The Ronald McDonald House Family Lounge, which opened at the hospital in November, offers a cozy space for parents and families
By Jenna Schifferle
When you exit the elevator to the fifth floor, just past the Winter Garden and chapel, you’ll find a quiet room amidst a bustling hospital. At the door, a ride-on toy waits across from a pair of striped socks in oversized red shoes. A kitchenette lines the right wall inside, and to the left, orange and blue flames leap upward. The heating element is disabled, but somehow you can still feel the warmth of the fireplace against the low lighting.
On the back wall, a strawberry red couch sits beneath an assortment of pictures: kids playing, families smiling in front of a West Ferry house. They form a circle around four bold letters: RMHC. In the middle of it all, a small child stares with wonder at all the treasures the room has to offer. She pulls a puzzle off a shelf and begins to play as the hospital buzzes around her.
Ronald McDonald House Charities has been a staple in communities across the nation for decades.
The local Ronald McDonald House on West Ferry Street in Buffalo has helped families of children undergoing medical treatment since 1983. By providing meals and a place to stay, the facility strives to take away the hassle of everyday life so families can focus on helping their child heal.
Since its launch, it has expanded to include beds for 40 people, three suites with private bathrooms, a downstairs playroom, a laundry room, and transportation to and from the hospital.
Now, the Ronald McDonald House of WNY has brought that same hospitality to the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital.
The Ronald McDonald House Family Lounge opened Nov. 13, 2017, thanks to a collaborative effort between Kaleida Health, the RMHC board of directors, and numerous architects, engineers and staff members. The concept is simple: a cozy space where parents and family members can grab a cup of coffee and take a moment. Some people come to relax, while others just want to grab a snack or bagel after a long day.
Sally Vincent, the executive director of the Ronald McDonald House of WNY and Marianne Hoover, the hospital programs manager, were key players behind the launch of the family lounge.
“We thought this was a great way to be able to help people from around the corner be able to have a quiet respite away from their child’s bedside, within steps of their child’s bed, within Children’s Hospital,” Vincent said.
According to a 2015 research study published in the Journal of Health Organization and Management, over 90 percent of hospital administrators surveyed agree that having an affiliation with Ronald McDonald House Charities helps to reduce parental stress and improve the quality and quantity of sleep for caregivers. This has always been the main goal of the organization, and providing family-centered care is at the center of its mission. Whether at the hospital or the house, they are committed to helping others.
Vincent said that there is one main difference between the two locations, despite the bond of hospitality. While the local Ronald McDonald House serves as a resource for families traveling to Western New York for care, the family lounge directly supports the community of which they are a part.
“We knew we could help many families that had to travel a distance to Buffalo for specialized care, but we wanted to help everyone: the people around the corner and our neighbors in Western New York — the ones who didn’t necessarily need to use the Ronald McDonald House,” Vincent said.
Felicia Kostecky, the marketing and communications manager for the Ronald McDonald House of WNY, said they would never be able to achieve their mission without the outpouring of support from the community. They rely on donations and volunteers to operate their services.
“It’s just amazing how the community comes together and stands behind these different projects and expansions. That’s the really cool thing with the Family Lounge — it [is] our chance to give back to our neighbors … in their time of need; in their time of crisis,” Kostecky said.
When the family lounge first opened, Hoover had recruited 15 volunteers, which was enough to support a schedule of Monday through Friday. In a few short months, the number has nearly tripled, and the lounge is now open seven days per week. But Hoover said they are always on the lookout for more volunteers to manage the room and support upcoming projects.
Starting on May 1, the Family Lounge introduced a new Happy Wheels Cart to their program. The cart has been donated by Fisher-Price in East Aurora, and it will allow the Family Lounge to mobilize its efforts within the hospital. Volunteers will deliver coffee, snacks, and toys door to door to provide comfort to families when they need it most.
Kostecky, Hoover, and Vincent agree that the volunteers and sponsors who provide their time, talent, and treasures are what make initiatives like the Ronald McDonald House Family Lounge possible.
Anyone interested in getting involved — whether it be by volunteering at the Family Lounge, cooking a meal for the House, or donating resources — can reach out to Marianne Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://rmhcwny.org/banner/volunteers/ .
“It’s inspiring to see the resilience of these children and the positive attitude from day to day … it’s all about the moment, particularly for the children, and helping them to forget,” Vincent said.