There are so many ways to celebrate a birthday: a party with friends, a special trip, or a quiet evening with family. But most birthdays have one thing in common: presents.
Not Derek Gerling’s birthday.
Derek came into Ronald McDonald House shortly after his eighth birthday party with a cheque for $150. Instead of presents, he had asked his friends to bring a donation to support the sick children and their families at the House.
We asked Derek about why he chose to support Ronald McDonald House, and his answer surprised and touched us. Here it is, in his own words:
Do you ever struggle with knowing what to say in difficult situations? You’re not alone. Wanting to comfort someone who’s suffering, but not knowing how is something many of us experience, including here at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern & Central Alberta.
Our Houses in Red Deer and Calgary are full of compassionate families, volunteers and staff, but, many have struggled with this at one time or another. When it comes to interacting with families going through one of the scariest times of their life, it can be hard to know what to say. That’s why we were thrilled when Kyla, a mother staying at the Calgary House, generously offered to share her insight on this topic.
Kyla stayed at our House for over 550 days while her daughter, Bella, received treatment at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Shortly before returning home to Swift Current earlier this month, Kyla led a seminar for RMH staff, sharing her knowledge and answering questions many of us had. Her advice was so helpful, we wanted to share it with you.
Here are Kyla’s Do’s and Dont’s of talking to parents with a sick child:
Don’t ask how they are doing. As Kyla puts it, “you wouldn’t ask someone who’s drowning how they’re doing”. This might be surprising. For many of us, pairing “how are you?” with “hi” is so second nature, we don’t realize we’re doing it. Even so, responding to this question is extremely difficult for a parent with a sick child. Especially when they’ve already been asked that day by every family member, friends and co-worker.
Do smile and say hello. It’s a simple greeting that leaves the door open for a parent to chat if they want to, without feeling obligated. Often, that’s more than enough.
Don’t make comparisons. While they may seem harmless, statements like “she’s so tiny for her age!” are upsetting because they compare a child to the “norm” and other children who haven’t had the same obstacles.
Do give compliments. Things like “I love your shirt” or “Your daughter has the best laugh” are things everyone loves to hear.
Don’t ask too many questions. Instead of initiating conversation by asking questions that parents might not want to talk about, let them control the dialogue by sharing what they’d like, at their own pace. This is the best way to ensure they are comfortable.
Do take time to gage a parents mood before approaching them. If you’re like most of us, it may feel weird – or even downright rude – to study someone from afar, but as Kyla puts it, ” we don’t notice. And if we do, we don’t care”. Parents with a sick child have so much else on their mind, they are not paying attention to what others are doing. Reading non-verbal cues before speaking with a parent can offer helpful insight into what to say or what they might need.
Don’t feel like you always have to talk. If a parent seems like they want to be left alone, then leave them alone. Sometimes the best thing you can do for the parent of a sick child is give them space.
Do try to learn as much about their situation as possible before talking to them. If you’re up-to-date on their situation, you can avoid saying anything that may accidentally be upsetting or congratulate them on positive news.
Don’t be afraid to redirect conversations that are breaking some of these rules. If a parent looks uncomfortable with a conversation that is taking place, don’t be afraid to interrupt. They will appreciate it.
Do what they need, without asking. This might seem impossible, but it’s actually one of the easiest. So often, we ask parents of sick children – and anyone else going through a difficult time, for that matter – if there is anything we can do to help. We’re rarely taken up on our offers because those we ask don’t want to be an inconvenience. Taking it upon ourselves to do something without asking has a bigger impact than we probably realize. For example, our families are responsible for their own dishes at the Houses. Washing someone’s dishes is a small act of kindness that goes an incredibly long way for someone who is overwhelmed.
This year, McHappy Day® raised over $5 million for RMHC and other children’s charities across Canada. This record-setting total would not have been possible if not for the thousands of McDonald’s employees who worked tirelessly to ensure McHappy Day was a success.
For many of them, Wednesday, May 4 was a day they had been looking forward to all year. This was certainly true for the employees at the Douglas Square McDonald’s in Calgary. Ronald McDonald House Charities®Southern Alberta staff were lucky enough to visit the restaurant on McHappy Day and witness first-hand what this day of giving is truly about.
