David Hickman Spotlight Photo

Ronald McDonald House Volunteer Spotlight: David Hickman

Beth: So how long have you been volunteering here? 

David: I started volunteering in October last year. So not that long, about nine months. 

Beth: And how did you get involved initially? 

David: I actually worked for a company that served McDonald’s operators. And that company was always involved with the House. When I first started working there, there were three of us in the company. And we sponsored a couple of golf carts at the McDonald’s golf outing. And as the company got bigger and bigger, they made more and more contributions. They sponsored more events, they sponsored more carts. And last year, in addition to other things, they actually sponsored a Super Bowl ticket raffle, where they gave away Super Bowl tickets and hotels and everything like that. 

So I was aware of it [RMHC}. I worked for that company for quite a while, since 2001. And when it came time to retire, I thought I really didn’t do a lot of volunteering before I retired. So I wanted to do something. And I was fortunate enough to be able to retire when I still had a little bit of life left that I could do something. And Ronald McDonald House was one of the charities that I wanted to get involved with. It was, you know, high on my list because of my experiences before with [RMCH] so it made more sense. 

Beth: So was most of your experience, before you started volunteering, with fundraising and things through your company? Or had you ever come to the House? 

David: I had never been to the House, and the company actually did the fundraising. But we were involved in it a little bit, you know what I mean? It was just that people were involved as much as they wanted to be. But just because of the fundraising, you get to learn about what Ronald McDonald House does, what their mission is. And it’s a pretty good mission. It’s something that is so desperately needed, and you get to feel really good about it. 

You know, I think that when you volunteer, you do it for one of two reasons, either because it’s a lot of fun, or because you get to feel really good about it. And here, you get both. It’s a great group of people to work with, I didn’t know that until I came here. I knew that I could feel like, “Yeah, I’m actually this, this actually makes a difference. This matters.” 

Beth: Was this one of the first organizations you started volunteering with after you retired? 

David: It was. I did a tiny bit while I was working. But after I retired, I did a little bit with the Meals on Wheels in Meridian. I worked there for about a little over a year. And I tried out the Food Bank in Meridian, which wasn’t really for me. So yeah, I’m pretty new to volunteering. And I’ve started volunteering here and a little bit before that over at the Morrison Center. You know, if they didn’t have volunteers, they literally couldn’t have shows. There’s not enough money to have professionally paid ushers, ticket scanners, guides, and so on. So if we didn’t have volunteers over there, the Morrison Center would literally shut down.I have the time to do that and I enjoy both.

Beth: That’s really impactful. And you’re a core volunteer here. What does that mean? 

David: So as a core volunteer, I come in every Thursday afternoon, and I work at the front desk from 1 to 5. In addition to that, I have some other responsibilities that I have taken up pretty recently. I also restock the Happy Wheels Hospitality Carts in both St. Luke’s and in St. Alphonsus. And I also help Stephanie (RMHC volunteer coordinator) out Mondays. I work as assistant to the volunteer coordinator, and do things like process applications and process groups, and those sorts of things. That’s a role that I’ve started fairly recently. So it’s gonna grow in scope a little bit. But Stephanie does an awful lot and she needs somebody to just sort of step in and do some of the grunt work so that she can get focused and do the more complex work that she needs to do. 

Beth: So did you ask if you could help her do that? Why did you start getting more involved beyond volunteering at the front desk? 

David: Well, I knew that Stephanie was overwhelmed. She always had a stack of emails that she hoped to catch up on one one day, and a desk full of paperwork that she hoped to catch up on one day, and it never happened. And I was just chatting with her one day. And she said, “What I need is somebody who can do my job, or part of my job, so that I can do the rest of it. And I need someone willing to do it without getting paid.” And I actually thought about it for quite a while—for probably two months, thinking, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to do it?” And after two months, I thought, you know, I really do. It’s what I believe in now. I like the House, I like Stephanie. It’s just another place in the House, you know, sometimes you can just see where things need to get done. And that was one of those things where I could see where things needed to get done. And I thought I could probably handle that. 

Beth: That’s really generous to take the extra time to do that.

David: Well, it’s always a little bit of a shock when you retire. Because all of a sudden, you go from being busy five days a week to doing nothing. And in my case, I was fortunate because the last couple of years, I worked part time. So I sort of got to ease into it. But I was in a spot where I was kind of considering what else I wanted to add to my regular schedule. And I like having time to do whatever you want to. But I think it’s nice to have a regular schedule where you know that every Monday, you’re going to come in and help Stephanie out with her stuff. And every Thursday, you’re going to come in and help, then you’re going to work the desk. And I was just looking to add to that something more than just a couple of times a week at the Morrison center and every Thursday afternoon here.

