The Blodgett Family
Jonathan and I expected a normal pregnancy with a normal birth, as all parents do. I had planned on taking Lamaze classes, having a baby shower, and doing all the things new moms do. But in my 14th week, everything changed. First I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, but my pregnancy was normal until week 26, when I developed a condition called preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). I was rushed to Maine Medical Center and told my baby could come at any time. Such an early birth could mean serious risks for our baby. We were really frightened. The next week, I suddenly went into labor. Aiden was born an hour later, so quickly that the doctor hadn’t even put her gloves on. My mom was with me, but Jonathan was at work an hour away and barely got there in time. We had been warned that most premature babies don’t cry at birth, may look blue, and always need urgent medical attention. Aiden weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces, and was just 12 inches long. But we heard him cry, then saw him wave his tiny hand in the air while they rushed him to the NICU. We both cried with joy. The nurse told us Aiden was “healthy and strong for a 27-weeker.” When I finally got to hold him days later, I was nervous because he looked so fragile. But when they laid him on my chest, I felt complete. Two days after Aiden was born, Jonathan and I moved into the Ronald McDonald House. We stayed for two months while Aiden was in the NICU. With everything we were going through as NICU parents, it was really emotional. The family atmosphere at the House helped a lot -- little things like the home-cooked meals, open communication, and the amazing staff. Even though we spent most of our time at the hospital, it helped to be with other families in similar situations. Everyone had such open hearts. It was as if we all somehow knew each other without even having to speak. But most important was that the only thing we had to worry about was Aiden. I could never express how truly thankful we are for what Ronald McDonald House offers. Without a doubt I would recommend it to other families in that situation. We hoped and prayed we would be able to bring Aiden home for Christmas. Our wish came true. On December 14, we were allowed to take him home. Although he has had some tough times, today Aiden is 2 and is just like any other toddler. He is running, climbing and causing trouble. Every day I am thankful for how well he has done and how lucky we are. We’ll never forget all the support we had from our families, friends and everyone at the Ronald McDonald House.
Though only sixteen years old, Chelsea Fagan, a junior at Falmouth High School, understands the importance of giving back to her community. She was inspired to volunteer at the House when a friend, who once stayed here with her family, told her how great the experience was. While her decision to join the RMH team as a Youth Volunteer began as a great way to earn community service hours for school, she soon found that she loved it and has been with the House for over a year. Since she is so much younger than everyone at the House, it seems like she would have a harder time fitting in with the other volunteers and staff, but “age isn’t an issue,” she says. “It’s such a great community and everyone is so easy to get along with.” However, her responsibilities are somewhat different from what the other volunteers do. “I help out with extra tasks, like with lists and filing, for example,” she says. She still gets some interaction with the families staying at the House, though, especially when they are cooking or doing crafts. One of Chelsea’s favorite moments volunteering has been decorating for Christmas last year. “We had a mini-party: we made dinner, decorated the tree, made popcorn and cranberry strings, and baked cookies,” she recalls. This close family-like atmosphere is what Chelsea and the other volunteers love about the House. “Volunteering here has really given me an appreciation for what I have,” she says. She recommends volunteerism to anyone who wants to help others because there are things to learn from this experience at every age.
Blue Flame Cooking Squad
Since last fall, the 15 members of the dynamic Blue Flame Cooking Squad have been preparing inventive gourmet meals for our families as part of the Guest Chef program. Blue Flame is an ad hoc group of talented friends who are chefs, cooks, waitstaff, bartenders and other “foodies” working in Portland area restaurants. Founded and led by local chef Chris Beaulieu of Sebago Brewing Company, the squad prepares at least one dinner a month, but often signs up for two dinners and would like to add a few breakfasts. Chris first learned about Ronald McDonald House while volunteering at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. Working with young patients and their families, he saw it as a place of respite and was eager to contribute his cooking skills. “For me the Guest Chef program was really a no-brainer,” he says. “Then I thought of all the people in the culinary community who would be really excited about doing these meals.” The Blue Flame Cooking Squad was born. Using Facebook, Chris recruits up to five squad members for each meal, designs the menu based on the talents and tastes of the volunteers, and coordinates the effort at the House. The response is always enthusiastic. “It usually takes only about 20 to 25 minutes after posting an event for people to sign up,” Chris says. “I sometimes have to turn people away.” The squad receives donations from different food, beverage and restaurant suppliers who also want to help the House. As a grill master and pit smoker, Chris chose the name Blue Flame Cooking Squad because, he explains, all chefs know that blue flame (or smoke) means the fire or heat source is at the perfect temperature. “For me, it also symbolizes the inner blue flame that everyone has inside them that is compassionate, humanitarian and giving.” “Our philosophy is to provide quality meals so the families feel at home, or even like they are enjoying a night out at a restaurant,” Chris says. “If we can take their minds off their difficulties, even for a short time, then we’ve done some good."