Marianne Schoales has worked for McDonald’s for 43 years. Now the Manager of the Douglas Square restaurant, she’s participated in McHappy Day for as long as she can remember and looks forward to it every year.
“I start to think about the next year as soon as McHappy Day is over,” Marianne says. “It’s special to me in different ways. I really enjoy giving back to the children and families. Now that I’m a grandmother, it means that much more.”
While she has always enjoyed participating in the annual day of fundraising, it wasn’t until Marianne met the Cryderman family that she realized the significance of what she did every year on McHappy Day.
In 1999, four-year-old Jordin Cryderman passed away from a heart condition she’d had since birth, leaving her family and Thunder Bay community devastated. Marianne was living in Thunder Bay at the time, working at a local McDonald’s. Shortly after her death, Jordin’s parents approached Marianne’s McDonald’s to be a sponsor of the charity golf tournament they were organizing in Jordin’s memory. All proceeds would go to Ronald McDonald House Charities® Toronto, where Jordin and her family had stayed when she received treatment.
Seeing the impact that RMHC had on the Cryderman’s changed the way Marianne looked at McHappy Day. Marianne was able to see the effects of the funds her restaurant raised firsthand and became very aware of how McHappy Day helped families right there, in her own community.
“Being involved in that tournament ignited my passion to raise funds for the House,” recalls Marianne. A passion that not only stuck with Marianne when she moved to Alberta and began managing the Douglas Square McDonald’s, but a passion also shared by her new employees.
“The atmosphere at our store is very upbeat and everyone is focused on the House,” says Marianne. “We take a lot of pride in McHappy Day being successful.”
And it shows. Walking into the Douglas Square restaurant on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, you immediately knew that it was a special day. From the balloons that decorated the parking lot, to the cheerful volunteers that greeted you as you walked in, the excitement was contagious. Some employees had already worked a regular shift. Others were volunteering their time, choosing not to log their hours that day. It was an amazing experience to be a part of.
When asked what her favourite thing about McHappy Day is, Marianne answers, “I think it’s knowing our store did our part in making the lives of the families less stressful.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities Southern and Central Alberta would like to thank everyone who participated in McHappy Day on Wednesday, May 4 and helped do the same.
It all started on April 13, 2015. Our son, Yuvraj, who was eight years old had come down with a flu for weeks. Initially, we thought it was just a flu that was going around his school. Then, we noticed bruises and small black dots on his body. At the same time, he had no appetite. We took him to the family doctor and the doctor ordered a Complete Blood Count (CBC). After about four hours my husband received a call from our family doctor stating that Yuvraj had to be taken to Alberta Children’s Hospital immediately. Our doctor did not tell us why.
Yuvraj is a saint. He is loved by one and all, soft spoken and very shy. He is a brilliant soccer player and every team wants him on their side. He plays goalie and forward when needed.
We reached ACH at around 9 p.m. and were taken to the emergency room, where we were met by three doctors and plenty of nurses. More blood work and testing was done on our little boy. Doctor’s asked us basic questions like when we first started to notice the bruises. After answering all of their questions, they came to a startling conclusion: Yuvraj had Leukemia.
At that moment, everything went blank in our minds and our world was turned upside down. They said they were 99.99 per cent sure and we just faded out. The world was at a stand still. We were admitted to Unit 1, which is the Oncology unit at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Tears flowing down our faces, we did not talk to each other. My mom, my husband and I were in the room with Yuvraj, each one of us lost in our own thoughts, staring into the darkness. But Yuvraj was calm and sleeping soundly.
The morning came and so did the doctors and nurses. We were told that Yuvraj needed a central line put in, a lumber puncture and Bone Marrow Aspirant (BMA). Everything was just words for us. We agreed to everything the doctors were saying, after all, they were going to cure our son. We were then taken into the “meeting room”. Once there, we were told that Leukemia was confirmed and our son’s type was AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia), which is a rare form of Leukemia in children. They explained the treatment plan. He would need four rounds of chemotherapy. He had a “good risk” with inversion of gene 16 in his DNA. Okay, but what did that mean? It meant he would not need a bone marrow transplant.
