Kathy & Jason Fernau first became aware of the power of RMHC in early 2004, when their six-week-old daughter Jillian was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Albany Medical Center with pertussis (whooping cough).
The RMH Family Room turned out to be a great source of comfort for their family during Jillian’s week-long stay in the hospital. In the Family Room, they found a place for their 14-year-old son – Henry – to spend time, find a quiet place to rest and access phones and computers to provide updates about Jillian’s progress to worried family and friends. It was a relief to have snacks and drinks that didn’t come from costly vending machines.
After Jillian recovered, Kathy and a friend who had also used the RMH Family Room decided to give back. They contacted the House about becoming In-House Volunteers. Jason came along on one of their shifts and was instantly hooked. After that, the Fernaus began volunteering regularly at the House as a family.
The Fernaus started with a four-hour shift on a Sunday morning once a month. Kathy focused on answering the phones and the guest check-ins/check-outs. Jason and their son Henry would handle small jobs that required more physical labor, like yard work or hanging/taking down the huge holiday wreath. Jillian, who was only 2 when they first started, would be given tasks like straightening couch cushions (one of her favorites) or helping to unload the dishwasher. While Henry, now 23, currently lives in Brooklyn, Kathy, Jason and Jillian still volunteer every other Sunday morning, with a goal of completing 100 volunteer hours each year.
The Little Ambassador
Jillian, now nine, is known as “RMH’s little ambassador.” She is a top heart seller at our Radiothon (mom and dad also volunteer), often raising over $200 in one day. The Fernaus also host an annual “Caroling for Kids” party in their neighborhood, and Jillian speaks about RMHC and our mission to her school’s Penny Harvest group.
When asked what advice they would give to prospective RMHC volunteers, the Fernaus said, “Do it early, and do it often! There are so many ways for families to volunteer and help out. Children learn what they live, and if volunteering is just part of their life as they grow up, it will be continued into their adult life.”