It’s one of those things where I feel good about it, because I’m helping. Stephanie has all these applications of volunteers or prospective volunteers who have questions. And sometimes it takes three or four days to get to those. And if I can help lower that time, if I can help compress that and people get responded to more frequently, then Stephen can probably increase her rate of how many people who expressed interest in volunteering actually become volunteers. It helps volunteers when they get to start a little bit earlier. There’s a lot more certainty, it’s not just “Hey, what happened? I applied three days ago and haven’t heard yet”. Hopefully now they will hear faster so that’s really cool. If I can process applications and that sort of thing, then that frees her up so that she can respond more quickly.

Beth: So what is your favorite part of your specific work here? 

David: It’s absolutely the people. I haven’t met anybody here who I don’t think the world of. I have a lot of admiration for everybody who works here. I really do. And every now and then there’s the appreciation of the families when they stay. But I think my favorite part of working here is what’s gone on today. Today, we were short on snack foods. And so Kristen [RMHC Communications Coordinator] got in touch with Albertsons and said, “Hey, we’re really short on snack foods, we’re getting a little bit desperate.” And Albertsons sent over two SUVs full of snack foods. And meanwhile, another woman comes in and says, “Here are a bunch of fresh flowers so that you can make bouquets and put them around the House.” And she comes in regularly. So regularly, we have these beautiful fresh bouquets around the House. And somebody else called and said, “Hey, I want to give a bouquet to every guest family who is staying here on Saturday.” When you kind of get beaten down sometimes by the bad stuff that’s going down, it really reminds you that there’s a lot of people who really care and want to do good. And that’s really my favorite part of it—that you get to feel like there’s some good in the world. 

Beth: You know, you’ve talked a lot about your appreciation for the people who are working here and the volunteers and donors, do you have any stories of seeing how those things and all these people have impacted families as they’ve come through the House doors? 

David: I know how things have impacted families. And most of the impact that you see is kind of subtle. For example, in the back, we have this playroom. And in the middle of the house, we have the secret toy closet. Our budget for toys is zero, we don’t have the money to buy toys. So every toy that is in the magic toy closets is a donation. And every toy that’s in the game room is a donation. At Christmas time, we have a secret Santa’s workshop where parents can go and get toys and games and things for Christmas. That’s what it’s for and all of that is donated.

When you walk by the playroom, and you see a kid who’s sitting there playing, they are no longer in a strange city in a strange house with things going on, and their parents whispering about things that they don’t quite understand. They’re playing and they’re normal. And it’s really cool. You know, it’s those sorts of things that make a difference. It’s when you see somebody come down and see the fresh baked cookies and grab one. And you know, you can see that it’s a tiny, tiny, tiny little thing, but it makes them a little bit happier than they were before. So a lot of it is subtle. The fact that the hallways are clean, that the area is cleaned and disinfected every day by volunteers is really cool, even though it’s a subtle thing. I have never walked past an empty space and said, “Oh that needs to be wiped down.” Because it just was cleaned. All those little things are adding up. 

So I think that for the guests that stay here it makes it a very pleasant experience in ways that in some cases they are not even aware of. It’s like there’s toys there. But the families don’t have to think about where the toys came from. And that is a lot of the role of volunteers. It’s all sort of behind the scenes, all the families know is that the things they need are available to them. And there are things that they don’t necessarily need. But isn’t it nice that they have? Isn’t it nice that somebody is bringing them flowers, or making them cookies? Isn’t it nice that there are spare socks if they left home without socks? All those little things add up to a big impact. 

Beth: So you said you’ve been here about nine months, right? In that time, have you had the opportunity to interact with people outside of the Ronald McDonald House and talk about what you’re doing, are there things that you’d like to share about what you’re doing here? 

David: Most of the people, of course, are aware of the Ronald McDonald House. Some of them are interested in it. And I’ll talk with anybody who’s interested in the House. Like I said, almost every time I come in, I am touched by some gifts that somebody has bestowed on the House. I mean, it blew me away when we got that huge donation of snack foods. I was stocking the Hospitality Cart over at St. Luke’s today. And I was going through my checklist and it had cheese crackers on it. We didn’t have cheese crackers, but now we do because of this donation. 

There were a number of items that we were either out of or are almost out of and now that snack side of the pantry is going to be bursting, which is great. It’s a great problem to have. 

Beth: So I’d like to hear more about the carts at the hospital and your role there.