The treatment started immediately. After only the first round of chemotherapy, we were informed Yuvraj was in full remission, which meant no cancer cells were detected in his blood. This was good news. Just after the first round of chemotherapy, we welcomed our second child, a precious little girl. We named her Mannat – a special prayer.
We had been in the hospital since April and being from Lethbridge, we were staying at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta. And what a house it is! It is full of wonderful people, staff and volunteers. The house provides for 23 families at a time. Dinners are cooked by volunteers. There were others who were going through the same things we were. On the days Yuvraj was at the House, everyone made a big deal about him. The Family Recreation Coordinator and Family Life Specialist would do arts and crafts with him. It was all to make him happy and healthy. We were taken care of. Hugs were welcomed and needed. Every family in the House prayed for other families. The House became a home away from home in the truest sense. It felt like we were all one “big family”.
After four rounds of chemotherapy, Yuvraj was free of cancer and we were preparing to go home. Then, one day, Yuvraj started having fevers again. More tests were performed. We were told that he had a life threatening fungal infection in his lungs and sinuses. This was unbelievable. He was moved to the ICU and put on oxygen. They thought he’d be there for at least 10 to 12 days but Yuvraj, the warrior, was out of there on day five. He was finally coming out of the woods and the anti-fungal medications were working. But we were told that he would be on them for at least three months.
We finally went home on October 3, 2015. We had lived at Ronald McDonald House for six months. We said our goodbyes to staff and headed home. We were silently praying and thanking GOD.
In December, the infection was worse in his sinuses, though his lungs were clear. We were back in the hospital and at the House. Yuvraj underwent multiple surgeries on his sinuses, MRI scans and CT scans. We spent our Christmas and New Year’s at the House. Yuvraj and Mannat were spoiled. After about 45 days, we were ready to head home again. It was January 22, 2016.
On February 5, I received a call saying that abnormal cells were found in Yuvraj’s blood. I knew what it meant. Yuvraj’s cancer was back. Once again, we were returning to the hospital and Ronald McDonald House.
Yuvraj is undergoing more chemotherapy and will be receiving a bone marrow transplant this time.
As our journey continues, we are hopeful and have faith. Yuvraj has a great future ahead of him. He wants to be a professional soccer player. He says when he becomes famous, he will visit children at the hospital and at the House. He wants to give them hope and inspire them. I know in my heart that he will be everything he wants to be. He has strength and a fighting spirit. He is like an ocean: calm on the surface but beneath it is forceful. He is a true warrior.
On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, $1 from each Happy Meal®, Big Mac® and McCafe® beverage sold at McDonald’s Restaurants will be donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities® and other children’s charities across Canada. Since the first McHappy Day® in 1977, over $50 million has been raised in support of sick children just like Yuvraj and their families.
On August 6, 2015, Stantec sponsored a Superhero Party at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta. Nine Stantec employees and volunteers came to the House for the event. One employee, Julie Bailey, wrote about her experience in the company’s internal newsletter. It is reproduced here with her permission.
It was one of those really crappy days. I think we’ve all had them.
In general, I love my job. But this one day, I felt drained and coffee just didn’t seem to be working anymore. I felt I had so much work on my plate, I didn’t even know where to start. Why can’t things just be simple?
Just as I was getting ready to leave the office, someone came over to tell me I had another exciting new project that needed to be completed in a short timeframe. Normally I would have been excited about it, but at that point in time it just seemed overwhelming to add another big thing to my workload.
To be honest, I was feeling pretty defeated, exasperated, and just plain irritable. Happy hour was calling. But, part of my job is to coordinate and attend the Community Engagement events that Stantec supports across the Alberta South region, and that night we had an event. A team of Stantec volunteers and I were helping run a Superhero Party at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta for the families that were staying there. So my day wasn’t over.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta and the amazing work they do. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go THERE. I was just selfishly feeling grumpy and wanted to go home. But of course I didn’t. And I’m so glad I didn’t.
