Kindergartener Mason Roberts is the “House DJ.” It wouldn’t be a party at the Ronald McDonald House without him.
“He just loves to dance. He has two older sisters and my oldest daughter is a dancer, so we always have music going on. ... At the Ronald McDonald House he goes around and dances for everyone and makes people happy: They call him the ‘House DJ.’ He just has a huge heart and more empathy than I have ever seen in a 5-year-old,” said Mason’s mom, Christina Darlak.
Mason will show off his moves — and Darlak will show her support as guest speaker — when the Ronald McDonald House opens its doors for the Third Annual Ronald McDonald House Party at 6 p.m. Friday.
Darlak said the house, at 2155 E. Allen Road, has truly become a “home away from home” for her and her son: They have spent more than 100 nights there since Mason was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2016.
“When the doctors are an hour and half away and your child is that sick, the comfort of home turns into nervousness: The gap is too far. I knew about the Ronald McDonald House, but never thought in a million years that it would become part of my life. But from the moment we walked in the door, it offered a comfort my home couldn’t provide at that point,” said Darlak, a single mom who lives in Sierra Vista.
She represents one of more than 600 families in the last year who utilized services provided by the nonprofit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona, traveling to Tucson to seek medical care for children age 21 or younger. Guest families must live at least 30 miles from the house and have a referral from a local hospital; they come from throughout the region, as well as from across the country.
Community support allows the house to provide accommodations, three home-cooked meals daily, laundry and other services to guests free of charge.
The nonprofit organization estimates that it saved families about $1.1 million in hotel, travel and food expenses, development manager Scott Matlick said.
“Some families, no matter their socioeconomic status to begin with, are excessively burdened with medical bills, especially for long-term illnesses. Some are on the brink of collapse because of it. Our services are one way we can help them to handle that and to have one less thing in their lives to worry about when they have more important things to focus on,” said Matlick.
Darlak, a patient account representative at Chiricahua Community Health Centers, said the Ronald McDonald House helped to alleviate financial stress and other concerns affiliated with a child battling serious illnesses.
“I would not have been able to afford to drive back and forth for Mason’s treatments every day of the week and couldn’t afford to stay in hotels. Plus, hotels aren’t as sanitary; the house has a special wing for kiddos whose counts are low and whose immune systems are compromised, so it is about peace of mind,” she said.
Another amenity that Darlak said provides peace of mind is the meals, supplied 365 days a year by more than 1,000 volunteers.
“Health and nutrition is so important, and eating out all the time wouldn’t have been an option. They provide wonderful meals and the opportunity to shop and keep food that your kiddo likes in refrigerators,” she said.
Additionally, Darlak emphasized that the Ronald McDonald House helps handle little details that allow parents to concentrate on their children and family during a health crisis. She especially appreciates this support, since Mason will continue treatment through January 2020.
“They have gone above and beyond for my son and family, from little things like cooking dinner, coming back to a clean room and other things that you don’t have the strength to do when you are in the clinic all day to big things like providing Christmas for my children, which I couldn’t do last year. They keep the family vibe by providing the little things that matter to children and keep our lives afloat,” she said.
Darlak is happy to offer her support in the effort to raise more than $200,000 at the signature fundraiser; proceeds will be funneled into operating expenses for the 24,000-square-foot facility and into a shade structure for the playground.