonald House my and my families, charity of choice for many years.
It started in Seattle, Washington when I worked for DDB running the McDonald’s advertising and public relations account. I was invited, by the client, to get involved with the Charity. So being the good account director, I agreed to do so. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love, with the House, the staff, the families, and the Charity as a whole. And, it further strengthened my perception of McDonald’s as a community leader. A business who truly has a heart, and a big one.
Although I was very familiar with the House itself, my official involvement started with the grant making arm of the Charity, providing much needed funding for children’s charities in the Seattle community that focused on health and social issues. As trustees, we researched each grant in person and on-site to get a true feel of the organisation. At one of our board meetings, I was assigned a grant that literally changed my world and therefore, created my ‘moment’.
The grant was for a research project led by the chief anaesthesiologist at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, the hospital where our children were being treated. When I read the brief I wasn’t sure I could even do the interview, as it had me in tears, and I am not one prone to tears. However, I decided to be brave and made an appointment, researched the brief and met with one of the most wonderful women I have ever met. She greeted me with a smile as she took me through her project. In short, her goal was to find a way to help children die with as little pain as possible, to get the most out of what time they had left, and to help the families support their child during this agonising, impossible situation. She was focused on cancer patients and, if you are not aware, cancer and its treatments are unpredictable in children so it is often hard to gauge how much pain and discomfort each child will experience and how quickly or slowly the disease will progress. Since the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle was originally cancer patients only, we unfortunately lost many of our children and understood the impact this research could have on at least making the journey a better one.
Certainly the project itself impacted me greatly, this woman had dedicated herself to making a difference by easing a child’s pain. But what really touched me was that in addition, her husband was the chief of oncology at the hospital - can you imagine what they both dealt with each and every day? And, they had five adopted children at home, all with severe disabilities.
I walked out of her office and wondered why I spent my working hours worrying about if the ads were going on air as scheduled. And, at that moment, on the steps of the hospital, I made the decision that, although I would never be able to make a difference like she could, I would put my talents and passion to work where I could make a difference. As a mother of two, I became committed to do anything and everything possible to help other parents and their children during what I believed would be any parent’s greatest nightmare.
That moment led me to ultimately becoming the chairman of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Washington and Alaska, during which time we launched a capital campaign to build a new 80 room House, the largest in the world at the time. The Charity became my family’s charity of choice and we all spent many volunteer hours at the House, interacting with the families and trying to bring some normality into their lives.
After I moved to London, I contacted Ronald McDonald House Charities UK and fortunately they welcomed me onto the board as a trustee last year. The 20 years spent with the Charity has enriched our lives immensely. We’ve met so many families, learned their stories, shared their dreams, their fears and even their grief. That moment so many years ago is one I will never forget.