By Don Lowe

Since registering the first guest August 20, 1998, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Four States at 3402 South Jackson Street in Joplin has served over 3,330 families from 38 states and two foreign countries. In celebration of its 25th year, and in this month focused on love, Show Me The Ozarks is honoring the work done by Executive Director Annette Thurston, her staff and the team of community volunteers who assure each family finds comfort and support during some of life’s toughest times.

“It is approximately 56 footsteps from the bottom of the sidewalk to the front door of our Ronald McDonald House and 35 footsteps from that sixth floor elevator to the door of our Ronald McDonald Family Room in Mercy hospital,” said Thurston. “Open either door and you will meet a loving, caring staff and volunteers who open their hearts to each family member, be it mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma or grandpa who is experiencing one of the most stressful times of their lives – a child with a serious illness. They are welcomed with open arms. They soon learn they are in a safe, secure place. That staff will strive to meet every need they may have, be it physical, emotional or financial.”

Here are just a few of the families who have received that support and caring:

The Ybarra Family

Miami, Oklahoma

In December 2021, Derekka and Carlos Ybarra gave birth to their daughter, Jaida-Claire, who needed to be cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit for a few extra days. When they heard they could stay at Ronald McDonald House, they felt at ease.

“The Ronald McDonald House experience we had brings tears to my eyes,” Derekka Ybarra said. “It was first-class service to myself and my husband during some of our saddest days in life. Leaving the hospital without your baby at the time of your discharge was heartbreaking. However, I could look across the hospital parking lot knowing my baby was not far from me. We truly cannot express enough gratitude to the staff and all the volunteers.”

The Hanks Family

Webb City, Missouri

Twins Brock and Bristol were born at 31 weeks, and the Hankses had four other children at their home in Webb City. That meant they couldn’t live at Ronald McDonald House, but Janelle Hanks said, “The Ronald McDonald House still managed to provide so much for us.”

The family had lunch and snack breaks at the house between the twins’ feeding times at the NICU. “It was so nice that I was able to run over and have a warm meal and enjoy some quality time with people who genuinely cared about me and my family‘s well-being,” said Janelle.

Today, Brock and Bristol are healthy and energetic 3-year-olds, and their parents now volunteer to cook meals at the house for other families like them.

The Kramer Family

Coffeyville, Kansas

Jason and Lindsay Kramer stayed at Ronald McDonald House twice. In 2019, they stayed for 22 nights as they awaited their daughter Lydia. Again in 2022, they used the house for four nights while their son James was in the NICU.

“Being at the hospital was hard and scary and confusing, and the Ronald McDonald House was kind of a little lighthouse for us in a dark place,” said Lindsay Kramer, “The staff here were just so encouraging. They listened to us, they celebrated little milestones with us.”

The Sperry Family

Pittsburg, Kansas

When Katie Sperry was pregnant with her twins, she anticipated her girls would come early, but she and her husband, Jonathan, were not prepared for them to arrive 12 weeks early. On a snowy evening in January 2018, Katie’s water broke, and she and her husband drove to Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, Missouri. The next day, Adele and Ivy were born. The Sperrys searched for ways they could remain close to the hospital and their girls and learned about Ronald McDonald House and felt instantly relieved. They spent 58 nights at the house. 

Katie appreciated the close proximity of the house to the hospital and how house volunteers and staff members were so welcoming to their two older children, Vivienne and Jude. 

Today, Adele and Ivy are happy and healthy. 

The Carnahan Family

Neosho, Missouri

Cassie and Justin Carnahan gave birth to their daughter, Abby, September 16, 2014, at only 28 weeks gestation. Abby weighed just 1 pound, 4 ounces and required a lot of care in the NICU. While she grew strong in the NICU, Abby’s parents and her brother, Connor, stayed at Ronald McDonald House of the Four States. 

Cassie said, “The Ronald McDonald House is a major blessing for this time so we could be close to Abby.” 

After 125 nights at Ronald McDonald House, the Carnahan family got to take Abby home. Today, she is a beautiful 8-year-old girl.