Countown to Vegas – Story #6 – Germany

May 23, 2009

This is another writeup from Lindsey Kerstetter about a program that is scaled up in honor of the 50th anniversary of Amway with some additional funds to support volunteering. I wish I could have seen this one in person!

Ronald McDonald Haus – Essen

In a middle of a bustling park is a quiet, but noticeable retreat. Passers-by on the park bridge can’t help but spot the colorful building that pops out between the leaves. The building is actually a house, with 17 special rooms, personally designed by Austrian painter, architect and sculptor, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Each colorful design element of this house has intended meaning too, from the wrap-around structure meant to embrace the temporary guests to the life bearing trees that extend from the inner walls. Hundertwasser describes the house as the third of five skins; epidermis, clothes, house, identity and earth.

This brightly colored house is a temporary home to families who are dealing with struggles much darker. It’s one of 16 Ronald McDonald Houses in Germany providing a home away from home for families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at nearby hospitals. Families are referred to the house if they have a child in ICU, other young children in their care or require specialized services at a distant hospital. The hospital in Essen specializes in cancer and premature births. And there is usually is a long list of families waiting to occupy a room at the Ronald McDonald House. A rate of 20 euros a night is recommended, but if a room is available no family is turned away.

Little Benjamin is three weeks old. Born in Dusseldorf, 21 miles away, Benjamin was immediately sent to Essen due to his weak heart and the insufficient draining of his kidneys. Only days after being born, Benjamin had his first surgery to place an artificial drain in his kidneys. He’ll need a second surgery too. Thankfully there is the Ronald McDonald House where the family waits. Mom is unwilling to leave the hospital, but Dad and brother, Marco, spend their nights and much of their day here. Marco is on summer holiday from school, but instead of missing time with friends back home, he’s making new friends at the house. Plus, he wants to be close to hold his little brother.

For the past three weeks of his life the hospital is all Benjamin has ever known, until today. Today Benjamin, his parents and his big brother are all together at the Ronald McDonald House in Essen and friends from Dusseldorf are there to visit. Out in the courtyard the women dote over the newborn as the other children reunite and play. The family is thankful for the company of familiar faces in a place that is starting to feel like home… temporarily.

Mikayla is the house manager and has the duty, or she would say the privilege, of making this house a supportive place for families. She and two other full time staff members are instrumental in encouraging families to relax and recharge personally in order to be most helpful to their sick child. Staff aims to relieve the stressful situation these families are faced with by facilitating payments to insurance companies or providing a quiet place to rest. There are several serene spaces within the house to promote a healthy balance. An assent up a winding staircase ends at a private reflection room with beams of sunlight that adorn the walls after being filtered through stained glass windows. The room is just large enough to accommodate a single occupant.

Socialization is important too. Guests come to the home from all over Europe experiencing similar feelings of heartache… and hopefulness. The house serves as a network of support for one another. There is only one TV in the house, but it is rarely powered on. Instead children often congregate in the play area, with donated toys and play equipment. It’s not unlikely to see adults in the play area too, like two dads, who despite language barriers unite over a game of Wii tennis. But like most families, the majority of activity takes place in the kitchen, and this house is no different.

Denys is seventeen and has chemotherapy treatments twice a week at the local hospital. His mother Raisa is Ukrainian and currently lives in the house. A few days a week, Denys does too. He feels fortunate to have a room outside of the hospital to go to. And although he prefers to stay in his room he also comes to the kitchen frequently, like most teenage boys.

In the kitchen, families prepare meals as they wish, and clean up after themselves too. Twice a week there is no clean-up required as residents gather around a banquet sized table for a community meal, prepared by volunteers. On this particular day Amway volunteers are here to cook and clean.

Dining with them is twelve year old Steffen. Over a meal of spaghetti and salad, Steffen says he is a whiz at computers. He spends hours on them to pass the time during treatments. Steffen has liver cancer and is receiving treatment to shrink his tumor while he waits for a transplant donor. His father was a potential donor, but during the testing process they found an artery to his heart was clogged. The testing saved his father from a potential heart attack, but it also eliminated him from the list of possible donors for his son. So between computer games, they dine as a family while they wait at the Ronald McDonald House in hopes that a donor will soon be found, and they grab a dish to pass among other families doing the same.

Volunteers are essential here; it’s accurate to say the house wouldn’t function without them. They are an extended family of sorts, like these IBOs originally from Berlin. Mr Klaus- Peter Bollin, Mrs. Bettina Jacobs and Mr. Carsten Schulz were looking for ways to contribute time in their new community of Essen, as a present for Amway’s 50th Anniversary. Through the One by One Campaign for Children, hundreds of employees and IBOs are doing the same thing, giving the best gift of all, their time, more than 5,000 hours to be exact, to the Ronald McDonald Charities all over Germany. And 1700 hours have already been committed for 2008. Day in and day out volunteers are needed and Amway volunteers are there to act as taxi drivers, house cleaners, gardeners, cooks and even lend their professional expertise in areas like massage therapy. They willingly tackle every task, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty in the process.

This grassroots effort from local Amway IBO volunteers is a first step to grow the partnership with Ronald McDonald Charities. Over time Amway’s involvement will blossom to Ronald McDonald Family Rooms, or Oasis, as well. For each hour volunteered to Ronald McDonald homes, Amway gives USD 50 to support the building of Ronald McDonald Family Rooms. A Ronald McDonald Family Room extends the comfort of a Ronald McDonald House into the hospital. Often located steps away from pediatric and intensive care units, the room provides a place to enjoy a warm meal, talk with other parents and relax.

Time is precious. And Amway volunteers are making the most out of the time they have to give to the families of Ronald McDonald Charities. And that effort makes the time families spend away from home, just a little more worthwhile.

Germany Ronald McDonald House

Mother at the Ronald McDonald House in Germany

Amway Distributors at the Ronald McDonald House in Germany

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