David: The Happy Wheels Hospitality Carts are cute carts shaped sort of like a house. And on the carts, there are snack foods: chips and crackers, and maybe some cookies and some applesauce and juice boxes and those sorts of things. There’s water and usually some kind of sparkling water or Powerade. There’s also coffee. And there are little toys, books, coloring books, and activity books—all those sorts of things. And the cart is manned by a volunteer who takes it to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU), the neonatal or to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). And people can come up and they can take a snack, they can take a drink, they can take a toy, a coloring book, whatever it is that they need—it’s theirs. We don’t want the coloring book or the crayons back. They can bring that back to the House or take it home with them if they’re not staying at the House, whatever. And, they keep the toys and keep the games, all of that. 

Beth: So the carts are available to anyone in the hospital. 

David: Oh, yeah, absolutely. They’re not restricted. It’s for anybody who has children or a family in the NICU or the PICU. And if somebody came from a different part of the hospital, of course, they would be welcomed as well. But they tend to be rolled out to the NICU and the PICU. So that’s kind of the core audience. Some of the kids are there for appointments, and they’re waiting, and so it’s nice to have something for them to do. And then of course, the parents get a little dry throat in the summer. It’s nice to have something to drink. And, we have some things for the parents too. We have activity books that are geared towards adults. I recently took up some adult coloring books. There are books for adults to read too. So there’s things for people of all ages on the cart, and it’s just to make their stay in the waiting room a little bit nicer.

We recently restarted that at St. Alphonsus. We had it closed down. It is just the reopening after COVID. And Stephanie asked if I wanted to be involved in restocking it. I said, ”yeah, absolutely.” So I’m also new to it. But that’s pretty much what it’s there for. I think it’s really cool. We also send snack bags over to the hospitals so that people don’t have to rely on the vending machines. We try to get some sweet and salty snacks over there so that they can resolve their rumbling stomach without having to try to put quarters into a vending machine or wish they had quarters with them.

Beth: That’s very considerate of people’s needs.

David: Yeah, and that’s really what it’s about.

Beth: Has there been anything that surprised you? You said you knew a little bit about the organization before you started volunteering?

David: Oh, sure. I’d never been to a House. I didn’t know what to expect. And I was surprised by several things. I knew that we had a kitchen in the House. But I was surprised at just how complete the House is. Sometimes people come here, maybe they are medevaced from a car accident or something. And they have literally nothing. And we say, “okay, what do you need? Oh, you didn’t pack clothes. Let’s get you a change of clothes.

What else do you need, you know, laundry is right here. And yeah, there’s detergent, and there’s fabric softener. And there’s everything that you need.”

I was also just surprised at how nice it was. I didn’t have any preconceived notion about it being like, really nice, or very bare bones. But I was still just taken aback by how nice it was, you know, the living room was beautiful. And the game room for the older kids and the toy room for the younger kids—it’s really thoughtfully done. It exceeded the expectations. I didn’t know what to expect. But when I walked in, it was still like, “Whoa, this is cool.” When you do that first tour. It’s just really amazing.

Beth: Is there anything you enjoy doing outside of volunteering? 

David: Sure. Well, I like to hike.  And I have two dogs. I walk my dogs every day. They enjoy that, even though it’s usually the same neighborhood all the time. It’s just nice to get out.

I like pinball—I’m the pinball guy. I have two pinball machines at home. And I enjoy going to the Idaho Pinball Museum, which is in Garden City. They’ve got something like 60 games, and it’s $10 for all you want to play. And they’re also nonprofit. I’ve been tempted from time to time to say, “Hey, I know how to clean your game, swap out your rubbers, you know those sorts of things. Maybe you can use me.” But I haven’t done that yet. If I still feel like I have time on my hands, maybe I’ll do that sometime. Another opportunity. If you’d like pinball, it’s pretty cool. They’ve got games from the early 60s on through to brand new games. My favorites are the 70s games from like 72 to the early 80s. Those are my favorites for the most part. I also like some games from the early 90s. The newer games are really, really cool. But the rule sets are pretty deep. And I just prefer a simpler game.

Beth: Well, thank you for sharing.

Beth: Is there anything you’d want to talk about that I didn’t ask a question about?

David: I’m thrilled. I’m happy to be here. I’m really glad to be at the House. I can’t really think of anything else. As I said, I did a couple of other volunteering jobs. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy them. But this is one where I can come back every week and keep doing this. It’s really cool.

Volunteer: Boise Ronald McDonald House

Volunteer: Eastern Idaho Family Room