Tribune Article About the Hope House

Septemper 9, 2009

Community spirit in evidence at McDonald House in Oak Lawn Oak Lawn area volunteers a large part of McDonald House success Families find caring community at newest Ronald McDonald House

Community spirit in evidence at McDonald House in Oak Lawn Oak Lawn area volunteers a large part of McDonald House success Families find caring community at newest Ronald McDonald House

 

Volunteers ease burden on relatives of sick children

 

 

By Janice Neumann SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE

 

September 9, 2009

 

Sitting down to eat in the cozy dining room of the Ronald McDonald House in Oak Lawn recently, Jackie Schultz seemed almost serene for a mother whose 3-month-old daughter was in a nearby hospital with respiratory problems caused by a heart defect.

Schultz attributed her calmness to the soothing, caring atmosphere of the house where she, her husband, and their two other children have been staying for most of the summer. Across the street is Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital, where their daughter Emma is being treated.

The house’s proximity to the hospital is something of a godsend for the Schultzes, who live more than 100 miles away in German Valley, near Rockford. Jackie, her husband, Shane, and their son Tannis, 7, and daughter, Hailey, 4, can visit Emma every day.

“It’s a blessing because we can all stay together,” said Schultz, whose daughter is scheduled for heart surgery in about nine months.

The house, which opened in December, caters to parents with kids younger than 22 who are patients at the hospital and live more than 10 miles away. The three other McDonald Houses in the area are near the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital and Children’s Memorial Hospital, both in Chicago, and Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.

Designed to blend into the wooded landscape on 93rd Street and Kostner Avenue, the Oak Lawn house has porches and a patio for grilling as well as prairie grass and a pond on the lawn. Inside the three-story house are common rooms with TVs and comfortable chairs, 16 bedrooms, play rooms, game rooms and computers, as well as the kitchen and dining room.

The architects at Constantine D. Vasilios and Associates Ltd. wanted the house to be homey and whimsical with various nooks and crannies, said Kelly Evans, house manager, pointing to the winding staircase and wood floors.

Evans has two assistants and three resident managers, one of whom is on call each night. There are also about 200 volunteers, including families who once stayed there, church groups, Girl Scouts, high schoolers earning service hours and groups of friends.

Six volunteers recently prepared a spaghetti dinner for the Schultzes and about 10 other families who have children at the hospital. “They’re like family to you; they always ask how you’re doing,” Schultz said of the employees and volunteers.

The women who helped prepare the meal were friends from St. Linus and St. Germaine Catholic Churches in Oak Lawn. Terese Bleecher, a volunteer from St. Linus, said her son, 25, was hit by a car and seriously hurt when he was 7 years old. While he was being treated at nearby Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, many parish friends stopped by with food.

“You think back to those days and wonder, ‘How would I have gotten through that?’ ” said Bleecher, who also regularly bakes chocolate chip cookies for families at the McDonald House.

Marge Joy, another volunteer, said helping out can be fun as well. “It’s very heartwarming and makes you feel good to help somebody. Plus, I’ve gained some cooking skills,” she said. Joy also is on the house council, which gives suggestions on improvements and helps with fundraising.

Families staying at the house said such generosity has made their lives easier. Without having to make long commutes home each night or worry about shopping for groceries and cooking dinner, they can focus on their children, they said.

“I came down here with nothing at all, and they’ve helped me out a lot,” said Emma Nelson, whose daughter Emyla Sharber, 11, is being treated at Hope for a brain injury and broken bones from a car accident in Indianapolis last month. The family is from Minneapolis. “It helps a lot to hear from different families [in the same situation].”

The idea of helping families with sick children inspired Oak Lawn Community High School to lease the land to the non-profit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwestern Indiana. In return, the district is receiving about $425,000 for student scholarships, teacher mini-grants and athletic field improvements. Each summer, one of the school’s students does an internship at the house.

“It was a way to give back to the community and generate some scholarship opportunities,” said Supt. Michael Riordan, who is on the house council.

 

Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

 

 

 

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