The Superhero Party was an amazing experience. Batman, Spiderman and Supergirl were all there to interact with the kids, who were awestruck. There were games and activities, which our volunteers manned, giving us a chance to talk to the kids and their parents. These kids amazed me. Some of them were sick; some of them were siblings of sick kids, staying in this strange place while their brother or sister was being treated. All of them were happy, excited, and grateful for this cool event.
I made a point of interacting with the parents, too. I’m a mom, and I can’t imagine being in their situation. Yet, they were all smiling that evening, and some of them, I’m sure, haven’t felt like smiling in a while.
It wasn’t until after the event, when I got in my car, that my eyes filled with tears as I thought about what really just happened in there: We gave these people a much-needed break from worrying, praying, talking to doctors, and trying to figure out how this happened to them. And I took a moment to notice that all those feelings of stress I was having before were completely gone. I can’t even explain how impactful it was for me. It was truly therapeutic.
A lot of people have said to me, “I’d like to volunteer, but I’m just so busy.” To them I would now say: Just do it. Make the time to make a difference, and YOU end up feeling a heck of a lot better too. It really puts things in perspective, and you’ll feel inspired and reinvigorated.
So here’s an easy one. Sign up to volunteer with the Ronald McDonald House Charities®. You can thank me later.
My name is Ben Erickson and I am seven years old. I have been playing lacrosse for three years and I love the Roughnecks. I go to all the games with my family. I emptied my piggy bank to make a donation because I want to help sick kids.
So often, it’s kids who give us an example to live by. Seven-year-old Ben Erickson is one such kid who has inspired us with his generosity and fierce support of both the Calgary Roughnecks and the House. To emulate his Roughnecks idols, Ben decided to put his savings towards helping sick kids and making a big difference by participating in Hair Massacure 2016. What started as $30 soon grew to more than than $3,000 – Calgary Roughnecks player Curtis Dickson even posted on Instagram about Ben’s efforts!
Ben and his family experienced first-hand how important it is to be close to loved ones in times of emergency, so he was ready and willing to donate money to benefit families with sick kids. Recently, we got in touch with Ben to get a clearer idea of why he decided to fundraise for Hair Massacure:
Q. Why did you decide to get involved in Hair Massacure?
A. Because the Roughnecks were doing it and so was my favourite player, Curtis Dickson, and I really wanted to help sick kids.
Q. What would you like other kids to know about donating to charity?
A. That instead of buying stuff for yourself when you already have enough toys and things, you should donate your money to help people who need it. It feels really good to help people.
Q. We hear you play and watch lacrosse yourself! Tell us a bit about your team and your favourite professional team.
A. I play Axemen Lacrosse, Calgary Winter Lacrosse and I’m now paying with Elev8 Lacrosse too. My favourite professional team is the Calgary Roughnecks! They have some of the best players in the world.
Q. What was your favourite part of the Hair Massacure Grande Finale?
A. Watching my favourite player, Curtis Dickson, get his pink head shaved!
In total, Ben raised $3,335 for the House through his fundraising efforts! What an amazing young man! We are excited to welcome Ben and his family to the House this April for a tour to show him just how much his support helps families who are away from home. We are so grateful for Ben and his contribution to Hair Massacure 2016 and Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta!
From February 7-13, 2016, love was in the air as families at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta celebrated Week of Love thanks to a generous gift from Bayer CropScience.
Throughout the week, families participated in a number of love-themed recreation and Family Life activities. From pudding paintings at our chocolate party to making valentine’s to share with their loved ones, kids and parents were able to share the love all week long. Here are just a few of the Valentine’s Day crafts and activities that our families enjoyed:
Squishy Hearts: The kids filled up Ziploc bags with hair gel and various shiny, glittery and bright items. They then drew a big heart on the outside of their Ziploc bag and tried to move all of the shiny, glittery, bright items into their heart. This is to represent that their heart are filled with “brightness”.
Full of Love: In this parent-only activity, moms and dads made heart-shaped cement stones that can go into their gardens or walkways as a keepsake.
You Complete Me: Kids put together a puzzle and then decorate the puzzle. Once the puzzle was dry, they took it apart and did each other’s puzzles.
Chocolate Party: Kids and families alike participated in a chocolate party, painting with chocolate pudding and enjoying delicious snacks from chocolate fondue to hot chocolate to donuts.
