A Night to Remember at Yankee Stadium: Oliver's Story
“Hello. I’m Seven.” A little guy in a pin-striped long-sleeved red and black shirt said as his family entered the room.
“Wow. What a cool name.” Members of the Ronald McDonald House New York staff laughed and retorted.
He smiled, very proud of himself and took a seat by his parents.
Oliver chooses to sit under the table in the Ronald McDonald House New York conference room during his first family interview in February of 2023.
His older brother, Octavio, chimed in rolling his eyes, “His name is Oliver, and he is seven years old.”
Oliver’s big brother, Octavio Jr., was twelve at the time and loved to give his brother a hard time. However, he is the older and wiser brother. So, he also likes to set the story straight and make certain everyone knows the truth.
The boys are quite a pair. Their parents, Octavio Sr. and Jennifer, are young, full of gratitude, and love their boys more than anything in the world.
When we met, the family was at the end of a long day at the hospital but were kind enough to take a few minutes to share their story with me.
This is the story of a beautiful, young family on a journey to heal their child… and meet the Yankees along the way.
Coming to America
Oliver had just turned six when he started to get very sick and wasn’t getting well. His parents grew more and more anxious as time persisted and no doctor in the Dominican Republic, the family's home, could diagnose their youngest boy’s symptoms.
Finally, a family decision was made to take Oliver to New York City to get some definitive answers.
It was near the beginning of 2022 that Jennifer and Octavio boarded a plane from the Dominican Republic with their son, Oliver, bound for NYC. They thought they were only coming to get a second opinion on Oliver’s health, and would be home in DR within a week. However, the journey planned for the family would not bring them home so soon.
The family's goal was clear. Jennifer and Octavio were on a mission to heal their son.
When the family arrived in NYC, Oliver was immediately admitted for testing.
For a month and a half, Oliver was in ‘inpatient’ (Jennifer and Octavio do not use certain words in front of the boys as a rule. H.O.S.P.I.T.A.L is one of those words.) in New York City. They had friends and a place to stay in New Jersey, but most of that first 45 days was spent in inpatient with Oliver.
The verdict finally came in and the diagnosis was what Octavio and Jennifer refer to as “those six letters”. I think we all know the ones that they reference.
Oliver and Mom enjoy kisses from one of Ronald McDonald House New York's hardest working volunteers, one of our amazing therapy dogs.
Obviously, the news was not good. Oliver was going to need to stay in New York for an indefinite amount of time for treatment. Jennifer and Octavio felt lost as to the next steps for their family until a social worker at ‘inpatient’ told them that they should think about Ronald McDonald House New York.
The social worker made the phone calls and the family moved into the House on 73rd street in March of 2022.
Ronald McDonald House New York
Oliver on Superhero Day
They decided that it was best if Mom stayed with Oliver in NYC while Dad commuted back and forth as often as possible to keep working and providing for the family in Dominican Republic.
The family grew comfortable at RMH-NY very quickly. Dad speaks to the reason why he felt alright with the decision to leave his family behind in an unknown city.
“So for us as a family, it was this, the Ronald McDonald House has become like our second house. To be really, honest, me as the father, as the head of the family, I have felt secure leaving my family here, my wife and my two kids because I have been traveling back and forward to my country. So we are really, really grateful for all the help that we have been receiving. All the care from all the staff, from all the crew that works here. They have really been supportive.”
Wait, did he say ‘two kids’? Oh, of course. When they arrived in New York City and even when the family moved into Ronald McDonald House New York, Octavio Jr., Oliver’s big brother, was not with the family.
Where is Octavio Jr.?
It was meant to be a short trip, a week maybe two. The trip to NYC, however, did not turn out to be as short as the family might have imagined or wanted.
Once the family knew treatment for Oliver would not be quick, plans had to be made.
To keep some sense of normalcy for their oldest son, Octavio Jr., Jennifer’s parents, who lived an hour from the family, promised to care for the boy until the end of the school year when he could join his family in NYC.
Octavio Jr. smiles.
This took a toll on the family. They had never been separated so long and by such a distance.
Finally, in July, almost five months after they first left home, Octavio Jr. joined his family in NYC.
Octavio and Oliver and the Spring Bunny at RMH-NY's Hoppy Spring.
Oliver became a new man when his brother arrived. Octavio Sr. explains the difference between the time before Octavio Jr. arrived and after.
“When we were with him alone, only my wife and I and Oliver, he was a different kid. We know that was a really, really... The beginning of everything is the hardest part but when his brother got here, Oliver changed. It was more normal. He felt like (his family was back). His best friend was here, his brother was with him. The one that he interacts the most, because it's not the same as a parent interacting all day with your kid but when they were together, it is totally different. It was a different kind of medicine.”
