A Brother’s Mission to Honor His Sister

To honor his sister Chelsea’s legacy, Nick Wheeler began a fundraiser in her name to benefit RMHC Pittsburgh and Morgantown, a place that his sister cared about, and his family came to rely on.

In 2015, Chelsea had an organ transplant. Developing complications two years later, she passed away in the summer of 2017. Staying at the Pittsburgh House throughout her medical journey, her family found it to be a much-appreciated resource during her long hospital stays.

Nick notes the fundraiser began simply. Hosting it between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Chelsea’s two favorite holidays, he and his sister, Julia, made flyers and reached out to friends and family for donations. With the money raised, he purchased the most needed items on the Charity’s Wish List. Now in its fourth year, this special project has grown, reaching more people than ever. Continuing to purchase from the Wish List, in 2023, Nick bought dishwashers for family apartments that needed replacements.

Knowing the support the Charity provided his family, Nick’s mission to honor his sister continues through his commitment to help others.

“The Ronald McDonald House provided so much for us and gives so much to other families on a daily basis. It only feels right to give back to them each year as a way to say thank you and to keep my sister’s name alive,” said Nick.

House Volunteer – Bryanna

Bryanna shares her family’s journey and why she supports the Ronald McDonald House.

When I was born, I spent several weeks in the hospital hours from home, and there wasn’t a Ronald McDonald House nearby. To stay close to me, my family lived in a camper in the hospital parking lot.

My great-grandmother cooked in the camper to make sure my mom always had a meal to eat after a long day in the hospital with me. What a difference this made for her.

Supporting families at Ronald McDonald House is a part of my life that I could never give up. I am inspired by my own family’s journey and the challenges we faced when I was an infant.

Each time I am at the Ronald McDonald House, I am reminded of my family’s journey and how the Charity could have helped them while I was in the hospital. The Charity provides the most basic things that can be taken for granted in life. Hot showers, laundry facilities, meals–all of this and so much more is possible at the Ronald McDonald House. I see first-hand how these comforts of home impact families who stay there and what it means to be so close to your child during their medical journey.

I often say that supporting the Ronald McDonald House is contagious. My family and friends are my biggest supporters when it comes to helping at the Charity. No matter how I choose to help, they are right there doing it with me. We understand the difference this organization makes for families and the importance of keeping it going.


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Red Shoe Society Member – Kayla

Kayla Braznok’s reason to volunteer at RMHC Pittsburgh and Morgantown is very important to her. When Kayla’s daughter Karly was born, she was struggling with her breathing and was immediately transported to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. There, Karly was diagnosed with Pierre Robin Sequence and a chromosome deletion. She was in the hospital for nearly two months. During that time, the Ronald McDonald House became a second home to Kayla.

About a year ago, Kayla was looking for ways to give back to the Charity when she came across the Red Shoe Society. The Red Shoe Society is a group of young professionals that supports RMHC Pittsburgh and Morgantown families.  Once she learned more about the group, she knew she had to join.

“For me being a part of the Red Shoe Society means we all work together to bring joy and happiness to families. When I was staying there the little things meant a lot and I know how much they will mean to somebody else,” said Kayla.

Since joining the group, she has volunteered at special events like FlightFest, a fundraiser benefiting the Charity and helped during a special Red Shoe Society Day of baking sweet treats with the families.

Kayla’s desire to help at the Charity does not stop with the Red Shoe Society. As a 12-year employee at the Uniontown McDonald’s, she also participates in the yearly toy collection drive held by MAAK Alamo LLC . All 19 restaurants partake in this special project to bring extra holiday cheer to the Ronald McDonald House.

“It is such a wonderful thing for so many people to come together and help round up gifts for children who cannot go home for Christmas,” said Kayla.

Additionally, Kayla recently hosted a dinner for the families at Ronald McDonald House Pittsburgh in honor of her daughter’s seventh birthday.

“The Charity does so much for the kids and families, and I enjoy helping in ways that I can,” said Kayla.

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Making a Change One Tab at a Time 

“Be the Change” that is title of the fourth-grade class project at Broadford Elementary in Oakland, Maryland. At the beginning of the school year, every student in the class chose something to do that would help change the world. Some students are helping animal shelters, others are making baked goods for organizations, Ryleigh is collecting pull tabs for the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh and Morgantown.