On Friday, February 12, Week of Love Sponsor Bayer CropScience, who made this celebration possible, cooked a delicious brunch for the families. One of the volunteers, Beverley Bell, spoke fondly of the experience.
“As an employee at Bayer CropScience, I am so proud to be part of a company with the same values as mine,” Beverley said. “I really enjoy coming to the House with fellow employees to put together a Valentine’s Day Brunch for your families. It is such a rewarding experience that tugs at our heart strings.”
The entire week was capped off on Valentine’s Day morning, when each family awoke to find a goodie bag, balloon and a beautiful rose outside their door.
Thank you Bayer CropScience for helping all our families feel extra special and extra loved this Valentine’s Day.
“In the past few years, many of my heroes have passed away fighting cancer, and many children continue to fight fiercely against this illness every day.” ~Robbie Abinader
Robbie Abinader is one of many participants registered to shave his hair at this year’s Hair Massacure event, but his story is slightly different than most. With over 24 inches of hair, Robbie has committed to shaving his head and donating his hair to make wigs if his friends, family and those in the community can help him raise $1,000 for children with life threatening illnesses.
“In hopes of helping raise funds to find a cure, I am launching the ‘Headbang Against Cancer’ campaign. As incentive, if I reach my goal of $1,000, I will donate my hair to Hair Massacure so a young warrior can join the fight and bang their head against cancer!”
The families who stay at Ronald McDonald House have all been affected by a child facing a serious or life-threatening illness. By hosting Hair Massacure in partnership with Make-A-Wish Southern Alberta®, we support children affected by a life threatening illness, giving them, hope, comfort and love.
When faced with the sickness of a child, the last thing on a parent’s mind is where they are going to sleep, eat, brush their teeth or even take a hot shower. At Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta, we aim to relieve these stresses, allowing families to focus on helping their child feel better.
Individuals like Robbie contribute to Hair Massacure 2016 by giving back to these children by donating their hair for wigs, raising funds and creating much needed awareness in a time when most charities are feeling the economic crunch.
“I think about what it would be like if my niece or nephew lost all their hair, and how much it would make me happy to know someone donated their hair so they could continue to feel happy and beautiful while they fight this terrible disease.”
On February 28th, we invite you to join us at the Calgary Roughnecks vs. Saskatchewan Rush game to not only cheer on our amazing home team, but also give thanks and encouragement to those brave enough to stand up and help us fight!
Interior Designer, Stylist and Blogger Erica Cook recently donated 23 gift bags – one for each family at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta – to be gifted to parents for Christmas. Below is an excerpt from an article that Erica wrote about the experience on her blog. It is reproduced here with Erica’s permission; you can read the original article on her website here.
As the holiday season approaches and we find ourselves wrapped in the hustle and bustle of preparing for our loved ones, it’s particularly heart-warming and fulfilling to give back to a charity that resonates with us. We all have things that touch our hearts, perhaps based on our own experiences. I’ve always thought that Ronald McDonald House is a wonderful organization.
Once upon a time, several years ago I had a child in the ICU at the local Children’s Hospital. It was a harrowing time, the stress and fear were unbearable. I never had to contemplate how it might have felt to experience this in an unfamiliar setting or city without the support of family or the comforts of home. This is what Ronald McDonald House provides… a home away from home for those with a sick child.
It’s the loving hug for a weary Mom or Dad to return to. It’s a place that provides support staff to talk to when you’re worried and overwhelmed, a sense of normalcy when sitting down to a home cooked meal, and relating to other parents going through similar experiences.
As you probably know, I’m a very loyal Fairmont family member too. I was touched to be invited to their annual Palliser Tree Of Hope night a few weeks back. In the lobby a beautiful tree is decorated with hand made cookie ornaments that can be purchased for $10- all proceeds going back to Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta. I love that the Fairmont Palliser offers support in this way. They also offer accommodation to extended family who wish to visit their families staying at Ronald McDonald House over the holiday.
I was always taught as a child that when you do something kind you remain silent about it or it’s no longer kind. My hope in sharing what I was able to arrange is that it might encourage others to donate too.
