Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I am a Ronald McDonald House Charities #Blogger Brand Ambassador - Check out my photos and recap of my #Chicago Immersion Experience! #RMHCVoices

Ronald McDonald House Charities Logo

I know things have been unusually quiet around here, to say I have had a lot to process would be an under-statement. This summer has been a bit of a blur, a flurry of events and activities and I had hoped September would bring a little stillness to what has been a chaotic past few months, but it didn't. It didn't slow down one bit. Latinista Fashion Week melded into Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City and I ducked out on the last half of Fashion Week in my hometown New York City this year for a very good cause.

I am a member of the Ronald McDonald Family Arches Community and awhile back they put out a call for the community members to apply to become a Blogger Brand Ambassador for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Out of a community of over 6,000 members, I was selected to be one of five Ambassadors. And while I am indeed proud of being selected, understand that this is a huge commitment. This is NOT a paid role, it is a voluntary mission to help support the work of Ronald McDonald House Charities and the families who seek their services. I thought long and hard before applying. Lately I haven't had time to breathe let alone think and I didn't think at first that I had room on my plate for one more commitment.

I posted a bit about it in last week's 'Weekly Moment of Gratitude', but I needed some time and distance from everything to really take it all in and put the entire experience in true perspective. I am also very much an incredibly visual person, and looking at all the pictures has also helped me to remember not just what I saw, but how the experiences made me feel.

The trip was equally exciting and emotionally exhausting. It wasn't easy to steel myself to walk back into a hospital. To walk into a room, to hear the sounds of the machines and smell that smell that is so distinctly 'hospital'. Seeing the children fighting for their lives, yet walking the halls (IV and all) with a nod, smile or hello. Families and parents that were emotionally spent yet took time to share a meal with us are moments I know I won't soon forget.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago walk through Photos, Lurie Hospital, Hyde Park House, Ronald McDonald, Butterfly Fractal
Photo Collage of Lurie Hospital Walk Through - These photos will be also posted on our Pinterest Page with captions!

Our visit started with a walk through of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, formerly Children's Memorial Hospital, it is a facility that provides superior pediatric care in a setting that offers the latest benefits and innovations in medical technology and research while offering super family-friendly design. Each floor has an 'animal theme' that is very child friendly, but also makes things a bit easier for the families to remember which floor offers which service. Even the elevators are not only numbered by floor, but by their animal theme and there are interactive buttons to press to keep the little ones entertained during the elevator ride too!

Fire Truck Cab, Chicago Fire Department, Pierce Manufacturing, Engine 98
Actual Fire Truck Cab donated to Lurie Hospital by Chicago Fire Department Engine Company 98 and Pierce Manufacturing

I loved that the decor of the hospital turned out to be a true community effort, with the massive whales in the lobby being donated by the local Aquarium and a real firetruck that the Chicago Fire Department convinced Pierce Manufacturing to donate. In 2009, Pierce Manufacturing donated a custom cab complete with child-friendly switches and games. And you really do see the children's eyes light up when they see it and the cute dalmation dog statues that complete the real fire department feel. The hospital is a true labor of love that took many donors and community partners to help make come to fruition.

View from one of the Sleep Rooms on 12th Floor of Lurie Hospital

And if you are wondering how the hospital ties in with Ronald McDonald House Charities, they operate nine Sleep Rooms on the 12th floor of the hospital near the Family Life Center. The complimentary Sleep Rooms whose bedding and decorations were donated by Denihan Hospitality (operators of the Mile North and James Hotels - the hotel the Ambassadors stayed in during their time in Chicago) are reserved for families of children in critical care who have been referred over by a Social Worker.

We followed our tour of Lurie with a walk over to the Downtown Ronald McDonald House on East Grand Avenue where we were greeted by J.C. Gonzalez-Mendez, President & CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities who shared about his own personal journey with McDonald's and how came to hold his current position as well as answering our questions about RMHC and it's connection to McDonalds. (One of the main takeaways for me was that the charities have McDonald's as one of its major contributors, but not it's SOLE contributor, it is the donations made by individuals in both money and time that go a long way to helping the charity help families stay together during such a critical and challenging time!).

J.C. Gonzalez-Mendez,  President & CEO, Ronald McDonald House Charities

We also had the chance to have lunch in the Downtown House (Various Corporations donate meals to the houses) and we had the chance to not only have lunch in the Downtown House but to also interact with families who were having lunch as well. Families whose children are actually able to come down for lunch giving them the chance to interact with other families, and for the kids to know that there are other children who are experiencing the same challenges they are. I thought it was incredibly generous of House and the families to allow us to share in a meal with them!

During our tour of the House we passed one of the family rooms where a young girl was playing so beautifully on the Piano we had to stop and listen to her!

We decorated Sugar Cookies with the families staying at the Downtown House, of course I made a butterfly cookie!

Her family and others also joined us in decorating Sugar Cookies for the families to enjoy and I think this activity definitely brought out the little kid in us all. Of course I had to make a butterfly cookie, but I think the pretty butterfly fractal art I saw in the hallway during my tour of Lurie Hospital was still in my head. (The picture is in the Collage of photos at the top of this post, it was designed by a 20 year old patient.)

Thought this paratrooper light fixture in the toy room was pretty cool!

We also got the chance to meet Rick Wion, McDonald's US-Communications Director of Social Media who shared about his role as well as how the Ambassador's would also utilize Social Media in their roles, we even had an impromptu hashtag jam session and the hashtag #RMHCVoices was ultimately decided upon as the way we will share our posts and experiences during our year long journey on Twitter.