Ronald McDonald House Morgantown is a special place for Ryleigh and her family. Ten years ago, Ryleigh was born premature at 30 weeks. Needing to stay in a hospital that was nearly an hour from home for the first 35 days of her life, Ryleigh’s parents stayed across the street at Ronald McDonald House Morgantown.

“It is such a great organization,” said Alysha, Ryleigh’s mom. “I don’t know what we would have done without it.”

Beginning her project in November 2022, Ryleigh set a goal of collecting 30 gallons of pull tabs. To achieve this, Ryleigh, with the help of her family, hung posters in the community, shared on social media and set up drop-off boxes at Kitzmiller Elementary School and the Vanity Station Hair Salon in Oakland Maryland. They even have local bars and restaurants collecting tabs for the project. And as of January 2023, Ryleigh has surpassed her 30 gallon goal to now having collected more than 100 galllons of pull tabs. And she is not done yet. The project goes until April 2023.

Once the project is complete, the tabs will be taken to a local recycling center and the money will be donated to the Charity to support the families who stay there. Each year more than 1,000 families rely on the Pittsburgh and Morgantown Houses to be near their sick children.

Staying at the Ronald McDonald House gave Ryleigh’s family the comfort they needed when their daughter was in the hospital. And now, a decade later, Ryleigh is ensuring other families have that same support. Ryleigh is making a change one tab at a time.

A Family Gives Back

Ilana and Dan stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Loma Linda, California when their son David was born. David spent the first two weeks of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit before his parents could bring him home to Pittsburgh. Their stay at the Ronald McDonald House made all the difference in their lives during that time and they have never forgotten it.

“It was an environment where everyone cared,” said Ilana. “We were always with people who understood what we were going through.”

As the new parents arrived home with their son, their hearts were filled with gratitude for the kindness that was extended to them while far from home. Kindness that they would one day return to others facing the same situation as they did.

“We have a tremendous amount of gratitude. The Ronald McDonald House was there for us during a very difficult time,” said Ilana.

In their hometown of Pittsburgh, Ilana and Dan gathered their friends and began making meals for the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in their city. Ilana calls their meals “Love Food” because she knows first-hand the love a warm meal brings to these families.

In addition, Ilana created a family spinner game to help her son communicate. The spinner has conversation prompts such as share a highlight, a challenge, or a lowlight to get kids talking.

“It presents a safe space for kids and families to talk and get closer,” said Ilana.

Knowing how this game could also help children who are receiving medical care, Ilana donated spinners to families at the House.

“It gets kids who are in the hospital to talk with their parents, nurses, doctors, psychologists about things that may be painful to them,” said Ilana.

Today, David is 12. He enjoys music, playing football and video games and being with his friends. And though the pandemic has temporarily suspended the opportunity to make meals in-house, both Ilana and Dan look forward to the day when they can get back to the Ronald McDonald House kitchen to provide their “Love Food” to those needing the same comfort and support that they found more than a decade ago.

Apron Angels

When Toni, Marsha, Jeannie and Terry were on their way home from a girl’s trip, they talked about what they could do together to help others. Their children were now grown and they wanted to use their time to do something fulfilling. After much discussion, they came up with an idea that led them to Ronald McDonald House Morgantown.

For five years now, this group has been coming to RMH Morgantown on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month to prepare dinner for the families who stay there. They are known to everyone around the House as Apron Angels.

“I still remember serving that first meal, we smiled the whole way home. It was so rewarding,” said Toni.

Since then, the original group of four has grown. Other family and friends have joined them in helping make the home-cooked meals. It takes the group 3.5 hours to prepare each buffet style meal. Their menu is always different and includes a variety of meats, side dishes and desserts. In addition to preparing a hot dinner, they also prepare ready-to-cook meals which include soups and crockpot recipes to be heated up for enjoyment when there are no scheduled volunteer meal groups.

Throughout their experience, Apron Angels has enjoyed getting to know so many of the families they have been cooking for. “You think you are doing something for someone else and in turn, they are doing something for you,” Marsha said.

Each year more than 800 meals are prepared through the Meals from the Heart Program at both RMH Pittsburgh and RMH Morgantown. Individuals and volunteer groups just like Apron Angels donate their time to give our families a chance to dine and unwind so that they can be refreshed for their child in the hospital, without the worry of having to prepare a meal themselves.

If you would like to get involved with the Meals from the Heart Program at either RMH Pittsburgh or RMH Morgantown, please click Meal Programs.

Apron Angels Volunteer Group at RMH Morgantown