Tony Pearse is a McDonald’s licensee who has been involved with Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) since he was a teenager. Growing up, his mother worked for McDonald’s and would often rope him into tasks with the charity – including furnishing RMCH houses, helping with cleaning duties and getting on the tools at working bees once.
But while Tony might have started with mops and drills, he eventually worked his way up over the years – first joining RMHC’s Board, then working as Deputy Chairman and, now, Tony is the current Chairman of RMCH’s Tasmanian and Victorian chapter.
“Everyone's got their charities, but I am just passionate about what Ronald McDonald House do, what they stand for and the way they do it,” says Tony. “It's been a lot of work, but I think I've got a lot more out of it than they've got out of me in a way, because it's just a good grounding and to help sick kids and their families going through the worst time in their life is, is amazing to be a part of that.”
What does Ronald McDonald House do?
There’s probably a lot of stuff people don't know about Ronald McDonald House. First, they provide accommodation for regional or interstate families that have had to move to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne for treatment. Such a service is critical for parents who might arrive at night, learn their child has cancer and needs urgent treatment, then have nowhere to stay.
It's not just the parents who will stay at Ronald McDonald House, it’s also the patient’s brothers and sisters too. Whole families will potentially spend hundreds of nights at a Ronald McDonald House.
Another challenge for children undergoing lengthy medical treatments is that they can miss out on schooling and be separated from their school friends. Usually once they are better and return to school, they find their friends have moved ahead in their schooling without them, leaving patients feeling lonely. RMCH has developed in-house learning programs so that kids don’t fall behind.
“Research shows that it can be quite difficult mentally for children, especially after a battle that they've already been through, to go back to school,” says Tony. “The learning programs were developed so that while the child is getting treatment, tutors go in and teach them so they can transition back to school easily when they are ready to return. They can get back to their lives without the psychological damage of losing friends and being in a different year level to the people they know.”
Ronald McDonald House even have family rooms in the hospitals where families can get respite in the hospital wards. Whether that be for coffee, tea, a little room for the parents to have some sleep or do some laundry - just a bit of normality.
But funding long-term accommodation, education programs and support facilities for families can be a financial challenge.
The start of an adventure fundraiser
Tony says there is a misconception that RMCH is part of the McDonald’s restaurant business when in fact it is a charity partner. It holds many events throughout the year to help fund their not-for-profit initiatives.
“One day we were talking about doing different things. Inspired Adventures came up in conversation and we jumped at the idea of combining travel with fundraising.”
“We put the idea of a charity adventure fundraiser on the Larapinta Trail out to our donors. Then we brought together a group of 12 people based on dates that would work for them, plus allowing a bit of time for training to get them ready for the challenge. We just went out there and we had a great time.”
Tony recalls that one of the big surprises was receiving a letter every day on the trail from someone staying at Ronald McDonald House – each one from a sick child thanking them for their hard work and how much it means to them.
“My daughter and I would have a bit of a cry and we did little videos of us opening them every day just to send to people and update them on what day of the trek we were on, who the note was from and share a bit about their story. It was such a great reminder about what we were walking for every day.”
When they weren’t trekking, the new travel buddies were together around the campfire, sitting and chatting. And as the days went on people started to open up more as the days went on. Some people had children that had experienced Ronald McDonald House or passed away. Those moments that were quite emotional, and then the walk was a positive experience with guides leading the way.
“Between the 12 of us, we raised $80,000, which was amazing. People just got behind us through things like Everyday Hero pages on Facebook, And Charlotte gave a little talk at school sharing the adventure she was going to take and asked if anyone could donate $10 or whatever they had. It was really good from that point of view to get the word out, and people are happy to donate when they know you're doing it for the right cause and all the little bits add up.”
Tony says the most memorable day was when they woke up to start trekking up Mount Sonder at 2am in the pitch black, wearing head torches to navigate the rugged terrain. The group trekked six hours up to watch the sunrise from the top of the top of the mountain, which was hard work but very rewarding.
“We thought we were doing it tough trekking for seven days, but when you have children saying they’d been living in the House for 300 nights, it makes your problems feel so small.”
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