Why I chose my profession

ronald-oldAs Ronald McDonald comes under attack by parent organizations who think that he is a character attracting children to eat unhealthy foods, I have to put my food down and say enough is enough. There is so much more to Ronald McDonald that fast-food and kids meals.

I want to tell you about my experience with Ronald McDonald and how he helped me choose my profession. This experience is why I have dedicated my life to helping nonprofits.

You see, when I was in college I had every intention of going to law school.  I majored in political science with a concentration in pre-law.  I was selected for a competitive internship at a United States Senators office and received glowing recommendations from each of the senior staff members who all promised to write recommendations for my law school applications.  Then, when the time for applications came around I remembered this experience I had when I was just a child.  An experience that told me that politics or being a lawyer wasn’t for me.  No, I knew I had to give back.

I am referring to my first introduction to a human services organization.  Yes, my first introduction to a nonprofit.  That nonprofit was the Ronald McDonald House.

In 1991 my family was in a rough place because I was a sick child who had to undergo a major open heart surgery.  The Ronald McDonald House (and Ronald McDonald himself) were a huge part of what helped me recover and an even bigger part of what helped my mom through the fear and process of watching her child go through such an ordeal. Mom remembers how excited I was to be at the Ronald McDonald’s House. She explained that two day’s after my surgery I had to be held down from running through the Ronald McDonald House. She was happy to see me wanting to run because that meant I was feeling better (although she would have preferred me lay down and get bed rest … but that excitement and energy was in large part because of that character Ronald McDonald, that house and most of all the amazing staff.  To mom, the house was a place where she met amazing and caring staff that cared both for the patient and the families.  I, as the sick kid, just remember how excited I was that Ronald the clown was opening his house to me and I got to rest and get better after that traumatic experience with the happiest of characters.

Low income, sick, and ill children need Ronald McDonald House, but not just that, they need that smiling silly clown when they are feeling worse than they ever had before.  The Ronald McDonald house is like many not-for-profits and their staff who put those in need above their own needs.

As explained on the Ronald McDonald House website, “Many families travel far from home to get treatment for their seriously ill or injured children. Often, it can be a long time to be away from home, or to divide a family. And, for children facing a serious medical crisis, nothing seems scarier than not having their mom and dad close by for love and support.”

In February of 1991, as I’ve explained, I was admitted to the hospital unable to be at home with my family, my dog, my stuffed animals and my toys. Surrounded by hospital beds, tiled walls, scary hospital machines and completely out of a child’s comfort zone left me scared and my mother even more nervous than I was.

The only good memory I have of the entire experience was the happiness this organization gave me. That memory outshines the bad ones. The best way to explain what I mean is to explain my memories.

The first thing I remember from my experience is having a mask over my face in an operating room. No one was around me, but nurses and doctors were everywhere in the room. To this day, I am pretty sure they thought the gas they were pumping into the mask covering my nose and mouth had knocked me out, but some how I came to. A pretty nurse with brown hair, blue eyes and a bright white outfit looked a bit shocked when she noticed my eyes slightly open. She came over to me, bent down and smiled. Then she re-adjusted the mask and everything went black after that. You can imagine it was a bit of a scary scene for a kid to see even with the smile of that nurse to try and comfort me.

The next memory I have is lying in a hospital room. Other beds were in the room, all filled with patients. A woman, I don’t know if she was a nurse or volunteer, held a juice box near my face and bent a straw into my mouth so I could have some apple juice. I looked over at a man lying on his back who was asleep but he looked scary with tubes and cords running out of his body. My mom was no where to be seen and I didn’t know anyone. Then the memory goes black after that.

This next one isn’t so much a memory but a picture my mom painted in my head. Shortly after the surgery she was by my bedside. I was strapped down to the bed because I had tubes throughout my body and the doctors didn’t want me pulling any out. My mom put her hand under mine, which wasn’t easy because my wrists were strapped to the bed rails. Instead of holding her hand with the little strength I had in me, I swatted at her. I was angry because I was in so much pain and at the time I blamed her.

The next memory is mine, my mother doesn’t remember it at all. I was miserable lying in my hospital room. It wasn’t a private room either. I shared it with a few others. There were multiple televisions, but when you changed the channel on the one you were watching, all the televisions in the room changed channels too. The children in the room (I want to say there was three of us, maybe four) were watching cartoons. Well, cartoons were on the screen, but I am not sure we were all watching them. Then my biological father and my grandfather, Papa Bruce, came in and changed the channel to car racing. I was so frustrated. It is one thing for my biological father to control the TV in his house, but come on! I was in the hospital after all. Can’t I watch cartoons? This is such a strange memory, but it is as clear as watching a movie.

When you are a sick child in a hospital bed you wish you could be at home. You remember little beyond wanting to be home and out of the scary world that the hospital creates for you. When you are a parent of a sick child you also wish you could be home. Parents, dedicated to their children, sleep on bean bags or in chairs next to their children for days. Both patient and parent suffer emotional and physical stress throughout the process.

The Ronald McDonald House allows sick children and their parents to be next door to the hospitals they need to be at, while in a home type atmosphere. This is exactly the memory I have of the Ronald McDonald House. I was at home in a child friendly atmosphere. When you are not well enough to go home, but the hospital is not the best place for you to be… the Ronald McDonald House comes to the rescue.

Thanks to Ronald McDonald and the Ronald McDonald House I decided I wanted to be part of the nonprofit world helping those who needed it most. The happiness that clown and that organization gave me and my family shaped the rest of my life and I can only imagine the others that they have inspired to work for the greater good.

That’s why when I have been faced with people that don’t understand why I am so passionate about nonprofits and the importance of putting our own personal agenda’s aside it breaks my heart.  It is also why I will forever fight for the basic human rights and rights of all people and keep my hands in the stream of human services.  Nothing will prevent me from giving back because I am not doing it for me, but those people that need the help… I was once one of them.

Yet, I also want to point out that Ronald McDonald, the character, brings so much more to children than chicken nuggets. He brings hope to the sick. He brings strength and happiness to families who need it most. It may be the strangest cultural battle I will interject myself into, but I will stand up and fight for Ronald anytime people try to take him out of the McDonald’s brand!