Honoring Sonya and Family at the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats

As the anticipation mounts for the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats, a ten-year-old firecracker named Sonya's remarkable journey comes into focus. Her story, defined by courage and determination, is a source of inspiration. Exactly the type of inspiration that Ronald McDonald House New York’s events throughout the year are built upon.

Skate with the Greats stands as the 2nd largest fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House New York (RMH-NY) during the year celebrating Rod Gilbert’s commitment to the House with a memorial hockey game followed by a fun evening with past and current Rangers all taking place at the Lighthouse and Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers on the west side of Manhattan.

RMH-NY is proud to provide a strong, compassionate circle of support that keeps families close when they need each other most. Offering a lifeline to families like Mari and Marlon's, whose lives were forever changed when their daughter, Sonya, was diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of seven. This year at the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats, we honor Sonya and her family for their strength and fighting conviction.

 

Sonya's Journey Begins: A Test of Strength and Resilience

The year was 2021 when mom, Maria and dad, Marlon found a tennis ball sized growth attached to Sonya’s abdomen. They immediately took her in and quickly received the devastating news that Sonya had been diagnosed with high-risk Neuroblastoma, plunging their family into a world of uncertainty and fear.  

From the outset, Sonya's journey consumed their family’s life and was marked by countless hospital visits, grueling treatments, and moments of hope interspersed with deep despair. Despite all the odds stacked against her, Sonya stepped into each day with remarkable courage, held up by the unwavering love and support of her family. 

Sonya spent many months of treatment at CHOPS in Philadelphia. The doctors had officially eradicated the cancer within the year, yet it was not six months before the tumor was back and spreading faster than ever. 

 

A Big Day in July

While Sonya was treated at CHOPS, her mother was in the hospital as well giving birth to Sonya's little sister, Gabriella. Sonya and Gabriella were not allowed to meet in the beginning while she was still in treatment at CHOPS.  

When Sonya’s treatment was complete, but unsuccessful, Maria and Marlon sat down and researched possible alternative hospitals to eradicate this cancer once and for all.

They found Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. MSK Kids was and is an innovative hospital dealing with Neuroblastoma in very different ways than most hospitals. Plus, their new techniques are yielding a higher rate of recovery than all others.  Maria knew Sonya needed MSK Kids to beat the cancer.  

Driven by Maria’s father, the family came directly to New York City. This was the day Sonya finally got to meet her baby sister on the car trip. Yet upon their arrival, Sonya was checked-in to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center while Maria and baby sister, Gabriella, along with father, Marlon, moved into Ronald McDonald House New York close by. 

 

Welcome to the House

In a life filled with visits to the doctor and medical treatments, Ronald McDonald House New York emerged as a place of support for Maria, Marlon and family; a place that they truly felt like they could call home. Their arrival on a July day in 2023 marked the beginning of a new chapter—a chapter that would bring Sonya and her family a new lease on life, but the road there was going to be a long and hard one to travel.  

From the moment they stepped through the House doors, Sonya’s family was overwhelmed by the hospitality provided, with the staff and volunteers consistently extending a helping hand and a comforting smile. 

 

A Day in the Life at RMH-NY

Maria and Marlon took turns between the days old baby girl at the House and their 9-year-old who was fighting for her life at MSK Kids blocks away. If one was with the baby, the other was either bedside at the hospital or in the 2nd floor dining room kitchen at Ronald McDonald House New York creating meals that they would typically eat at home because a very frail Sonya wanted a taste of home. 

The House was able to provide Maria and Marlon with everything they needed to cook the meals that Sonya would eat. It was so critical at that moment in her treatment that she have as much strength as possible. So some days Maria would make Sonya’s meals at the House, pack them up, kiss the baby goodbye and travel to the hospital to support and feed her oldest daughter.  

Then, the cycle would begin again and mom and dad would switch roles. This time Maria stayed with Gabriella while Marlon became chef and caregiver for Sonya.  

Maria speaks to managing new mother duties and caregiver duties in the House,  

“It's an unbelievable feeling. It's extremely helpful especially when you realize at 11pm you've run out of things like diapers, wipes or formula. Even bottled water to make the babies bottle. It made everything 100 times easier to focus on Sonya and be there with her in the moment not having to think about what I'd eat for dinner when leaving the hospital or trying to figure out how I’d be able to run to a store if Sonya was with us being so weak from her treatments it just wasn't possible but luckily I was never stuck at all. Ronald always had everything we needed.” 

