Serving Up Solace on Cedar Street
Pat Williams walked into the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan to serve as a volunteer one day back in 1989 before it even opened…
…and never left.
In essence, she’s been creating her Encore since that day nearly 30 years ago, when she was closer to 50 than the 80 years old she is now.
“The first 12 years, I was still working, so I volunteered on Saturdays,” she recalls. “But later, our grandsons became involved in sports on the weekends, and I figured out a way to serve during the week.”
In other words, whatever it took.
You might, too, if you were to slip inside and take a tour to see how the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) provides a home away from home for sick kids and their families. Open to children 21 and younger who live more than 30 miles from the medical facility where they’re being treated, the RMH boasts 17 rooms on five acres available to families on a first-come, first-served basis. No child is ever turned away for inability to pay the suggested rate of $25 per night.
Even after all these years, Pat still drives from her home in Caledonia to the RMH at 1323 Cedar Street in northeast Grand Rapids most Tuesdays, answering phones and performing housework and filling in wherever she’s needed.
A native of the Howell area, Pat grew up in nearby Mason. After moving to Grand Rapids for a series of jobs in the banking industry, her journey with RMH began when a flier made it way through her office, asking for people to sign on at the House for six hours a month.
“I thought, there’s something wrong if you can’t do that,” Pat remembers telling herself.
There were so many who signed up initially, that Pat was turned down for a slot. But that quickly changed as turnover took its toll, and she has basically grown up with the facility as it’s grown and become part of the city’s fabric.
In fact, Pat now knows the home and grounds so well that she helps trains newbies who sign on as volunteers. In all, about 80 men and women regularly pitch in, and there have been some 2,000 over the years who can claim they made a contribution.
Megan Priester, health services director at the Home, oversees volunteers and calls Pat “the sunshine” to our Tuesday mornings.
“She’s always smiling, always laughing,” says Megan. “We could have the worst Monday ever, and she’s like ‘I got this.’”
Keeping one’s dauber up can be a chore at times, given the nature of the maladies suffered by kids who sometimes live here months at a time. “The reality of it is that Ronald McDonald can be a hard place at times,” acknowledges Megan, noting that families deal with “situations that are unimaginably difficult. But volunteers like Pat are willing to walk alongside our families, and they’re such a blessing in so many ways. You can’t teach that.”
Pat encourages others who are seeking a way to fill their Encore days to consider a place like the Ronald McDonald House. “I have friends who say they’re bored,” she says with a smile. “But I’ve never been bored. Why, when I first stopped working, I’d time myself and read for just 30 minutes.
“Because there’s so much to do!”
For more information about the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan, call (616) 776-1300 or visit wmrmh.org