Creating Community for Families – and for Each Other

by Jan Gunter

Jan hanging out with Ronald

Hanging out with Ronald

After six and a half wonderful, challenging and inspiring years at Ronald McDonald House Charities, I have accepted a new position as the Communications and Community Relations Director for the Salvation Army in Austin. I am excited to be taking on this new challenge with the Salvation Army as they prepare for a major capital campaign and significant growth in Central Texas.

During my time at RMHC Austin I have been blessed beyond measure with amazing coworkers and bosses. I have been mentored – intentionally or otherwise – by colleagues with lifetime nonprofit experience. I have learned from the best. I’ve made treasured friends from volunteers I’ve had the pleasure to know, love and work with.

Ann Jerome, me, Missy Strittmatter and Becky Nichols of the Loving Libby Foundation - One friend referred to Ann, Missy and me this week as "The Dream Team".

Ann Jerome, me, Missy Strittmatter and Becky Nichols of the Loving Libby Foundation – One friend referred to Ann, Missy and me this week as “The Dream Team”.

During this time, I’ve shared many personal milestones with you all. Both of my own children have graduated from college and are now happily employed and building their own adult lives. Our family has survived a flood and was tremendously supported by our RMHC community through that disaster and rebuilding. We certainly have made lemonade from those lemons! In addition, I lost my dad; I had surgery; my husband changed jobs; we became empty nesters. During all of this, my RMHC colleagues and friends have supported, prayed, worked, cried, loved and laughed with me.

Connecting with families along the way has been such a gift. I can still see my little buddy Conner running into the office calling his version of my name – “Jam!” Some families – because of their long-term stay at the House or because they have given us permission to tell their stories – stand out. Nicholas and his mom still come by to visit periodically. Kim and her family who are far from their home country, living in the House right now – will remain in my heart and my prayers – as will many others.

Here's Derrick and me with one of our favorite people - Mary Pendleton. We all want to be like Mary when we grow up!

Here’s Derrick and me with one of our favorite people, longtime volunteer Mary Pendleton. We all want to be like Mary when we grow up!

Not coincidentally, many of my coworkers – and I – have our own personal stories of pediatric illness or loss. Our volunteers and donors often have their own stories to tell as well. We are motivated to continue to make a difference for families because we care, and sometimes we understand it in an incredibly personal way. We know that childhood illness, injury and death are no respecters of persons. No one is immune. Money cannot protect us. We live in a world where sickness and death occur. Even our faith cannot protect us.

Me with my bosses. Thank you, Kent and Ann, for giving me this grand opportunity!

Me with my bosses. Thank you, Kent and Ann, for giving me this grand opportunity!

But our faith and our efforts do make a difference: a profound difference. The more family stories I hear, the more I hear the same threads weaving their way through these stories.

“…we couldn’t have done it without you…”

“…it meant so much to be able to talk with other families going through similar situations…”

“…I can’t believe complete strangers would volunteer to cook for us…”

“…thank you to the staff and volunteers for being here – it has made all the difference to have a listening ear…”

“…We never thought we would need the Ronald McDonald House…”

“…God bless you for all that you have done for our family…”

One of the great joys of this work has been getting to know families like Angie and Josiah.

One of the great joys of this work has been getting to know families like Angie and Josiah.

Do you see it? It is community: the community of sharing burdens right here inside the walls of our House and Family Rooms. Creating these spaces for families – the House and the Family Rooms – and bringing our best presence to these spaces as staff, volunteers and donors, creates more than a physical space. It creates a communal space: loving, spiritual, helpful, hopeful, comforting.  Our House and Family Room volunteers create this communal space. Our volunteers who work tirelessly year round on our fundraising events create community as they work together.  Families – who never could have imagined they would need us – come together in these spaces and help create this sacred space for other families. As we create the space for our families, we are all enriched by these same sacred spaces, enriched by this community.

Gino is indeed a superstar!

Gino is indeed a superstar!

I came to RMHC Austin because I wanted the opportunity to work for a great nonprofit. I am leaving enriched by not only the work I have been privileged to do but also by the community of which I have been a part. I am not really leaving – because this is a community that lives on. I am going to work somewhere else now, but I remain rooted in the RMHC community – connected by the common bond we share. I carry you with me – and hope you will do the same.

Go on in all simplicity; do not be so anxious to win a quiet mind, and it will be all the quieter.
Do not examine so closely into the progress of your soul.
Do not crave so much to be perfect, but let your spiritual life be formed by your duties, and by the actions which are called forth by circumstances.
Do not worry about tomorrow. God, who has led you safely on so far, will lead you on to the end.

– St. Francis de Sales

Please leave your own comment about how you have been touched by the RMHC community.

My last day with RMHC Austin was October 9. You may reach me at jangunter12@gmail.com – I’d love to hear from you!

This entry was posted in Jan, Ronald McDonald House Charities and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Creating Community for Families – and for Each Other

  1. Margaret barry says:

    Great post!! Beautifully written jan.

  2. Pingback: A Home Away From Home | RMHC Austin

  3. Claire Mathias says:

    We miss you already!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s