At the time I thought it an odd paring, Ronald McDonald House right next door to a shelter for run-away teens and street kids. I must admit, as a fourteen-year-old I was nervous to walk by there on my way to and from visiting Sick Kids Hospital. There were always teenagers mingling around on the sidewalk and I didn’t know what to make of them. I was in a huge city and there was so much going on, I had no idea at the time what to make of the paring.
On this Throw-back Thursday I think back to fifteen years ago this month. I was with my family, yet again, staying in Toronto while this time it was my younger brother who was the transplant patient and it was my mother’s turn to give one of her children the ultimate gift any parent could ever give.
Once again my family rallied around us. My grandparents were staying with us. They loved stepping up and taking care of us all, and the experience once more of staying at Ronald McDonald House in Toronto.
I had completed most of my first year in high school. After a year of high school firsts: new courses, new friends, and a surgery of my own we were staying at the Ronald MCDonald House on Gerrard Street for the second time. I had been dealing with chronic headaches all year and nothing could be found to explain why.
After many neurologist appointments and tests all my doctors hoped a surgery to correct scoliosis would fix the problem.
It seemed to be working. I was leaving the role of patient behind and taking up the role of care giver to my mother and brother. I was out of the pressure of high school, drama, and dating and into an environment and a role I was much better fitted for.
Back in our room at the house I stood under the hot water of the shower, letting the stress of only the first few hours of the morning of the surgery melt away, I hoped all was going well in the two separate operating rooms just down the street.
For the next few days we would walk back and forth from hospital to Ronald McDonald House, several times a day, passing those homeless youth, my guide dog Croche soon memorizing the route from one to the other. Those April days seemed to fly by, of course I wasn’t the one in hospital and hooked up to iv’s this time, but I also had no clue how much it meant to the teens just next door to even get a hot shower everyday.
Clang! As the little gate would shut and I would be past the fear I felt when walking by those meandering kids, the safety of the locked and secure Ronald McDonald House door was always waiting. Only families who were registered there with children who were sick could have the pass code to get in.
Once that door closed behind us we felt at home. I felt like this was just another family vacation we were all on and this was a hotel we were guests of.
Right in the heart of downtown Toronto was this haven for my family and myself, always there when we needed a place to stay. Sure, it was only after my brother or myself underwent serious operations, but it always meant the world that this place existed. With everything else we had to worry about, finding some place to stay wasn’t an issue. We had a place we could stay as a family, to be together when we needed to be nearby for my brother and mother both.
Heaven forbid anyone ever need it, but it is there when they do. It wasn’t until years later that I found the irony in the home for families with sick children, (a home away from home as it’s sometimes called) and the home for children who have no family to rally about them or even know it when they’re in trouble, being side by side. I realize now the connection between these two much needed refuges: the people who make them possible: the volunteers.
I want to thank all the giving individuals who selflessly offer their time and their energies. These are only two examples of organizations for children which do incredible work each and every day for our world’s most vulnerable, those most in need. I understand now why in an odd sort of way, the two houses belong beside each other, two houses full of dedicated staff and volunteers, put there to help frightened and in need children. I had a family to support me, while lots of those kids did not. Your family doesn’t have to be related by blood for it to make a difference.
These are just two of the wonderful organizations, specifically to help out children and young people. Please check out their websites, I’ve listed below, plus two more. Volunteers make a lot of the services and programs run by these organizations possible. They deserve some recognition and Covenant House and Ronald McDonald House will be around for a long time to come with the generosity of those who volunteer.