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NDC faculty cooked a Tex-Mex themed meal for residents at Ronald McDonald House.
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Professors Cook for RMH Residents

Sporting cowboy hats, bandanas and sheriff stars, a group of Notre Dame College professors recently visited the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland to cook a Tex-Mex themed meal for its residents.

Professors Natalie Strouse, Sr. Karita Ivancic, Louise Prochaska, Judy Risko, Lynn Zimmerman, Amy Kesegich, Liz Presley, Nancy Baird and Erica White served pulled pork sandwiches, chicken soft tacos, rice, refried beans, Mexican casserole and salad to some of the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. For dessert, they brought punch, carrot cupcakes, and cookies decorated by Kelley Cronin and shaped like cowboy hats, boots and cacti.

“After hearing the heartbreaking stories of these families in crisis, it seemed like the least we could do,” Kesegich said.

The professors participated in the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) Family Meal program. RMH houses families whose children are receiving medical care at Cleveland-area hospitals. Most of these children have serious illnesses, such as cancer, leukemia, cystic fibrosis or heart defects.

Families who stay at RMH are responsible for their own meal preparation. The Family Meal program invites volunteers to cook meals for the families after they return from a long day at the hospital. Volunteers can choose the date and menu, eat with the residents and tour the facility.

Cooking at Ronald McDonald House: Judy Risko, Louise Prochaska and Sr. Karita Ivancic (from left) prepared a Tex-Mex themed meal.
Cooking at Ronald McDonald House: Judy Risko, Louise Prochaska and Sr. Karita Ivancic (from left) prepared a Tex-Mex themed meal.

Psychology professor Erica White heard about the program when she attended a fundraiser for RMH in the fall, and later encouraged her colleagues to participate.

“All who participated enjoyed themselves, and the families and staff at Ronald McDonald House raved about the food and the creativity,” White said about their experience. “Even before we left, the group agreed to go back again because it was such a wonderful opportunity to serve.”

Other volunteers included Professor Fran Ulrich’s husband, Nick Elliott, who helped with purchasing restaurant-quality food at discounted prices, thereby stretching the $316 donated by other NDC faculty.

With the support of such volunteers, the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland serves more than 1,200 families each year. In addition to 37 guest rooms, the house offers comfortable living and play areas, a fully equipped kitchen, a library, a family resource center, a children's playroom and a laundry room.

Gardens with flowers and herbs, including a children's garden with a waterfall, winding walkways and benches, surround the house, which hosts locals as well as families that have traveled a great distance to seek treatment in Cleveland for a critically ill child.

“I was touched by how genuinely grateful everyone was for our help. We can barely imagine the pain these kids and their families endure daily, but the mood that night over dinner was cheerful and optimistic,” Zimmerman said. “I’m just glad we were able to give them a brief respite from all the stress.”

Presley said volunteering at RMH was a wonderful experience.

“Our night at Ronald McDonald House was so rewarding - and such a great time,” she said. “I loved the chance to not only help the families by providing a meal and chatting with them, but the opportunity to have FUN alongside my colleagues as we prepared our dinner.”

Prochaska called the experience “fun, enlightening and heart-warming.” She said she learned that RMH is independent of the McDonald’s chain and that she enjoyed cooking with her colleagues.

“I was amazed by the strength and faith of the families whose kids are sick,” she said. “There is a sense of warmth and care as soon as you enter the front door.”

The first Ronald McDonald House was founded in Philadelphia in 1974. Today there are more than 280 houses in 30 countries. The Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland opened its doors on Sept. 25, 1979. It moved to its current location at 10415 Euclid Ave. in 1994.

More than 100 volunteers help run the house, register families, maintain the gardens and provide special programs and meals for the families. In addition, volunteer community groups provide more than 400 meals per year to families staying at RMH. In all, they have served more than 30,000 families over the past three decades.

“The Ronald McDonald House is a very special place that offers wonderful services,” Risko said. “This was an opportunity to share some time with families who are struggling and in need of support. Thank you to everyone who participated or donated to make this possible.”

By Christian Taske ’07, editor and writer at Notre Dame College.