An Enriching, Engaging, and Empowering Mess with Nadia Leonard

Step into the enchanting and rather messy world of Slime Squad where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and every squishy sensation sparks a lot of squishy joy. Inside Ronald McDonald House New York, this program offers children a creative outlet while facing the challenges of fighting pediatric illness every day. Amongst a wildly creative and equally passionate group of programs teammates at the very heart of it all is a woman named Nadia Leonard. Nadia is a solid educator, a trusted teammate, a fierce ally, and a visionary whose passion for making slime and telling stories, and commitment to uplifting young spirits knows no bounds.

 

Unveiling the Magic of Enrichment Programs

"My name is Nadia Leonard. I am in my 7th year with the Ronald McDonald House New York," Nadia shares, her voice, a perfect blend of enthusiasm and dedication. From her beginnings as part-time programs associate, Nadia has ascended to the role of Programs Coordinator for the Children's and Enrichment side of the Programs team at Ronald McDonald House New York. Her journey is not just one of professional growth, but a testament to the transformative power of compassion and dedication.

Nadia unveiled the essence of her role in an interview last year. "So, Ben and I, and his trust and leadership, have tested me to basically create programs for children from scratch in the form of enrichment," she explains. These programs span a wide spectrum, catering to children of various age groups, from pre-K to middle school and beyond.

The Programs department at Ronald McDonald House New York serves as the heartbeat of the institution. "I would honestly say programs is the heart of the house," Nadia emphasized. For Nadia and every member of the programs team, it's more than just organizing activities; it's about creating a sanctuary where children can simply be themselves and have a little fun in the face of extraordinary challenges.

 

A Tapestry of Hospitality and Wellness

At Ronald McDonald House New York, hospitality isn't just a word; it's a philosophy woven into every aspect of care. Nadia sheds light on this integral component, explaining, "hospitality and enrichment... there's also a wellness component for programs." From providing snacks to families in times of need to extending focused support to caregivers through dedicated spaces, every detail is meticulously crafted to alleviate the burden on families. 

But the scope of Ronald McDonald House New York's impact transcends its physical boundaries. Through initiatives like "programs to go," the institution reaches beyond its walls to touch the lives of families in hospitals across New York City. "I think Covid came and it kind of became a vehicle of sorts... it made people understand that, you know, we're still trying to give back," Nadia reflects.

 

Empowering Through Play: The Birth of Slime Squad

Among the House’s many programs, one stands out as confirmation of the team’s creativity and their ability to engage: Slime Squad. Nadia recounts its origin story with a nostalgic grin on her face, "Slime Squad happened because I really am obsessed with making slime and I love having kids just get messy because that's the type of person I am. I think my desk speaks for itself…" She smiled and pointed to the one desk in the room of which you could no longer see the surface. What began as a simple idea blossomed into a phenomenon, captivating the hearts and imaginations of children week after week.

But Slime Squad is more than just a messy adventure; it's a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. When Nadia is hosting the class, it becomes a community project as well.  "You could do your individual slimes, but is anyone talking to each other?" Nadia muses. Through collaborative projects like creating galaxy-themed slime, children not only learn to embrace their creativity but also forge bonds that transcend the confines of illness.

 

Highlighted Programs

While Slime Squad stands as Nadia’s creative cornerstone, she also spearheads a weekly session known as "Storytime with Nadia." During these sessions, Nadia captivates young minds with engaging stories, followed by interactive activities that complement the narrative. Held every Monday and/or Tuesday, the timing of these sessions is tailored to accommodate the families' schedules at the House.

During COVID, programs went virtual. This is Storytime with Nadia: The Pandemic Years

In addition to her storytelling mastery, Nadia, alongside Programs Associate Tuesday, orchestrates unforgettable birthday celebrations at the House. Birthdays hold a special place within the monthly agenda of our programs team. At Ronald McDonald House New York, we prioritize children's experiences as children first and foremost, ensuring their birthdays are cherished moments. With a deep understanding of each child's preferences and interests, Nadia and Tuesday craft personalized birthday experiences that resonate with the child, creating memories to last a lifetime.

 

The Power of Teamwork: Crafting Dreams into Reality

Nadia's journey wouldn't have been possible without the unwavering support of her team. "This is never a solo project," she emphasizes, underscoring the collaborative spirit that defines the Programs department. Led by individuals like Ben and Jackie, the team works tirelessly to turn dreams into reality, creating experiences that leave an indelible mark on families' lives.

Nadia likes to think of her and her teammates as The Avengers. Each teammate might have their own talents and bring varying sets of skill to the table, but it all works together to create one of those super awesome, super big summer blockbuster movies that rakes in $140 quadrillion in its first weekend. 

Nadia explains it much better, “…it's almost like The Avengers. You're coming together with all different types of skill sets with a mission in mind to help families during their time of need. I'm not even going to say struggle but their journey in in what they're going through.”

Each team member owns a unique and tangible skillset; each lending itself to only heighten the other team member’s talents.

 

Dedicated to the Children of RMH-NY

In reminiscence, Nadia fondly recalls a young man named Onion, a resident of the House prior to the onset of the pandemic. Despite his tender age, Onion, as he was affectionately nicknamed, bravely battled Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that mainly sets its sights on children. He was accompanied by his parents, both physicians. Nadia vividly recalls the joyous moments spent with Onion and his father in the playroom, where they wholeheartedly embraced every opportunity for merriment.

One particular day stands out in Nadia's memory, when she and the programs team organized an outing for the families. Despite undergoing hospital treatment earlier that day, Onion was resolute in his desire to join the excursion. Fully aware that anesthesia would dampen his spirits and jeopardize his chances of participating, Onion chose to endure the procedure without it. His determination to ensure he felt well enough to accompany Nadia and the rest of the group left a lasting impression on her.

Nadia was profoundly moved by Onion's unwavering commitment to seize the opportunity to partake in the outing. His display of dedication served as a poignant reminder for Nadia and her colleagues on the programs team to approach their commitment to the House and its young residents with equal fervor.

 It is only appropriate, given the time of year, that we let Nadia show us how to make her Spring Slime or Flower Slime.   Courtesy of Virtual Programs at RMH-NY

Looking Towards the Future: Hope, Growth, and Possibility

As Ronald McDonald House New York continues to evolve and expand its reach, Nadia Leonard remains at the forefront of change. With so many new programs on the horizon, the journey through enrichment and empowerment is soon set to enter a new chapter for Nadia and the programs team at RMH-NY.

In the words of Nadia speaking to what she hopes her programs do for the children in the House, “Honestly, it's simply just giving them something to do, creative and educational and fun." Through programs that nurture the mind, body, and soul, Ronald McDonald House New York remains steadfast in its commitment to creating moments of joy,  connection, and hope despite so much adversity.

Nadia Leonard's journey vividly showcases how compassion, creativity, and dedication can transform lives. Ronald McDonald House New York embodies this ethos, where each program, activity, and smile radiates the resilience of the human spirit and illuminates the limitless possibilities that await.

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Assist Nadia and the Programs Team in helping the superhero kids of RMH-NY. Every dollar given goes directly to fund the masterfully creative and adventurous programs created by Nadia and team that allow kids to be kids first and patients second. Give Today. 


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