A Visit to the Auckland Ronald McDonald House

by Kathleen Sobansky

This article originally appeared in the July 15,2000 (Vol 5,no 2) issue of "Down Under" Up Front. The newsletter of the Michael Hurst Fan Club. It is reprinted with permission.

There are Ronald McDonald Houses all over the world, each one near a major children's medical center. They are there to provide a "home away from home" for families whose children are receiving medical treatment nearby.

Over the 1999-2000 time period Michael's fans - through the fan club and the Iolausian Mailing List - have been regular contributors to the Ronald McDonald House in Auckland, with donations totalling nearly NZ$ 5000. And that's not counting the Cameron Quilt Project, gang!

So while the Golden Legends Tour was down in Auckland this summer/winter, some of us decided to go down and see where our donations have been going. On a lovely sunny Friday, June 30th, your reporter, accompanied by her husband Ed and Fan Club President Ellen Aspengren, went down to the grounds of the Auckland Hospital, deep in the heart of the city. Just FINDING the place was a challenge - it's tucked away in the very center of the complex, right next to the Starship Children's Hospital. But it is a place well worth looking for!

It's set on a steep hillside, with a huge terrace that looks out over a park and the Auckland skyline, including the Sky Tower. The park below is dedicated property, so the Ronald Mcdonald House will always have green-space to look out on.

We went in and met the delightful man who's been sending us the lovely thank-you cards, House Manager Brent Taylor, and the RMH public relations officer, Karinia Lee. It was so nice to put faces to names! And while we were there, we were very happy to be able to present a donation of approximately NZ$250 from the members of the Golden Legends Tour.

While Ed (who is a trained volunteer at Children's National Medical Center in Washington DC) told stories and did magic tricks for a trio of little boys who were staying in the House with their families, Brent took Ellen and me on a tour of the House.

The House has a HUGE lounge, with big windows that look out on the beautiful terrace and the park beyond. Adjoining it is a well- equipped kitchen where families can cook their own meals, and a dining area that looks out onto an interior patio area. Everything is light and airy, with bright-colored fabrics and white walls and blond woodwork, and everything is clearly intended to be as UNhospital-like as possible. There are huge stuffed animals scattered about, and plants and all sorts of artwork on the walls. It's like a very big family dwelling, and that's just what it's supposed to be.

Each family has what looks like a hotel suite, with a double bed for the parents and additional twin beds for the siblings or for the sick children themselves, when they can be released from the hospital next door. Each room has its own private bathroom and shower. They are all painted and decorated in cheerful colors and fabrics.

What is NOT in each of the suites, however, is a TV set. This is on purpose, according to Brent, so that the families won't tend to be isolated. There is a large TV in the main lounge, and this encourages social contact among the patients and their families. Brent also showed us the "Big Kids' Lounge" which is downstairs off the parking garage. It's a large room with a stereo sound system, a pool table and another big TV, intended as a "refuge" for teenage patients or family members, "though we get a lot of dads coming in here too", commented Brent.

The most surprising thing that we learned during our tour, is that the Ronald McDonald Houses do NOT get regular support from the McDonalds Corporation! McDonalds builds and equips the houses, and then it's up to the local community to raise the funds necessary to maintain them. This is true for Houses all over the world, not just the House in Auckland. So if you had any doubts that our donations are needed and deeply appreciated, you can be very certain that they are. And the folks at the Ronald McDonald House think that Michael's fans are wonderful!

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