We had a brief moment to decompress and then change for dinner, and I think the emotion of the day didn't actually hit me until I had that moment to stop. It was such a non-stop day that in the brief moment of not being immersed in it I realized how emotionally tired I actually felt. While Lurie Hospital and RMHC downtown Chicago offer so much love and hope to the families, I couldn't help but really see the exhaustion behind the tired eyes of the families and the instant total recall I felt when being back inside a hospital again so soon after my own harrowing experiences.

We had a group dinner that night at Rosebud on Rush Restaurant where we shared great appetizers and wine, and I had that night's seafood special which was definitely delish!

Left: Clara L. Carrier, PR & Marketing Manager RMHC and Right: Nick Karavites, Restaurant Owner/Operator and founder of Rock The House annual event. Photo Credit: Melanie in the Middle Blog (I cropped myself out, but you can see me on her site in this photo!)

The next morning we had breakfast at a local McDonald's Franchise owned by Nick Karavites who spoke to us about "Rock the House", a charity event hosted annually in Chicago that is now in it's fourth year! I hope that all my butterflies in Chicago will help support this event! If you do attend, please tag us on facebook so we can see your great pictures!

Hyde Park Ronald McDonald House South Drexel Avenue in Chicago. Photo Credit: Melanie in the Middle Blog

After Breakfast we visited the Hyde Park Ronald McDonald House on South Drexel Avenue where in addition to a tour of the House we had the opportunity to help assemble Welcome Bags to distribute to the families. The Welcome Bags contained a great mix of items to help the families feel at home, keep the little ones entertained, and even some snacks to help them keep their energy up. And while we were there to help them, I thought it was super sweet of the House to give us a copy of their Recipes from the Heart Cookbook, proceeds from this book benefit four Ronald McDonald Houses in the Chicagoland area! I'd be happy to email anyone that would like to order the book a copy of the order form!

The picture of me in the collage with Ronald was taken at the Hyde Park House!

Flying home on 09/11 for me as a New Yorker was a bit of a scary idea, but thankfully I made it home safely. There was a lot to take in and I have decided to split some of the stuff I learned into different posts, and I will do a Wordless Wednesday next week with my pictures of the things I got to see during my downtime!

Ultimately the most important thing I took from the Houses I got to visit was that the dedicated staff and array of devoted volunteers work hard to make such an awful time for families a whole lot easier. The Houses do more than just 'keep the families together' and under the same roof, they work tirelessly to give the families a space that truly feels like home, so routines don't have to be more disrupted than they already are. Some families who have stayed at the Houses said you sometimes arrive there with nothing more than the clothes on your back (some families have experienced the fear of their child being transported by emergency helicopter to a hospital) and the Houses literally take care of every need they could possibly imagine so they don't have to worry.

I can only hope and pray that none of you have personally experienced the fear of not knowing, the fear of having a seriously or critically ill little one. Of not only having their life hang in the balance, but then wonder how you can keep your family in one place so you can keep track of everything and everyone. These Houses provide Love, Hope, Comfort and Care in an environment that is truly family-friendly. Can you put a price on Hope? on Love? on Comfort? or Care?

As part of my commitment I will be helping to volunteer at my local Ronald McDonald House and I of course will share that with you, and hopefully find ways to involve you and make you part of the experience as well. But there is a super simple way you can join me in helping, you can put your change from your next McDonald's purchase in that collection box by the register. It's money you won't miss anyway and it will provide a world of good for a family going through a very difficult and trying time in their lives!

I know seeing the Houses gives me a different perspective, but I just visited a local McDonald's over the weekend and noticed that people had thrown their receipts in the collection box instead of an actual donation and it really made me super mad! I was once told that the only explanation for hard times and struggles is to make us more empathetic and open-minded to the suffering of others. I come from a long line of 'givers' but my year seeing life from the perspective of a hospital bed has certainly made me more sympathetic and empathetic to those currently in the same situation.

I'm not even sure this post does justice to all that I've learned, but I hope you will all join me finding a way to support your local Ronald McDonald House Charities as well. There are so many ways to help, as an individual you can donate time or money or hopefully both, and if the organization you work for is looking for ways to give back you can point them in the direction of their local chapter!

Do you have experience with your local Ronald McDonald House Charities? Have you volunteered at your local House?

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FTC Disclosure: This is NOT a compensated post. My RHMC Ambassadorship is a volunteer role. My trip to Chicago and hotel stay were provided for the immersion experience however this did NOT influence my opinions! All opinions are 100% my own. Ascending Butterfly appreciates those individuals and brands who give back. Please note that due to editorial and time constraints we cannot provide editorial space to each and every initiative that reaches out to us.


  1. What an amazing and generous way to help these children and their families.Even sharing a laugh and a smile by making cookies,and you so right when we use our hurts and pains to help others is an amazing gift !!
    Years ago I helped at a Christmas event at RMH,making and decorating X-mas cards by the kids it was fun and it certainly showed me that we sometimes drown in a glass of water when others ( especially kids ) are fighting a sea of pain and yet they smile and forge ahead !

    1. @Big Happy Buddha - That is so awesome that you have volunteered at your local house! Making Christmas Cards sounds like a great family activity! I hope you can participate again this year! Please keep us posted if you do! :-)

      ♥ Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ

  2. What an amazing opportunity to share with us! My godson was a 1lb 12 oz preemie and fighting for his life. The Ronald McDonald House Chairty really helped my best friend and her husband while they tended to their new preemie at Children's hospital. Traveling back and forth was difficult but through the charity they were able to stay by their son's bedside and not have to worry about travel expenses and lodging. Thankfully he survived and the RMHC is still helping others during their most difficult times. Great post!!

    1. @Maria - I am so happy to hear that your Godson and his family were able to get the help they needed during such a difficult time! Keeping families together and doing so with so much love is one of the things I will never forget about my Chicago Immersion Experience!

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