I had the opportunity to chat with some of those folks that day. Instantly I was drawn in by their genuine love and enthusiasm for RMHC. I continued to watch as they interacted with each other, and the families, and it was obvious that this group of individuals had something special. I felt better just for spending a little time with them, so I know the many families staying at the House did too.
Since joining RMH in October 2018, I have met literally hundreds of these volunteers. Some of my favorite moments have been the conversations I have with them, hearing their stories and reason for giving so much of their time to help our families. Often, I hear many personal stories about their own experiences with RMH, or of those close to them. The time volunteering at the House is their way to give back, perhaps make a difference for someone else going through the same thing.
And while this is so compelling, ultimately, the most powerful draw is connection. Regardless of the unique backgrounds, personalities, and characteristics, there is something more powerful that unites this amazing group of people. They are all some of the most incredible human beings you will ever meet, and that rises above anything that makes us different to connect our souls in support of one common purpose, taking care of families with sick children.
To say these folks are dedicated, is an understatement. Each month, there are 350 individual volunteer shifts that need to be filled in order to take care of all the demands of running a household for 28 families. This does not include the daily meal and cookie teams who are taking care of providing and preparing food for the House. In my 26-year career in non-profits, I have never seen such depth and breadth of volunteer work and could not imagine the House being successful without them.
However, on March 13, 2020, we were faced with the difficult decision to suspend all volunteer activity in the House. It was a stunning moment for the entire organization. I remember standing in our Volunteer Hub, in a circle with all the paid staff, while we began to process this news. We struggled to even imagine the House without volunteers, not because of the many jobs and duties that would need to be filled, but it was as if the heart, the very pulse of the soul of RMH had stopped. But we understood this was a necessary measure in order to keep our families, volunteers and staff safe.
Over the next seven months, staff worked hard to keep the House moving forward, but it was obvious the eerie emptiness we all felt without volunteers. I am proud of the innovative ways the staff worked to keep our volunteer family connected to the House and to the mission during this challenging time. The ongoing support, messages and acts of encouragement from our volunteers over that seven months meant more than we could ever express.
As we began to welcome a few volunteers back in October, it felt like a homecoming. While hugs had to be replaced with fist and elbow bumps, and most of our faces were covered with mask, you couldn’t hide the true joy we all felt. There were even some tears, happy tears, as folks were overcome with emotion stepping back in the House for the first time. Slowly we are seeing more volunteers in the House, and we can’t wait to welcome groups back soon, along with the smell of home cooked meals and fresh baked cookies of course!
The gift of time is precious, and such a valuable commodity. I would even suggest that most folks would rather write you a check, than give you an hour of time these days. And we recognize the significant value of these contributions as a true gift. In fact, if RMH were to pay volunteers for their time, it would add over $450,000 to the annual operating budget.
This month, the nation sets aside a week to honor volunteerism and we celebrate that opportunity to shine the spotlight on the thousands of volunteers who make our work possible. While they are absolutely deserving of a special week, we strive to create a culture of thankfulness each day. In fact, the word “thankful” actually anchors our “HEART” values (Hospitable, Encouraging, Accountable, Responsive…THANKFUL!)
I stumbled on this quote recently, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew
In my experience, when you let the heart come first, the time will always follow. If you are looking for a place to follow your heart, the Ronald McDonald House is happy to be your HOME.
- Denise Cubbedge, CEO