Orlando Magic Gives an Assist to the Ronald McDonald House

By John Denton
June 5, 2014

ORLANDO – Her 15-year-old daughter, Taylor, finally comfortable and resting following a busy morning at Florida Hospital, Tracy Narder was able to retreat to the comfort and solitude of the Ronald McDonald House a short shuttle ride away at noon on Thursday.

And to ensure that her break from the hustle and bustle of the hospital was more filling and enjoyable, a dozen staffers from the Orlando Magic were on hand to provide a home-cooked lunch for Narder and the rest of the inhabitants at the Ronald McDonald House.

“In the midst of a horrible experience what the people at the Ronald McDonald House provide is a wonderful experience,” Narder said as her face filled with color and her voice wavered as she fought back tears. “The people at the Ronald McDonald House have helped me so much and I can never thank them enough.”

Tabbed as “the house that love built,” the Ronald McDonald House is a home away from home for parents and families of critically ill children staying at Florida Hospital. The three-story home has 22 rooms with private bathrooms, a dining area, playroom and living room and laundry area. Guests are often given comfort kits (bath towels, hand towels, slippers, candies, gum and sunscreen) and toiletry kits (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, tooth brushes, toothpaste, razors and shaving cream) to provide some of the necessities of home.

Currently, the Ronald McDonald House is home to 37 people who have children getting treatments and care at Florida Hospital. The goal is to reduce some of the stress and relieve a portion of the financial burden that comes with having a family member in the hospital for an extended stay. According to a study recently published in Families, Systems, and Health, a journal of the American Psychological Association, families who stayed at a Ronald McDonald House believe that being nearby helped their child recover and shortened their time in the hospital.

“By the time that families get to us they are often exhausted in every sense of the word – physically, emotionally and a lot of times financially too depending the diagnosis and the medical bills that are mounting – so it’s huge for them to come over here and have a place that they can stay,” said Meredith Bekemeyer, development manager for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida. “One of the things that we hear from the families who stay here is that they know their child is getting great care at the hospital and we take care of the families so they can relax. We’ve got a great partnership with what the clinical staffs at the hospital are doing.’’

The Orlando Magic Youth Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund (OMYF-MFF), has also developed a great partnership with the Ronald McDonald House through the years. The OMYF-MFF donated the supplies for two rooms at the facility – one twin-beds room decked out with black and blue Magic banners and a “Tween Room” for kids that features video games, pictures of Magic teams through the years, a Magic shower curtain and an encased sneaker with the signatures of Magic greats.

The Magic had 12 employees, including gregarious Community Ambassador Bo Outlaw, at the Ronald McDonald House on Thursday to whip up lunch for the people there. Led by Magic Community Relations Coordinator Gene Martin, the group created a menu that included tacos, fajitas, salad, macaroni and cheese, green beans, lemonade, sweet tea and cupcakes.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to give back, and one of our focus areas as an organization is hunger, so this is a great chance for us to give back to people and ease their minds as they are going through tough times,’’ Martin said. “It’s good for us as an organization to come together and do what we can to help these folks.’’

Outlaw said that he was in a supervisory role on Thursday because of his lack of experience in the kitchen. Outlaw joked that it’s not his “fall-off-the-bone chicken and rice” then he doesn’t know much about cooking. He even quipped: “You know those people who are always in the kitchen, but don’t know how to cook? Well, I’m that guy.”

But Outlaw said it’s no joking matter when it comes to the Magic’s commitment to making a difference in the community. Magic employees are on track to contribute more than 6,000 hours of community service for a third straight year.

“The reward is seeing people come in here and enjoy the food that we’re making, and it’s a great thing,” Outlaw said. “I’ve been here several times and this is a meal that these people don’t have to worry about making and they can just sit down and enjoy it. We understand that these people are under a lot of stress and we’re just trying to make their day as stressless as possible.

“We’ve got a motto with the Magic that we want to be World Champions on and off the court, and this is the off-the-court stuff that makes a difference even though a lot of people don’t see it,” Outlaw continued. “The people who are here understand how important this is and when you see them later and they tell you thank you, you know that’s what it’s all about. It’s just a couple of hours out of our day, but it brings great joy to people’s lives and that’s what it’s all about.’’

As for Narder, she has been able to realize the benefits of the Ronald McDonald House Charities in both Orlando and St. Petersburg because of her daughter’s repeated hospital stays. Taylor suffers from Anorexia Nervosa and a heart condition. Because of the nature of Taylor’s illnesses, she often has to be hospitalized for months at a time. Being able to escape to the Ronald McDonald House allows Tracy the opportunity to recharge her batteries while remaining close to her daughter’s hospital.

“Sometimes you just need an escape and this is a great place to come to,’’ said Narder, a Tampa resident. “If Taylor needs me, I can be there in a minute and I love that. That’s the most comforting thing. If she wants me or she’s having a bad night she can’t call the nurse and say, ‘Hug me because I’m having a bad night.’ Now, it’s nice to be able to be there immediately for my daughter.”