Partnership amplifies Christ’s healing care at St. Joseph

Rebecca and Bobby Boenigk were instrumental in bring the Ronald McDonald Family Room to St. Joseph Hospital in Bryan. (Photo courtesy Chelsea Denning)

By Mary P. Walker
Senior Correspondent

A family faces many pressures when a child is in the hospital. Not only do they have medical concerns, they also want to be close by and comfort their child in what can be a painful and frightening experience. In addition, time away from home weighs on the morale of the whole family and can cause financial strain. 
CHI St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital in Bryan is committed to bringing the healing ministry of Jesus to all who walk through the doors. Ronald McDonald House Charities Central Texas (RMHC) has the mission of making children with illnesses and injuries happier and healthier by providing a “home-away-from-home,” where families can rest, refresh and support each other. 
Both organizations decided to work together to make a hospital stay a bit easier. On March 4, they dedicated the Ronald McDonald Family Room on the hospital’s third floor, where families can experience an oasis of peace in the midst of the pediatric, maternity and neonatal departments.
“Being able to offer this resource to patients and their families is a tremendous blessing. It makes such an impact on the children we care for and their families, helping to speed up the recovery process by having their families close,” said Ricardo Diaz, chief operating officer for St. Joseph Hospital. In addition, research shows that having family nearby helps a child cope better, and allows the family to communicate more effectively with their child’s medical team.
The 700-square-foot space has two bedrooms, a living area, kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities. Families with hospitalized children and young adults up to age 21 are welcome to take a break from the stress of being in the hospital. They can even make arrangements to spend the night. The 21-year age limit covers the families of most college students, making the room especially welcome for parents traveling to the university community. 
Rebecca and Bobby Boenigk were the driving force behind the local effort to create this place of peace, comfort and support. When their son was born 24 years ago, he had to be transported to Temple for neonatal care. There, the Boenigks spent a night in a Ronald McDonald House. The care and community they experienced with other parents made an impression. They hoped that someday they could bring the same resources to the Brazos Valley.  
As the Bryan/College Station area grew in population, the Boenigks realized that the time was right to ask RMHC to consider sponsoring a local family room. RMHC agreed that the Brazos Valley was a good place to expand their outreach and services. They asked the three largest area hospitals if they were interested in working toward that goal. St. Joseph Hospital was the first to say “yes.” 
The community also enthusiastically responded, quickly raising the $125,000 needed. Community commitment is also reflected in the features of the room. Students from the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University helped to develop the design. The room had to be accessible to those with disabilities, safe for active children and offer a welcoming, calming atmosphere.
The many windows in the hospital allowed the students to work with natural lighting, and wall colors and furniture were chosen to promote serenity and comfort. The artwork is both colorful and calming, reflecting beautiful elements in nature.
Of course, a Catholic hospital also strives to meet the spiritual needs of patients and families. Hospital chaplain Msgr. John Malinowski led an interdenominational prayer service to bless the room. 
“The room will give families an opportunity to contact chaplains at the hospital and fulfill the hospital’s mission of promoting the healing care of Jesus Christ,” Msgr. Malinowski said. This healing care is also fostered when members of different families come together and support each other as their children receive medical care.  
Volunteers staff the room, and they offer kindness, practical help, snacks and meals. The volunteers also help those who do not use the family room. Two or three times a day, they wheel a cart through the departments that serve children, offering free toys, snacks and toiletries — a welcome gift to those parents whose child’s hospitalization was not planned.
Shannon Cashion, a parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station, is the manager of volunteers. She encourages area Catholics to consider joining Christ’s healing ministry by providing hospitality for the family room. For more information about the family room or volunteering, contact her at scashion@rmhc-ctx.org.