Gasol, Bulls brighten the day for children at Chicago’s Ronald McDonald House

As Brian Godish and his four-year old son Bradley took in the scene at the Ronald McDonald House on Tuesday, he couldn’t help but think about how his involvement with the Chicago Bulls organization had come full circle.

In 2000, Godish was hired as an intern in the team’s ticket department. It was his first job out of college and an experience he greatly enjoyed.

Fifteen years later, as Godish’s son is treated at Lurie Children’s Hospital for acute myeloid leukemia, he was reunited with the Bulls, as the team and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana brought players and the in-game entertainment experience to children and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s.

Pau Gasol, Tony Snell and Aaron Brooks were joined by members of the Bulls Entertainment Network, Bulls Radio’s Chuck Swirsky and team ambassador Sidney Green as nearly 75 families celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a special dinner, games, photo booth and face painter, among other green-themed activities.

“When your child is diagnosed with cancer, life gets pretty chaotic,” said Godish. “The Ronald McDonald House gives us comfort, hope, and truly a home away from home. Being here is a tremendous privilege. The staff, support and hospitality given to our family is something we can never truly repay.

“An event like this totally brightens up our day,” added Godish. “It’s inspirational, it’s motivating, and it keeps us going. The involvement of the Bulls, a fantastic organization that literally gave me my start in the working world, makes it come full circle. As I’m helping my son battle this tough disease – and he’s been so courageous, fighting his tail off – to have a night like this breaks up the monotony. It’s a fun atmosphere and we’re thrilled to have the Bulls be part of it.”

On a night in which Gasol set up shop in the arts and crafts room, Snell played foosball and pop-a-shot, and Brooks took countless photos with the children and their families, Gasol spoke about the value in spending time with those on hand.

“The kids are all so amazing and they have so much energy,” said Gasol. “All they want to do is play and they appreciate when you play with them. So you sit down and interact, let them know you care. It’s great to be with the kids and their families as they go through a difficult time and face adversity in their life. To be able to bring them joy, to have a good time and see them smile is special for us and special for them.”

For years, Gasol has passionately spent a significant amount of his off the court time in children’s hospitals, making regular visits to cheer up patients.

“It touches me. It gets to me and it’s extremely powerful and impactful,” explained Gasol. “The interactions that I’ve experienced though my life with kids and families who are going through difficult times make you realize how important the work that is being done at all of the hospitals.

“Sometimes it goes unnoticed or underappreciated,” Gasol added. “You may not understand that until it’s your child who goes through a situation like this. I think it’s important to raise awareness for the job that is being done and the support that some of these hospitals need. That’s why I do it. It touches me, it’s extremely rewarding for me, and the impact that I can have on these children and their families is huge. I feel blessed by the opportunity that I have.”

The Bulls have partnered with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana for more than a decade on a number of initiatives, including opening a Chicago Bulls Charities Game Room at the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s, coordinating player visits to the various Houses, teaming up on a United Center recycling program, and supporting their fundraising efforts through the donation of autographed items.

As Doug Porter, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, points out, their annual night with the Bulls is one that many patients and their families will never forget.

“We hear stories about this event for a year after it is held,” said Porter. “One family came back and showed me a photo from last year when Benny the Bull held their son. These are memories that last a lifetime. Sadly some of them don’t make it. But it is just so important to put a smile on their face and help them forget about reality for a little while, it’s all worth it.”

Porter also points out that while financial contributions are of the utmost importance, what members of the Bulls bring to the table during their visits is an intangible experience that is impossible to replicate.

“A check is nice, that’s what keeps the lights on,” noted Porter. “But for these players, in the midst of a season that is a grind with all the games and travel, to spend one of their evenings here tells me that they recognize that it’s not all about them. It’s about others that may not have their size or skill or ability. When you give up yourself in that sense and make the effort of spending time here, that is so impactful.”

Godish agreed as he looked forward to a day when his son is healthy and he can share stories and photos from the night with him, just in case he doesn’t remember.

“He doesn’t realize who the players are, but someday we’ll look back when Pau Gasol is getting into the Hall of Fame, I’ll be able to say, ‘Bradley, you met that man on St. Patrick’s Day of all days at the Ronald McDonald House when you were beating cancer.”

In the short-term, however, as Bradley continues to fight his fight, consider his spirits lifted, courtesy of Gasol, Snell, Brooks and the Bulls.

“The next few days, he won’t be thinking about his daily medicine regiment, or his next clinic visit,” explained Godish, “He’ll be smiling thinking about giving Pau Gasol a high five or getting his picture taken with Benny.”