Toward the end of seventh grade, I unknowingly took on the most daunting task of my life. Elected president of my middle school's community service organization, I was thrilled, but I soon realized that members' idea of community service was hosting a bake sale to raise money for a pizza party. I knew that if I were going to be president, I wanted to get the organization noticed and show people what it was all about. We could make a difference! I didn't want my position to be just a few words on a transcript, I wanted it to be something people would remember. The only problem was how to accomplish this.
As president, it was my duty to go with other volunteers to deliver cookies to the Ronald McDonald house. So, one afternoon we took our cookies downtown, though, to be perfectly honest, I only went because as president I had to. I had no idea what the house was all about and frankly just wanted to toss the cookies on the doorstep.
I was horrified to discover that Ronald McDonald Houses are "homes away from home" where families with seriously ill children stay during treatment. I had only been to a nursing home, never anywhere like this, so I assumed the Ronald McDonald House would be full of sick people wandering around in bathrobes and slippers. After bringing the cookies to the kitchen we had a tour and saw where the children and families stay. The manager explained that most are here from six months to two years. If I lived anywhere that long, I would basically call it home.
The first room we were shown had two tired-looking twin beds with garage-sale blankets. In the corner was a chair that had obviously seen better days. In the bathroom was a rainbow of donated towels. After this depressing room, I was pretty sure I didn't want to see more, but the next room was totally different. A school group had donated items, including teddy bear covers and chairs, to make it feel like a real bedroom. The second our tour guide explained this, I forgot my fears and decided this was what our club's project should be.
Over the course of that year we held bake sales, collected donations and basically scrounged money from anywhere we could. In the end we collected $800 and were able to move to phase two: picking a theme. This was the most fun - we got to go shopping! We eventually settled on sports as the theme so that both girls and boys could enjoy the room. We bought comforters, a baseball lamp, posters of basketball and baseball players, towels, a shower curtain, colorful shelves, and even a small table for kids to sit and color at. It was such an awesome and indescribable feeling to know that kids who were going through something so painful that I probably couldn't even begin to relate to were going to get a little bit of home.
I walked out of the Ronald McDonald House vowing to volunteer there next summer, and realized that my goal of getting the organization remembered didn't really matter. All that mattered was that we had made a difference. I didn't care if no one noticed. I had noticed, most important, the kids there had noticed.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.