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Lighthouse Volunteering Spotlight: Joanna’s Story

By Joanna Colling

Lighthouse has been partnering and volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House Charities, an organization dedicated to keeping families together and near the medical care they need, through donation drives and other local activities since the dawn of the company’s community engagement program. Recently, a member of the Lighthouse team decided to share her own personal story around these efforts and why she is so passionate about our partnership with this particular organization.

I am a big fan of the Ronald McDonald House Charities and appreciate that Lighthouse partners with this nonprofit a few times a year to raise funds, stock the organization’s chapter house pantries, and conduct other activities to support the mission. I personally feel connected to the organization due to the massive impact it has had on my friend, Gwen Hartley, and her family.

Gwen, her husband, Scott, and I all went to school together in Andover, Kansas and Gwen has always been a dear friend and close to my heart. During both of her pregnancies, her babies were diagnosed with microcephaly and the doctors gave them zero chance of living past a year or two. Gwen rejected their advice to terminate her pregnancies and has dedicated her life for the last 18 plus years to giving her girls, Claire and Lola, a quality and loving life. She lost Claire after her 18th birthday in December 2018, and, less than a year later in October 2019, lost Lola after several infections sent her to the hospital at just 13 years old. This was a terribly stressful and exhausting time for their family and the Ronald McDonald House was there to give them the support and rest they so desperately needed.

Gwen shared with me that the children’s hospital, where Lola was hospitalized, was a full 25-minute drive from home so neither she nor her husband felt comfortable going home and being that far away from Lola when she was struggling so much and fighting to live. The hospital had a few sleeping rooms very close down the hall, but they ended up closing those to the parents while Lola was an inpatient. Someone suggested they try the Ronald McDonald House, which was less than five minutes away. Gwen and Scott reached out and the house took them in.

Gwen told to me, “The rooms are like a five-star hotel in some fancy city – beautifully decorated, memory foam beds, everything you could ever want or need was there. They had rooms full of toiletries and personal care items for families who were life-flighted there with nothing but a purse. We are touched they helped us and allowed us to stay there — we technically were 10 miles too close, but they made an exception for Lola and for us. We are forever grateful.”

My hometown of Wichita recently featured the Ronald McDonald House that supported Gwen’s family and shares their full story here. I am thrilled that Lighthouse supports the Ronald McDonald House Charities throughout the year and will be participating in the annual holiday drive in Lola’s honor.

For more information about the Lighthouse Cares program or how we get involved with the Ronald McDonald House Charities, click here.