Living the Dream

Six months ago, Deanna Negrete volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House as part of the Student Leaders for Service (SLS). Her experience was so fulfilling that she advocated that SLS visit the Ronald McDonald House for their Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Six months ago, Deanna Negrete volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House as part of the Student Leaders for Service (SLS). Her experience was so fulfilling that she advocated that SLS visit the Ronald McDonald House for their Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Around 40 students met at Victor’s Restaurant in Ondine Hall early Monday for breakfast and a speech from faculty member Nicole Browning. They were preparing for the SLS-sponsored “Day of Service,” a volunteer event that is held during new student week, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Earth Day. Browning spoke on the “humanity of our shared existence,” the importance of volunteering and what Martin Luther King Jr. Day should mean to the volunteers.

“We have become convinced that the quality of other people’s lives does not affect the quality of our own,” said Browning, who was also a 2004 President’s Award recipient for community engagement.

Student Leaders for Service has had a day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for five years now, but this was first year that they planned it in conjunction with the Portland State Martin Luther King Jr. planning committee, resulting in a large increase in volunteer registration, said SLS Program Coordinator Kyle Bray.

Student Leaders for Service needed 50 volunteers for the multiple events, which also included helping out at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, cleaning a cat shelter and gardening at the Lane Learning Garden. Over 70 PSU students, faculty and community members registered, Bray said, but only about 35 were in attendance.

“It’s a holiday, so people often choose to stay in bed,” Bray said.

In addition to the 35 volunteers, 20 members of SLS volunteered. Bray said he was pleased with the turnout nonetheless, and thinks Martin Luther King Jr. Day is particularly important because of King’s service-orientated message.

“He would think it’s wonderful that people are using his holiday to help out,” Bray said.

At the Ronald McDonald House, four of the volunteers cleaned the toys, common areas and playrooms of the family-orientated residence. Negrete said that during her time volunteering at the McDonald House once a week for six months, many of her interactions with the children and their families touched her heart.

One “special little girl” Negrete met was Ashley, who has had over 250 surgeries-one a week-since her trachea transplant years ago. Ashley is six years old.

Julie Ramil, assistant house manager for the McDonald House, said she also fell for Ashley during her and her family’s nine-month stay. She said Ashley just started school and is doing well. She has been making friends and even has a second-grade “boyfriend.”

Ramil became involved with the Ronald McDonald House when her family had a health crisis years ago. Her eldest son has had 24 surgeries, and his medical troubles became so critical that they had to move to St. Louis for treatment. It was there that Ramil and her son were introduced to the Ronald McDonald House. She said the volunteers treated them like family, and once she got back to Portland seven years ago, she immediately volunteered at the Portland McDonald House to give back. She became a full-time staff worker three years ago, and said it was strange to receive pay for work that she loves to do.

Volunteers like Negrete help by planning social events and interacting with the families and their children. Negrete said during her time at the house she planned bingo nights, arts and crafts events, and cooked food. Ramil said many of the volunteers bake cookies, which makes the children feel more at home.

“The smell of cookies reminds them of something familiar,” Ramil said. “It reminds them of home.”

Volunteers are essential to running charities like the Ronald McDonald House, Ramil said, and the dedication of the PSU volunteers that visited on Martin Luther King Jr. Day made her wish she could go out and volunteer as well. Some volunteers at the house have been there for over 20 years, she said. Martin Luther Jr. Day reminds people of the importance of giving back to the community, but Ramil stressed that there are many more days in the year to volunteer.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone to go out and give,” Ramil said. “Hopefully many people will get out there more than just one day.”

The day of service, in addition to helping out these organizations, reminds PSU students that they can make a difference, Negrete said. The large number of people volunteering, instead of a single volunteer, is helpful because it can expedite the process of cleaning, she said.

Negrete’s advice to students interested in volunteering is to look around for something interesting to them, which will make them more likely to dive into their work deeper.

“Look for something you are interested in,” Negrete said. “It should always be fun. It should never feel like a chore.”

Feedback from the sights was very positive, Bray said. The head of the Lane Learning Garden in particular said the work the team of PSU volunteers accomplished in half a day would have taken five months to accomplish without them. He hopes that the volunteers enjoyed their time at their sights enough to start volunteering more frequently.

“That’s always the goal. It’s wonderful to have people to come out for one day, but if we can get people hooked to start volunteering that’s huge,” Bray said.