And the boys really do love to be together. They are the best of brothers right down to sleeping snuggled together on the same pillow after a long day of treatment for Oliver is done.
Octavio Jr Goes Back to School
When September rolled around again, the family feared Octavio Jr. would need to go home to continue his schooling. Yet, Ronald McDonald House New York had other plans.
To allow Oliver’s big brother to stay, RMH-NY offered to enroll Octavio Jr. in a local school near the House on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to continue his education. After a quick deliberation, the family kindly accepted the offer and Octavio Jr. enrolled.
RMH-NY understands the overwhelming value of keeping a family close to a child during their treatment. That idea could not have been more apparent than in the case of Oliver and his brother, Octavio. His big brother’s arrival was a huge turning point in his treatment. His parents are very outspoken about that fact. The staff at Ronald McDonald House New York saw that change and immediately got to work on ways to allow Octavio to stay, if the family wanted, without missing an educational beat.
More Quote and Quotables from Dad
“So when they're here, I feel like I'm in peace because I know they are with the staff, they are surrounded with people that I know they are taken care of. Not only the kids, but they’re also taking care of the caregivers; moms, dads, they have these activities, and your mind is not only concentrated on your situation.”
Jennifer Finds a Caregiver’s Retreat in the Wellness Center
The Blavatnik Foundation Wellness Center - RMH-NY
Oliver and Octavio’s mom, Jennifer has lived her whole life in Dominican Republic and never thought that there would be any reason to leave home for so long. Since coming to New York in March 2022, she and Oliver have yet to travel home once.
Being so far away from home for so long affects people in different ways. Jennifer missed home from the beginning and feels that pull to go back and be closer to family, but very early in the family’s stay at Ronald McDonald House New York, Jennifer walked into the Wellness Center on the 11th floor of the House, and it made that distance from home a bit more bearable.
The Blavatnik Foundation Wellness Center is a center for caregiver selfcare. The Wellness Center hosts many different activities throughout each week including individual massages, Reiki classes and art therapy hours. Amazing volunteers donate their time and their services weekly to come and offer haircuts, manicure/pedicures and so much more.
The incredible staff that run The Wellness Center offer caregivers a shake or a smoothie anytime of the day, there is a fully equipped gym that anyone can access on their own time, and various types of programs that are ever changing to fit the changing demographic of caregivers staying in the House.
Caregivers Find Common Ground in Their Creativity
The whole family poses for a picture on a couch in the living room at Ronald McDonald House New York.
As Jennifer became more comfortable with all things’ wellness, she quickly joined a group of caregivers that practiced a form of art therapy once a week with Angelica. Jennifer’s always been very artistic, so being a part of a collective of mothers and caregivers that gave her the outlet to create art that also helped her to cope with being away from home for so long was endlessly rewarding.
In that group of artists, she found new friends. This group of caregivers, much like herself, understood her daily struggles and empathized with each new obstacle because they had lived through something similar themselves. These women were from all walks of life, different races, and ideologies. However, shared experience connected these talented, artistic women in a way that most things never could.
If the summer of 2022, three caregivers from that group that met once a week decided to create ‘day in the life’ videos that would be displayed as part of an art exhibition in the Wellness Center. Each video chronicled a day in the life of a caregiver with a child in treatment currently staying at Ronald McDonald House New York. The videos were all shot on a smart phone from a first-person point of view and took us on each caregiver’s unique journey.
A Day in the Life of a Caregiver
This is a digital ad based off of Jennifer’s A Day in the Life of a Caregiver video that she made with her fellow caregivers at Ronald McDonald House New York.
That video is a great look at how her family traversed a day with Oliver in treatment or ‘outpatient’ for that dreaded six-letter word that shall not be named. It also shows an amazing level of comfort owned by the family, showing that they had truly found a home away from home at Ronald McDonald House New York.
Yet, there are things about home that the family missed. One of those things is a very long tradition in the DR, baseball.
Baseball in Dominican Republic
Jennifer and Octavio had told staffers and volunteers stories of growing up in the Dominican Republic. One story that characterized their home spoke to the country’s love of ‘pelota’. That is what they call ‘baseball’ in the Dominican Republic.
Jennifer and Octavio relayed stories about going to see their local teams in the Dominican baseball league as they grew up. When their local team won, the whole town celebrated. Even today, baseball brings the whole country together and everyone’s front doors swing open, and parties are thrown in the street every time your local baseball team triumphs.
