When you have a sick child, it can be all-consuming. That’s why Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) looks after the essentials for families who have to travel to access medical care for their kids. They provide nourishing meals, support programs and a place to stay that’s close to the hospital. Parents can take care of their children while receiving compassionate care themselves.
Since 1981, RMHC Canada has supported more than 436,000 families; in fact, one in four Canadians has used RMHC’s services or knows of someone who has. In celebration of World Kindness Day on November 13, we share the stories of three families across Canada who have experienced RMHC kindness first-hand.
Jennifer Skeenum, RMHC Saskatchewan
When Taryn Leyen Jo Skeenum (pictured above with her family and staff members at RMHC Saskatchewan) was only a baby, she became critically ill and was airlifted to hospital. She was diagnosed with meningitis and later, as a result of seizures she had from high fevers, with cerebral palsy. Now, at 18, while she’s non-verbal and requires a wheelchair, Taryn loves going for drives, being around family and friends, and attending cultural ceremonies, especially for the drumming and singing.
It’s been a long and difficult journey for Taryn’s family, emotionally and financially. Early on, the family stayed in hotel rooms to be close to Taryn. Jennifer, Taryn’s mother, found out about RMHC Saskatchewan from a social worker and was offered a room there. “At first, I felt uncomfortable, but the staff were so friendly that I grew used to staying there,” she says. “This is truly our home away from home.”
Being able to walk to the hospital is a big plus, she says, not to mention the friendly, welcoming staff members who make sure you have the best possible accommodations for your family. In particular, Jennifer is grateful that RMHC services are available not only when your child is hospitalized, but also during appointments.
“This House is special,” she says. “It knows your fears and calms them. It knows your journey and helps you through it. It places people in your path and makes them your family. This House, the staff and the other families we have come to know are a big part of our lives.”
Mary Spence, RMHC Southwestern Ontario
Nineteen years ago, Mary’s niece Mackenzie was born with trisomy 18, a rare and serious genetic condition that affects how a child develops. Mackenzie was rushed to the children’s hospital in London, Ontario, and a room was arranged for her parents at the city’s Ronald McDonald House. Mary, who was five months pregnant at the time, and her husband travelled to London to provide support, and the hospital staff encouraged her to also rest at the London House. “They wanted to ensure that I was meeting the needs of my pregnancy while I supported my sister through this traumatic time,” Mary recalls.
Unfortunately, Mackenzie passed away five days after her birth, and RMHC London served as a safe haven for the family. Having access to the House 24 hours a day and all that it had to offer in the form of personal care, a place to rest and access to meals [was so helpful],” says Mary. “It was nice to have private space to process all that was happening and deal with the many emotions we were experiencing.”
After her family’s RMHC experience, Mary was inspired to become a volunteer at RMHC in Windsor. “Parents can become so consumed with meeting their child’s needs that they sometimes forget about their own needs. Knowing that I can make a small difference, making sure families have everything they need to have a positive, successful day, means the world to me. [At RMHC] there is always a compassionate heart and a quiet ear ready to listen.”
Ashley Renouf, RMHC Newfoundland and Labrador
Earlier this year, three-year-old Ryder was like many other kids his age, enjoying playing outside with trucks and cars. But in April, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Thankfully, his family found out about RMHC Newfoundland and Labrador, where they could stay and be close to Ryder while he received treatment. That made a huge difference because “the hardest part, in the beginning, was being away from home and having to leave my six-year-old daughter, Brynlee, and having no support nearby,” says Ashley, Ryder’s mom.
“We found everything RMHC has to offer super helpful,” she affirms. “A bed to sleep in, amazing meals cooked and donated, right down to the little snacks to enjoy with a cup of tea.” Ashley also appreciates the emotional support. “A listening ear after a tough day and the support of being able to talk to families going through something similar helps.”
Such acts of kindness mean a lot during a challenging time—for the family and also for the child who is ill. “I cannot begin to express how amazing it is to have RMHC available to families like mine who are going through something so difficult,” Ashley says. “It’s a blessing to be able to have my family together, and only minutes away from the hospital. Ryder certainly enjoys having us all together.”