Story Number: NNS140207-15Release Date: 2/7/2014 1:33:00 PM
By Navy Region Southeast Public Affairs
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to Commander, Navy Region Southeast (CNRSE) conducted a volunteer project at the Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville, Fla., Feb. 5.
During the project, participants helped replace light bulbs and clean light covers on three floors of the facility, which provides lodging and support services for critically ill, chronically ill and seriously injured children and their families.
"Volunteer efforts like this are very important to us," said Fay Weiss, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Jacksonville outreach coordinator. "We're a 30-bedroom house with a small staff, so we rely heavily on the community and volunteer groups that come in to assist with meals, maintenance or housekeeping. Our volunteers are essential to serving our mission."
According to Mass Communication Specialist (SW) 1st Class Greg Johnson, CNRSE volunteer coordinator, the project was an opportunity for Sailors to build camaraderie while having a positive effect on the local community.
"I think it's important for the Navy to maintain a strong presence in the community because we have the people and resources to have an impact," Johnson said. "When you visit a place like this, it puts into perspective how much you take for granted. The families and children here are probably going through a tougher time than most of us could imagine and this house is here to make that time a little less stressful. Hopefully our efforts contribute to that goal."
The house is located about a block away from Wolfson Children's Hospital and Nemours Children's Clinic, where many of the children receive treatment. While guests are asked to give a $10-per-night donation for the duration of their stay, no family is turned away if they cannot make the payment.
Since opening in 1988, the house has served more than 32,000 families. In addition to providing lodging and reduced travel expenses for families, it also facilitates an emotionally-supportive environment where families can connect with others who may be going through similar situations, Weiss said.
"I think spending the day out here and helping out with what we can is the very least we can do," said Religious Program Specialist (SW) Abraham Dukuly, a volunteer. "For us, it is a small contribution, but it still means a lot to the staff here. It's absolutely a rewarding experience, considering the mission of the Ronald McDonald House."
The house operates solely on donations from the local community and volunteer projects and has shared a particularly special relationship with the local military, Weiss said.
"We are so grateful to our military volunteers," Weiss said. "They are so dedicated to whatever it is they are asked to do, whether it's gardening and raking leaves in the courtyard or cleaning indoors."
According to Weiss, those efforts are appreciated not only by the house's staff, but by the families who stay there as well.
"What is extraordinary about military volunteers is their effect on the families," Weiss said. "A lot of families realize they are enlisted, and for service members to take the time to do this, it demonstrates to them that there are armies of people out there who care about what they are going through."
One of the volunteers understood firsthand why families who stay at the house appreciate volunteer efforts. Chief Quartermaster (SW) William Chase has stayed at the house twice - once in 1999 when his first son was born premature and again in 2001, when his second son was born premature.
"Without the Ronald McDonald House, we would have had to pay for months of hotel bills," Chase said. "Not to mention, they provide transportation services and a variety of other things at the house, such as arts and craft nights for the kids and all kinds of other activities. It's important because it takes away some of the stress surrounding the situation and lets you just concentrate on your child. That's why I feel like I want to give back to the charity. I try to volunteer every chance I get."
Ronald McDonald House Charities was founded in 1974. The first house opened in Philadelphia and was funded by McDonald's restaurant proceeds donated by local owners. Today, there are 309 houses in more than 50 countries worldwide.
For more news from Commander, Navy Region Southeast, visit www.navy.mil/local/nrse/.