Part I: Stephanie Belanger
Stephanie Belanger and Vincent Miliote began volunteering at Ronald McDonald House New York (RMH-NY) in 2018. Both either lived or worked on the Upper East Side of Manhattan near the East 73rd Street House and wanted to give back. So, it makes sense that Stephanie and Vincent would eventually devote one night a week after work to come and serve dinner to our families.
Becoming a Ronald McDonald House New York Volunteer
First, Stephanie and Vincent successfully completed a background check and went through the application process. To preserve our children's safety, all potential volunteers must pass a background check and receive glowing words from their references. The turnaround was fast and before they could blink, Stephanie and Vincent were ready to volunteer at the House.
First, before we go any further, it's important to know that Stephanie and Vincent have never met. They are not friends and have not even interacted with one another as volunteers in the House to our knowledge.
However, these two strangers share one important common life experience that makes them unique among Ronald McDonald House New York volunteers. Both have been guests at Ronald McDonald House New York as well as volunteers. While their destination was the same, these two volunteer journeys couldn't be more different.
For these two volunteers, fate brought each of them to RMH-NY for a reason.
This is the tale of two opposite people destined to serve the families of Ronald McDonald House New York. One to honor her lost brother and the other to prepare himself to save a baby boy that wasn’t born yet.
Meet Stephanie Belanger
Stephanie Belanger is an athlete. Growing up, she could beat any neighborhood boy or girl her age at most all sports from basketball or hockey. No contest.
Stephanie grew up in Quebec City, Ontario, Canada. She was the only sister in a house filled with brothers. Everyone played sports. Her three brothers were basketball and football athletes, though i am sure they excelled in a number of others recreationally.
Stephanie played volleyball. She was and still is a great volleyball player. She plays in a league in NYC and recently won her recreational league championships. But, growing up, she and her brothers played tons of sports, but they loved hockey most.
After college, Stephanie moved to NYC. Her love for all things sports paved the way seamlessly to a career in events and operations management at CBS Sports.
Before CBS, Stephanie took a job located in an office building near the corner of East 72nd Street and 1st Avenue. When she interviewed and got the job, her new boss took her to Petaluma, a nearby restaurant to celebrate the new hire. From Petaluma, she could see the front doors to the Ronald McDonald House New York. Stephanie knew it was a sign.
After she was settled into the big city and had found the job of her dreams, a few years later in 2018, Stephanie walked into the House and joined the Wednesday night volunteer team at Ronald McDonald House New York. Even before her first day volunteering, Stephanie's familiarity to the space was apparent.
Stephanie had been to RMH-NY before. Many times, but many years ago.
In the years when Stephanie finished high school and began college, Stephanie spent most weekends in NYC at Ronald McDonald House New York. Her brother, Shawn Belanger was a resident of RMH-NY while receiving treatment in NYC for embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a very rare cancer at that time.
That first year in college was anything but normal for Stephanie. Her class schedule avoided Friday classes so that she could travel to NYC to meet her entire family and take part in the weekly Friday night fight with her brothers over who would get the couch in Shawn’s room that weekend.
Initially, Shawn was diagnosed with cancer, travelled to NYC for treatment and stayed at the House, entered remission and quickly returned home to Canada. However, during Stephanie’s freshman year in college, the cancer found him again and this time it was not letting go so easily.
When the doctors told him he had two months, Shawn's fighting spirit gave him eight more.
The Belanger Family Takes Manhattan (and Ronald McDonald House New York)
In those eight months, the Belanger family became fixtures in the House. Stephanie remembers that time well.
“We spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and all the major holidays here. I remember one Thanksgiving bingo where we were super competitive. You’ve got four children who were all super sporty competing and all the staff and volunteers who put it together just watched us and laughed. We were so grateful to them. We could have been alone in a hospital, which is super depressing.”
Stephanie can recall so many moments from those final months at RMH-NY with Shawn.
Shawn was a basketball player. He loved basketball so much that Ronald McDonald House New York ensured John Starks visited the House just for him. He spent an hour chatting with Shawn and signed a basketball for Shawn to have.
The House didn't stop there. The staff set up visits from Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse basketball head coach who retired this year. Even Jake Gyllenhaal visited Shawn at the House.
“The House did so many great things for him to make his last eight months better even as we knew the time was coming. It’s why I had to be a part of it myself and help give back some small part of what the House gave my family.”
Sadly, Shawn passed away early the next year, but the work that the staff and volunteers did for Stephanie and her family never left her memory.
Then, years later, Stephanie is celebrating her first job in NYC and the restaurant happens to be right across the street from RMH-NY, it was clear that Shawn was giving his sister a big ol' sign. Stephanie didn’t think twice.
To read the conclusion, click on the link below: