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Keeping Family Close is Mom's Number 1 Priority

When Jill’s son, Brent, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, her first concern was getting him the best treatment possible, a close second was keeping her family together while he received treatment five hours away from their home in West Fork, Ark. 

Jill’s family has been staying at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis on and off since 2012, during which time Brent’s cancer has relapsed multiple times. 

“We had heard of Ronald McDonald Houses through the media and seen the change boxes at McDonald’s, but we didn’t really know what it was or how much of an impact it would one day have on our family,” Jill said. 

“I knew Ronald McDonald Houses took care of families, but I was really surprised how much of a family atmosphere they provide,” she said. “The House helped the kids relax and just be kids. We really got to just be a family here, like we would if we were back home.” 

Her family stayed in their room and kept to themselves when they first arrived at Ronald McDonald House, but they soon discovered the support system families provide for each other. 

“We fell in to a routine with some of the other families that were on the same chemo schedule as us and we quickly became friends,” she said. “We would meet up in the mornings before treatment and then come back from the hospital and the kids would play together.” 

“We would help each other out and watch each other’s kids if they needed to take care of something or just needed a break,” she said. “We called it the merging of the herds on account of how big the group would get when we would go out as one big group.” 

Jill said they have kept in touch with a bunch of the families they have met over the years and have even visited some of the nearby families when they were back home in West Fork between rounds of treatment. 

“I think some people come in not expecting such a warm atmosphere and truly happy place,” she said. “The bright colors on the walls and all of the decorations are very comforting and help you relax after a rough day at the hospital.” 

"It's not just the monetary donations that allow us to stay free of charge that make Ronald McDonald House special. The volunteers here are the greatest. From the college kids that play basketball with the kids, to the groups that come in and make home-cooked meals, we love them all.” 

“This House has allowed me to keep my family together and helped us make life-long friends,” Jill said. “I couldn’t imagine having to find a hotel while we are in Memphis or not being able to have my whole family with me. Being together as a family is the most important thing to me.”

Posted by John Parie at Tuesday, February 16, 2016 | 0 comments
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RMH Staff Helps Mom Remain Hopeful and Optimistic

Guest post by C.J. Kirkland

It was a mother’s intuition that brought Sharnelle and her son Jericho to Memphis and the Ronald McDonald House. It is her strength and the prayers of her ancestors that keep her going.   

When Jericho was diagnosed with retinoblastoma they were given a choice of two hospitals at which he could receive care. During their visit to the first hospital she was told all of the things they could not do, reminded of all the promises they could not make. She then spoke with doctors at the second hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital here in Memphis. They shared with her all that they could do, and though nothing was promised, they reminded her of what possibilities did exist if treatment was successful. Sharnelle says that was confirmation that her gut was right: St. Jude was the place for them to be. After a short stay on St. Jude’s campus, they moved to the Ronald McDonald House.   

She shares that when they arrived at the Ronald McDonald House to check in, Glenda gave them “an uplifting sense of how it would be.” Sharnelle had to leave behind her other three young children to fight this battle with Jericho; it has been difficult. She says that Glenda made them feel so welcomed and this helped her tremendously as she braced for what was to come. Jericho would be receiving back-to-back chemotherapy treatments. He would go through two months during which he could not open his eyes. But Glenda set the stage, Sharnelle says, and she sees that Jericho’s strength is building right alongside her own.   

“I don’t have bad days,” she tells me. There are times when she is quiet, reflective, but is always reminded of her blessings. The staff has made it so easy for her to stay hopeful and optimistic, she continues. “Especially Jackie.” I can’t help but smile as Sharnelle talks of how much good Jackie has sown into their lives: she always takes the time to talk with them and play with Jericho (she and others at RMH know him affectionately as “Smalls”.) When the weather abruptly changed Jackie made sure that Jericho had a proper jacket, which he had not needed in warm New Mexico. There is pep in Sharnelle’s voice as she talks about Jackie and it is obvious the positive impact that’s been made in the short time they have been at RMH.   

Sweet 2 1/2 old year old “Smalls” has been very patient during our chat, even as his little yellow truck keeps falling to the ground. I lean over to pick it up and notice the patterned blanket draped across his stroller. This prompts me to timidly ask Sharnelle if she is Native American. A big smile forms across her face and she replies, “yes, Navajo.” I excitedly share that my husband is part Sioux and we talk about the collective strength drawn from the spirits of her Navajo tribe. It is the same strength I see in her and in her son. It is a strength that has been reinforced by the kindness shown to them by staff members like Glenda and Jackie at RMH, and a strength I hope continues to grow beyond measure.   

