If you’ve ever been to the Boston Ronald McDonald House, chances are you’ve met Janet, the Day Manager who’s been at the House for the past 30 years. And if you’ve met her, it’s certain that you’ll never forget her. Her smile. Her warmth. Her jokes, and as one volunteer called it, “her complete and utter lovability.”
For Janet, the House isn’t just a job, but a second home. “Actually,” she laughs, “I’m here more than I’m at home.”
How did she first become involved? It all started many years ago, before the first Ronald McDonald House had even emerged as a dream. Janet’s daughter Alissa, then 11, came down with rheumatic fever. For four months, Alissa lived in Children’s Hospital. Janet spent her days by Alissa’s side. “We were lucky, though,” says Janet. “We lived nearby. We had family and friends around, and we had a home to go to at night. It was harder for other families, especially those who lived far away.” Janet remembers having to step over parents sleeping on the floor in the hospital hallways. Once she took a mother home so she had a bed to sleep in.
Many years after Alissa recovered from her illness, and life returned to normal, Janet happened to hear about the opening of the Boston Ronald McDonald House, a place that would provide a home-away-from-home for families who have children struggling with cancer. Her first thought was, “That’s where I want to be.” She started as a volunteer on Friday afternoons, and before she knew it, she was there five days a week! It was a natural fit.
“I adore kids,” admits Janet, and that quickly becomes apparent to anyone who walks into the House. And kids love her! Some call her Grandma or Mi Abuela. Maybe it’s Janet’s spirit that kids connect to. Her playfulness. That contagious laugh. As one volunteer said, “Janet’s like a kid trapped in a 80-something-year-old body. I don’t know how she does it, but she never gets old.”
For many years, families who came to the House would find her husband, Mert, at her side. Though we sadly lost Mert in 2008, his memory is very much alive in the House. Janet tells of the time he was greeted at the front door by a precocious 7-year-old girl. Mert, who had not one hair on his head, leaned down and told the little girl what beautiful red hair she had, certain that she would notice that he had none. Without hesitation, she removed her wig, and asked Mert if he would like to try it on because he’s the one who needed it.
“Kids are smart,” Janet says, “Smarter than adults! Sometimes they’re the ones who take care of the grownups.” Janet remembers one little girl, Rosa, whose family had lived in the house for months. Rosa was about 10, and she knew she was going home for good. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do. Before she and her family left, Janet knocked on their door. Rosa answered. “I’m going to miss you,” Janet told her, “and I’ll think of you everyday.” When they hugged, Rosa whispered in Janet’s ear, “Please give my mom a hug and kiss, too, okay?”
Everyone who walks into the House becomes part of a family – part of Janet’s family! They laugh together. Cry together. Share stories of their days and dreams.
And she is loved. When we asked families and volunteers to share their thoughts about Janet, the letters came pouring in.
One volunteer remembered hanging out with Janet at the front desk. It was a quiet afternoon, and she and Janet were having a serious conversation about world politics. In the middle of their discussion, Janet proclaimed, “I don’t want to talk about politics. It’s too depressing. Let’s talk about love!”
She makes people laugh. But she is a listener, too. One mother wrote, “Janet is one of the most giving, loving individuals I have ever met. Her dedication to the families at the Ronald McDonald House is so inspiring. Her life is dedicated to helping, listening and loving…She is a true inspiration.”
Another wrote, “Janet is the heart and soul of the Boston Ronald McDonald House. Although she sometimes likes to act as if she’s a tough cookie, she can’t hide the fact that she’s one of the sweetest, softest cookies around. Just don’t challenge her solitaire skills! We love her very much.”
Janet has retired from her role as Day Manager, but the House is forever grateful for her years of service. Here’s to Janet, one of our hidden treasures!