So when Rob Manfred, Commissioner of Major League Baseball and a 2023 Honoree for Ronald McDonald House New York’s Annual Gala, and Mastercard presented the House with an opportunity for a family to have a ‘Priceless Yankees Experience’, Octavio and Jennifer and Oliver and Octavio Jr. were the first family that came to mind.
A Night at Yankee Stadium
Mastercard has been an amazing partner to RMH-NY and once again, they did not let us down. The game was on a Thursday and the family was ready to go in the lobby at RMH-NY by 3:30 pm to get to a 4:30 pm batting practice start. Octavio Sr. is a tried-and-true Yankee’s fan, so the whole family was clad in Yankee’s paraphernalia they already owned; hats and t-shirts with the Yankee blue pinstripes displayed.
Traffic had other things to say about that 4:30 pm start, but when they arrived at Yankee Stadium, representatives from Mastercard swept up Oliver and Octavio Jr. and the family was on the field in minutes to meet the players and watch the rest of batting practice from the team dugout.
Then the family was escorted to their luxury skybox suite (sponsored by Mastercard) for the game. The suite came with a free buffet dinner, a private bartender to refill all those diet cokes, private seats with a great view of the game, and a big surprise.
Octavio and Octavio Jr. with MLB Legend and former New York Yankee CC Sabathia.
The family with pitching legend CC Sabathia.
That big surprise was meeting CC Sabathia, retired Yankee's pitcher who was the all-time American League leader in strikeouts by a leftie. When he left the game in 2019, he led all active Major League players in career wins, career strikeouts and career innings. The boys got to meet him, he signed baseballs for them, and pictures were taken. The Yankees experience turned out to be a huge success.
The family had the best time. The Yankee’s even won 4 - 2 against a very strong Toronto Blue Jays team.!
At the end of the game,the boys were worn out and ready for bed after a very long day and a very fun night of baseball!
Oliver hanging with his brother at the Yankees Game.
The family poses for a picture in the Mastercard suite during the Thursday night matchup between the Yankees and the Blue Jays. Aaron Judge hit a two-run home run in the first inning that compelled the Yankee ball club to a 4-2 victory.
The family was escorted on to the field during batting practice to watch the teams warm up and meet a few of the players.
Oliver takes a picture with his favorite Yankees player, Aaron Judge.\
When the family arrives back in Dominican Republic, they will have serious bragging rights with their friends after this one-of-a-kind experience at Yankee Stadium.
For Oliver and his family, this will be a night that they remember for a very long time, but this is not the first time that they were a part of a special event at Ronald McDonald House New York.
Special Events at RMH-NY
The House is so fortunate to have such amazing partnerships that have lasted for years like its partnership with Mastercard. When opportunities arise, it’s so exciting to see a family get to do something that they might never have had the chance to do otherwise. Yet, Ronald McDonald House New York does not always wait for partners to offer before creating special events for the families.
The Volunteer Team at RMH-NY continually creates exciting events around major holidays, or birthdays, or simply after dinner on a Tuesday. The House celebrates everything that they can, so that there is always excitement and fun in the House to combat those rough days at the hospital. It’s a priority of the team at RMH-NY that families always have something to look forward to in the House, so that when they look back at their time, they remember the fun and friends. The celebratory moments take center stage in their memory while thoughts about treatment, all those hard days and that dreaded six-letter word gets to take a back seat for a bit.
Our Gala Family 2023
If you plan to attend Ronald McDonald House New York’s 2023 Gala on Wednesday, October 25th at Chelsea Piers, then you will have the opportunity to hear Oliver’s story from the whole family as the Honorary Family from the House this year and even have front row seats to another Priceless surprise thanks so our incredible partners. It is guaranteed to be a night to remember and we do hope that you can join us.
"And it's like not only your second home, it's your second family, your closest family. It's the people that surround you here.”
--Jennifer about Ronald McDonald House New York
Oliver has been in treatment in NYC for about 18 months now. He is strong and healthy and doing very well. He still has a long road ahead, but with his family by his side and his extended family at Ronald McDonald House New York here whenever needed, he just might be headed back home to the Dominican Republic very soon with a clean bill of health.
They need to get home soon because as Oliver mentioned while the family was leaving the Yankee’s game,
“Octavio is going to be a scientist and, well, I am going to be a scientist and a movie actor.”
Oliver has Octavio in a leg headlock while the boys roughhouse in the playroom at Ronald McDonald House New York.
So, those boys have zero time to waste and a whole lot of living to do.
It was a tiny thing, but it brought her hangout buddy so much joy and happiness. Kelly knew that it was obviously worth it. Plus, she is now quite the skilled technician with a mouse after moving digital Jenga blocks for hours upon hours during the Pandemic.