“Go forth in peace, be still within yourself, and know that the trail is beautiful. May the winds be gentle upon your face and your direction be straight and true, as the flight of the eagle. Walk in beauty and harmony with God and all people.” – Navajo blessing 

Posted by John Parie at Tuesday, January 26, 2016 | 0 comments
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RMHC of Memphis Launches New Scholarship Program

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis expanded it services again in 2015 by establishing a new scholarship program. RMHC of Memphis will offer six scholarships to eligible students: three RMHC® Scholars Scholarships of $2,500 each and three RMHC®/African-American Future Achievers Scholarships of $2,500 each. The application period for both scholarships opens on October 1, 2015 and closes on January 20, 2016.                                   

 “The RMHC U.S. Scholarship Program provides a wonderful opportunity for RMHC of Memphis to offer financial assistance to deserving students who want to pursue higher education,” said Caron Byrd, Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis. “We’re investing in the next generation – outstanding students – and giving them the support they need to reach their full potential.”

Students will be selected and awards distributed based on demonstrated academic achievement, financial need and community involvement. Although not a requirement for selection, applicants that have been treated by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or have faced a life-threatening illness will be given additional consideration.

In addition to the RMHC© Scholars and RMHC©/African-American Future Achievers scholarships, two $2,500 Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis Perseverance Scholarships will be awarded to eligible graduating seniors that have stayed at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis while being treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This financial support will assist these students, who have faced life-threatening health challenges, continue to pursue their dreams.

The first scholarships awarded by RMHC of Memphis will be in the 2015-2016 academic year. 

Applicants may review scholarship criteria and apply online at Scholarship winners will be announced in June 2016.  

Posted by John Parie at Tuesday, December 15, 2015 | 0 comments
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Meal Program Gives Families More Time Together

The families at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis love having groups and individuals visit the House to cook them a great meal in the evenings. Not only do these meals help ease a lot of stress on a family after a long day at the hospital, they give groups a great way to give back in their local community and foster team building.

“The Meals from the Heart Program is one of the most appreciated programs by our families,” according to Sherri Maxey, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis Director of House Operations. “After a long day at the hospital the last thing a family wants to think about is coming ‘home’ and having to cook a meal. We get more positive feedback about the groups who come to volunteer and host meals than anything else. It truly is a great way to serve the house and families.”     

“Volunteers are very important to the Meals from the Heart Program,” Deenean Wilson-Henderson, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis Volunteer and Program Manager said. “Hosting a meal is a great opportunity for volunteers to see the impact that their donations make within our organization.”     

Some groups come in a few times a year and cook a meal for the families, while others choose a special day once a year. Cindy Pitts and Robert Williams starting cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the families 14 years ago.

“We found out the families were cooking their own meals and wanted to come in a cook a big, Southern-style Thanksgiving dinner for them as a way to give back,” Pitts said. “We have been bringing our families back each year; it’s our family tradition now.”“We occasionally do other events throughout the year for the families, but this meal is the one everyone in our families looks forward to each year,” Williams said.

For more information about how your group can get involved with the meal program, visit

Posted by John Parie at Tuesday, December 15, 2015 | 0 comments
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‘Whirlwind of Emotions’ Eased by RMH

Before her son was diagnosed with cancer, Hannah didn’t really know much about Ronald McDonald Houses other than knowing the change she gave to coin boxes at McDonald’s helped support them.

“When we first arrived at Ronald McDonald House, I was a little afraid of the shared living atmosphere,” Hannah said. “I was used to having my own kitchen and my own living room, but now I don’t know how I would have made it through this without all of the wonderful people I’ve met.”

Her son’s diagnosis and moving hundreds of miles away from family took its toll on her.“

I had a whirlwind of emotions when he was diagnosed, but the support of other families and the staff here is amazing,” the Louisiana native said. “No one really knows what we are going through besides other families going through the same thing. We have made a lot of new friends here, including two of my best friends. This House is truly a blessing.”

The support they found at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis doesn’t end when they return home between treatments.“

The families have a Facebook group that allows us all to stay in touch and keep track of how everyone’s treatment is going,” she said. “We all are happy and relieved when someone is cancer-free and grieve and support each other when someone’s child passes away.”

“This really is our home-away-from-home,” Hannah said. “Jack loves being here and playing with all of the other kids in the Toddler Room and outside on the playground. This House is the only home he has ever really known. He’s grown up at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.”

While the reasons that bring families to Ronald McDonald House of Memphis are never good, the support and friendships that are formed during their stays last forever.

Posted by John Parie at Tuesday, December 15, 2015 | 0 comments
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