This year, with the help of the Fairmont Palliser and several other generous donations, I was able to give back. I was told that sometimes toys are donated but rarely is there anything for the parents and family members of a sick child. I had the idea that I could donate 23 gift bags, one for each room at Ronald McDonald House, so that everyone staying at the House had a gift on Christmas day.
As I reached out to people with my idea I was so happy to find that others liked this idea too and wanted to be included. Each bag was carefully filled by several generous donors, some who wish not to be named. I was delighted to have actually pulled this off and that with the help of the Fairmont Palliser and The Tree of hope this may bring a small bit of joy to those who need it.
Written by Brenda Cullum-Shergold, Home for Dinner Volunteer and BOWEN Employee
“The best gifts around the Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” ~Burton Hills
Sadie Leona-June Peoples, my granddaughter, was born on June 24, 2013 in Barrie, Ontario. Our family was overjoyed. She happily shared her birthday with her loving grandpa Gord, and she was our very first grandchild. Our family had much to celebrate.
Then, the unimaginable happened. We learned Sadie was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a serious problem where, for unknown reasons, the left side of the heart does not develop properly while the baby is in the mother’s womb. We knew there were risks early in the pregnancy so arrangements were made to get her to Toronto’s SickKids Hospital immediately.
Within 36 hours of her arrival in this world, Sadie quickly underwent open heart surgery. The news was grave. The surgery unveiled numerous leaky values. To survive, Sadie’s only option would be to receive a heart transplant.
Sadie’s parents, Adam and Dalice, knew they would face months of many tests and endless visits. They worried about how they would cope. When they learned there was space available for them at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Toronto, they were extremely relieved. During this difficult journey, the House in Toronto became their home away from home.
When we travelled more than 3,400 kilometers from Calgary to Toronto to be by their side, it became ours, too.
We spent every waking moment with Sadie and her parents. It was a relief to know that we didn’t have to worry about anything except taking care of our family. It’s hard to put into words the support you receive from the staff and volunteers at Ronald McDonald House. While they take care of everything so that families can focus on their child, it goes far beyond that. They understand, they nurture, and they support. The House is truly a safe harbour from the storm.
Sadly, on August 19, 2013, Sadie’s journey came to an end. Her little body just wasn’t strong enough to hold on.
Today, I’m inspired to give back. When you’ve experienced something so amazing, in such difficult circumstances, you want to do more. We know too well what it’s like to be away from family and friends during tough times. I can only imagine it’s even harder during the holidays.
That’s why our family volunteers on Christmas Day to cook brunch at Ronald McDonald House. We can’t think of a better way to spend the day. As a blended family of six, were are lucky to have what we need. For us, spending time together is more important than gifts.
So, instead we spend our day making my famous granola, maybe baking our favourite cookies, or simply sharing a special moment with one of the kids at the House, well we couldn’t ask for anything more. We hope Sadie is proud of us. After all, isn’t that the true magic of Christmas?
On a very happy note, Adam and Dalice recently blessed us with Granddaughter No. 2: Paisley Sadie Peoples was born on May, 12, 2015.
For unknown reasons, in children with HLHS, the left side of the heart does not develop properly while the baby is in the mother’s womb. HLHS is a serious problem that involves several parts of the left side of the heart. It is quite rare and occurs in about one out of every 5,000 babies born. In the United States, about 1,000 babies with HLHS are born each year. Two thirds of the babies affected are boys. Most babies with HLHS are otherwise healthy, but some have other medical problems including other heart problems, neurologic problems, and Turner’s syndrome.
Giving back is a top priority at BOWEN and part of our corporate culture. In fact, our employee-led community contribution is an integral part of our organization and one of the top reasons people say they like working with us. Last year, Ronald McDonald House, and in particular, the Home for Dinner program, was chosen as one of our charities of choice. We select specific charities that link to our corporate values, community investment strategy and offer great synergies with our marketing and business development efforts. Ronald McDonald House is one of those charities. It’s about making our community a better place for everyone and creating a legacy of caring and compassion. Over the past five years, BOWEN has contributed more than $500,000 to worthwhile causes.