RMH Teen Ambassadors
Since last summer, six talented, energetic Portland-area high school students have served as RMH Teen Ambassadors, participating in service projects that support our House while developing their leadership skills for the future. During the year, Caitlyn Connolly, Chelsea Fagan, Stefanie Farrington, Shaina Lam, Margaret Meserve and Damian Ramsdell enthusiastically rolled up their sleeves and tackled a variety of projects that have been both meaningful and fun. As the Portland House’s first slate of Ambassadors, the students gained relevant and rewarding experience in the nonprofit world. They’ve learned by doing -- using their planning, project management and communication skills to succeed as a team. They judged the annual Holiday Card design contest, designed and created decorations for the annual Harvest Moon Gala, and prepared meals for families as Guest Chefs. They helped raise funds by serving as parking attendants for Sea Dogs games and expanding the CLYNK bottle drive. They promoted awareness of RMH in their schools and communities. For their final project, they independently planned and organized a fundraiser to benefit RMH held on March 26 at Otto’s Pizzeria in Portland. Otto's generously donated a portion of the evening's proceeds to the House. There was a 50/50 raffle as well. The Teen Ambassadors raised $326.00 for RMH. Chelsea Fagan, a Falmouth High School junior who also volunteers at the House, says she valued the way the Ambassadors pulled together to achieve their goals. “My favorite part of the program was how close everyone became and how much we got done together on virtually no budget,” she says. “The program taught me a lot about taking initiative and conserving money. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to meet new people and develop close relationships while making a real difference for a wonderful charity.” Sarah Gross is one of the four adult RMH volunteers who donate their time to serve as Advisors to the teens. “Participating in the Teen Ambassador Program has been a privilege,” she says. “The energy and enthusiasm of these bright, motivated students is inspiring. It’s difficult to come away from a meeting or volunteer activity without a smile on your face. Their efforts help a critical cause and that enhances the experience even more.” Also serving as Advisors are Brittany White, Nancy Farrell and Anik Nadeau MacLeod. Each brings a unique background and valuable perspective to the task. Selection is now underway for next year’s Teen Ambassadors.
The Dowsland Family
For the past year The Ronald McDonald House has made a huge difference for our family. Our daughter Kylie was born with just one kidney that operated at only 50%. By the time she was seven, her kidney function was down to just 11%. We were relieved and happy when a donor match was found. Kylie had a kidney transplant at Maine Medical Center last March. Since then, she has been back to the hospital many times as either an inpatient or an outpatient. Last summer we were there for four weeks while she had plasmapheresis, a procedure to help improve her kidney function after some complications. We still go back for regular checkups. We live three hours from Portland. Kylie has two brothers and two sisters, and the two smallest are very young. In fact we were pregnant at the time of the transplant, which made being away from home even harder. Thanks to RMH, we didn’t have to be separated too often or for too long. We all could be with Kylie at the hospital during the most critical times. When dad and the older kids need to stay home for work and school, mom and the younger kids can be with her in Portland. RMH provides everything we need. It’s close to the hospital, comfortable and it’s great for the little ones. With the playroom and kitchen, it’s easy to take a break from the hospital so they can play or nap during the day. We use the kitchen a lot too. It can get expensive to eat every meal at the hospital. Everyone connected with RMH is amazing. The staff helps you out in all different ways: solving problems, answering questions or just listening. The volunteers and donors, like the Guest Chefs or people dropping off Wish List items, are so friendly and generous. We are grateful to all of them. The other families we’ve met there feel the same. Today Kylie is an active, happy eight-year-old. She’s also a big supporter of the Ronald McDonald House. She donated her birthday gifts for the playroom. At Thanksgiving she stocked the pantry to overflowing by collecting and donating food for the families. She is raising money by collecting pull tabs for recycling -- over 50 pounds at last count! RMH has so much to offer to families at a hard time in their lives. We can support Kylie but still take care of each other, too. It helps you really be there for your child. You don’t realize how important this kind of support is until you need it. We recommend RMH to everyone. It will always be part of our lives.