Rose, Bud, Thorn

Rose, Bud, Thorn

Mark Destino

Perspective helps paint a vivid picture of the different experiences that each of us have when facing similar trials and tribulations. In mid-March when COVID-19 began to impact daily operations and life for families at the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland, only a handful of staff remained to provide essential services; their duties were more vital than ever. Familiar faces turned into deeper relationships and stronger bonds were formed. Mark Destino, Facility Operations Manager, shared his perspectives on the current state of life at the Ronald McDonald House, the hope that the future holds for those still at the House, and the eager anticipation of those waiting to return to their “home-away-from-home.”

“Thank you.” Those are such welcome words. We hear those words a lot at the House. These days those words resonate new meaning. In early March, when the world changed, we made the decision to keep the House open to families who were already living here; for the time being no new families would be allowed. It made sense. Our volunteer program would be suspended, only a handful of essential staff would remain to tend to the families’ needs and run the day-to-day operations. That made sense too. It all happened so quickly. The familiar, kind faces that we saw yesterday were now somewhere else, out of reach. All of the work that we relied on so many to perform: meals, laundry, cleaning, maintenance, navigating, would now be handled by only a few. How?

The handful of staff who were able to stay and keep the front of the House functioning did. There was a confident “leaning in”, a gravitational pull of sorts that brought us together, moved us forward. Soon enough the practical decisions were made and schedules were formed. Then day after day, masks on, steamed glasses, chins out the work commenced. There were new distancing rules to create and communicate, new signage to post, meals to plan, mail to deliver (so many Amazon boxes!), gardens to plant and weed, touch points to disinfect, walls to repaint…so much. But now done with a unique form of energy and purpose.

A day in mid-May, after the lunches were prepped and delivered upstairs to the guest rooms and the counters tidied up, three of us were standing in the kitchen work-chatting as we do. Someone threw out the idea of having a staff cohort get together on Thursday nights. An after work, “sit around the campfire and unwind” get together. No shop talk allowed. We had been grinding and needed a break and something to look forward to. The next Thursday night it would be.

The first night, back in the resident garden, five of us showed up. We sat around the fire and tried to let the work, worry and responsibilities billow away. For some reason, it was good to be away from the work while still attached to the House. Perhaps it was the comfort that comes with the routine of the work at hand. Or maybe an attempt to preserve the sense of protectiveness we gathered through this new kind of trust—a trust we had in one another from working along side each other. We needed to believe that each of the others had taken every precautionary measure to keep us all safe. No exceptions. We were well aware of the unique time and place we were in with so much uncertainty to consider. So much work at hand and ahead, but we had that renewed purpose and felt fortunate to have it.

A little tradition grew out of those fireside evenings, the around the horn “Rose, Bud, Thorn” sharing. Each of us were given a turn to share the Rose (best thing happened today), The Bud (things that seem hopeful), Thorn (worst thing today). The Thorns, costly flat tires, the angry drivers we faced on the commute into work, the need for a haircut or color, the leaky faucets, the absence of travel plans, the inevitable departure of the families we have grown so attached to and of course the colossal weight of the world outside the walls of our House.

The Buds, plans to FaceTime with grandparents, the garlic sprouting in the vegetable garden, an upcoming birthday, a date to kayak the river, next Tuesday’s s’mores. Roses, and there are far more Roses than Thorns or Buds. The over-the-mask smiles in the eyes of the kids living here, the daily parking lot bike parade with the staff and the families of the House, seeing the garden volunteers reemerge and lovingly tend to the whole garden, summer, the line of purple wave petunias in the East 105th flower boxes, sidewalk chalk drawings between the birches, lawn yoga, and of course those kids well enough to come back to the House to reunite with their families. And without saying twice, a safe welcoming place from which to work and live.

In the weeks ahead we look to welcome new families back to the House. It is what we do and have always done. We extend our open arms to families in need. With the reopening will come excitement and a new way of living in community. It will also be coupled with a loss of that protective cocoon we have created for our families and ourselves. We can do this—together.