This was life for this family for many months until finally Sonya gained enough strength that the doctors could release her to go and stay with her family at Ronald McDonald House New York. She was out of the hospital yet close enough to monitor her progress on a daily basis. 

A House Becomes a Home

The day Sonya finally walked through the doors at Ronald McDonald House New York was a very good day for this family. Finally, Sonya was able to finish her recovery at the House with her mom and dad and new baby sister. Close to her family, Sonya’s treatment could take root and even greater amounts of healing could begin to unfold. 

Each day at Ronald McDonald House New York brought new opportunities for Sonya to find joy and companionship throughout her journey. From making friends in the playroom to participating in activities like BINGO and arts and crafts, Sonya embraced the sense of camaraderie between the children staying in the House.  

The staff and volunteers became an extended part of the family, providing comfort and support during her darkest moments of uncertainty. Peter was always at the front desk when Sonya would pop into the lobby to check out the joke of the day.  

Programs gurus Nadia and Tuesday also featured daily in the family’s life at the House. In fact, when she returned home, one thing she missed most about the House was getting to go down to the 2nd floor playroom to see what Nadia and Tuesday had cooked up for that day.  

Gratitude and Appreciation: A Message to Generous Donors

As Sonya and her family reflect on their journey at Ronald McDonald House New York, their hearts are filled with gratitude for the generous donors who make it all possible. Without their support, their journey would have been infinitely more challenging, and the moments of joy alongside adversity may have been harder to come by. They extend their heartfelt thanks to each donor, knowing that their contributions have made a tangible difference in the lives of families facing pediatric illness. 

Maria’s words for the donors to Ronald McDonald House New York, 

“I would say thank you for making it possible for my daughter to get the treatment she needs and be able to still have her family by her side. I’d want them to know the extent of opportunity they're giving these kids at another chance at life. Without them it wouldn't even be manageable for my daughter to get the treatment she needed to live a happy healthy life as a kid again.” 

 

Celebrating Courage: Honoring Sonya at the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats

In recognition of their unwavering courage, Sonya and family will be honored at the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats—an event that celebrates the spirit of hope and community that defines Ronald McDonald House New York. They will take center stage during one of the single-largest fundraising events for RMH-NY and serve as a voice and a reminder of the countless families currently living in the House and fighting for their children’s lives. 

And Sonya can’t wait to get on the stage. She made sure that she would get the chance to share the Skate with the Greats speech with her mother. It’s very possible we have a fearless star-in-the-making just blossoming before our eyes. 

 

Looking Towards the Future: Dreams and Aspirations

As Sonya prepares to be honored at the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats, her dreams for the future burn bright. Despite the challenges she has faced, she remains determined to pursue her passion for teaching, inspired by the kindness and compassion she has experienced along her journey. And while her love for hockey may be budding, her appreciation for the New York Rangers and the community they represent is unwavering. 

Supporting Ronald McDonald House New York

 

As the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats approaches, Ronald McDonald House New York invites supporters from near and far to join in celebrating families like Sonya’s. Through each donor’s generosity and support, they ensure that Ronald McDonald House New York can continue to provide a home away from home for families facing pediatric illness, offering hope, healing, and a sense of belonging during their darkest hours. 

In honoring Sonya and family at the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats, Ronald McDonald House New York celebrates not only their journey but also the spirit of compassion and community that defines their mission. Join in celebrating their resilience and supporting families facing pediatric illness—because together, we can make a difference. 

 

Don’t Wait Until Next Year…

Go to the Skate with the Greats website to get the details. Buy a ticket to the Rod Gilbert Memorial Hockey Game at 4:30 at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers or purchase tickets for the entire evening to rub elbows with New York Rangers greats (including Henrik Lundquist) and bid on some of the incredible silent auction items available.  

Remember, every penny you spend is funneled directly back into the House to care for families just like Sonya’s.  You don’t want to miss any of the fun that’s in store for the 30th Annual Skate with the Greats this year. 

 

Note: The 30th Annual Skate with the Greats is an event organized by Ronald McDonald House New York to raise funds and awareness for their mission of supporting families facing pediatric illness. For more information and to get involved, visit skate.rmh-newyork.org.


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