A Tale of Two Volunteers at Ronald McDonald House New York, Part 2
PART II: Vincent Miliote
In February of 2022, when Vincent Miliote’s social worker in New Jersey told him about an opportunity to stay at Ronald McDonald House New York to stay close to his newborn baby boy in the NICU at Mt. Sinai, he didn’t think twice.
The Birth of Justin Luca Miliote
Justin Luca Miliote was born on January 25th, 2022. He was born 103 days (about 3 and a half months) premature. Justin Luca came so early, the doctors were grateful and relieved that the pregnancy lasted 12 hours longer than expected. Vincent's little boy was only two pounds when he arrived.
Justin Luca was born too early AND in a pandemic. The odds were stacked against him from the beginning, but Vincent and his wife knew their boy was strong and would not go down without a fight, but they had no idea what a long fight he was in for at the time.
Born in a hospital near their home in New Jersey, Justin Luca immediately suffered major complications. There was a grade four brain hemorrhage, seizures, and in one overnight episode, the weekend before President's Day, both lungs collapsed. The doctors were uncertain if he could survive the night.
Justin Luca fought like a champion and the following morning was transferred to Mt. Sinai on Manhattan's Upper East Side into their level four NICU.
As a result, when Justin Luca arrived at Mt. Sinai, the doctors opened both lungs and stabilized him quickly.
It was President’s Day Monday and the Miliote family could finally breathe for a moment. Justin was not out of the woods, but he was alive and breathing.
That same day, after their social worker put in the request, Vincent stepped into Ronald McDonald House New York, a place where he had been volunteering since 2018. Family Support team member and licensed social worker, Hannah Boston met Vincent with a hug and took him upstairs to claim his room.
Without the House, the Miliote family would have had to stay 90 minutes away from Justin at the hospital, commuting into the city to see their son every day. With a spot available at Ronald McDonald House New York, life got simpler.
Vincent wanted to keep life as normal for his four-year-old as possible, but still needed to be at the hospital every minute. Vincent received some help from family living nearby. They could look after his older boy. Now, with a room near the hospital for him and his wife to rest and sleep along with the ability to easily visit the hospital several times in a given day or night, Vincent had so much hope.
“We were able to go back and forth. Being here (at RMH-NY), we could make multiple trips during the day. We were able to talk to the nurses during the day and we could even be with him at night too. I really don’t know how we would have done it without the House. It was invaluable.”
Vincent and his wife stayed in a room at Ronald McDonald House New York for three months. Justin Luca stayed in the Neonatal Care Unit at Mt. Sinai only blocks away.
Vincent speaks to the special relationships RMH-NY allowed families to create living in the House:
Breathing on his own, Justin Luca Miliote was released from Mt. Sinai NICU on May 25th, 2022, exactly four months after birth. Today, Justin Luca is a happy, healthy little boy who celebrated one year on Earth at his home in New Jersey in January.
Unlike Stephanie, when Vincent inquired about volunteering at the House in 2018, he was just an upper east side resident with a young wife and an infant son. Vincent volunteered with New York Cares in the past. However, he walked by the East 73rd Street House enough times, that one day he inquired about opportunities.
“It was bigger than me. A bigger cause I wanted to instill in my kids when they got older; a sense of purpose.”
Vincent recalled his first night as a volunteer at RMH-NY.
“My first night (volunteering) was a pretty jarring experience. The kids are all… I mean, it’s not the easiest thing to experience. I remember thinking after serving dinner that I wasn’t really sure I could do this. By the end of the night, we were down in the playroom and the kids were just kids down there. They’re laughing, smiling, and running around. Ya know, kids being kids. I left the House and I remember I was on First Avenue. I called my wife and my mother and told them, ‘It was the best thing I ever did.’ I’ll never forget that.”
Vincent invested his time and energy into RHM-NY as a Monday night volunteer for years, not knowing how that investment and relationship would pay dividends when his family needed it most.
The Shawn/George Effect
Stephanie, just like Vincent today, knew the House from both sides of the carpet. She experienced the House off and on for years while staying close to her brother, Shawn. That experience catapulted her into volunteering at the House.
While RHM-NY has reaped so many benefits from having Stephanie Belanger as a volunteer in the House, Stephanie has also seen continued returns on her investment.
When the pandemic struck, volunteers were forced out of the House. To keep families safe and follow city procedure, volunteers were not permitted in the House for a year. Slowly, as NYC began to open, RMH-NY began to invite volunteers back into the House. Yet, the process was slow.
Stephanie had stayed in NYC for work throughout the year and was one of the first volunteers to come back into the House. Every community space was still locked down, so Stephanie’s Wednesday night duties were often to assist the volunteer staff by pushing the dinner cart from room to room going floor by floor to serve every family their dinner.
So, every Wednesday evening, Stephanie loaded up that cart. With only a few minor driving accidents with the service cart, she would deliver dinner to every family in the House. That’s how Stephanie met George.
He first answered the door to his RMH-NY room wearing his NY Jets pants and a sports baseball cap. Stephanie had on her CBS Sports ball cap when they met. They became fast friends.
Every Wednesday following, George would wait by the door in anticipation of the 20-minute conversation he would have with Stephanie about football, basketball, all their favorite players, and who would come out victorious from this Sunday's matchups.
Stephanie saw so much of her brother, Shawn, in George. She anticipated the meetings as much as he did. After several months of getting to know George, Stephanie wanted to do something special to celebrate March Madness with all the kids in the House and especially George.
Stephanie asked her bosses at CBS if they might consider donating some March Madness paraphernalia to the kids at the House. They obliged, and Stephanie delivered hats and other fun things to George and all the kids in the House in early March.
Return on Investment
Stephanie excels in her volunteer role. And the return on her investment in the House is clearly stated in her own words.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there are things that are less important. I get so much less enjoyment now… I mean, take Halloween. I haven’t been to a costume party in years. I just get so much more value out of my life coming to the House and helping here. There are things that are just more important than yourself.”
Stephanie and Vincent’s lives never intersect that can be confirmed. However, it is highly likely that Stephanie served Vincent and his wife dinner off the dinner cart one or two Wednesday nights in 2022.
But while you might say their stories move in opposite directions, they remain remarkably similar tales.
Stephanie considers the opportunity to serve the families at RMH-NY as a reward. She finds fulfillment volunteering every Wednesday night in honor and memory of her brother, Shawn, and now for George, who sadly passed away in the new year.
Vincent’s reward came from the relationship he created with Ronald McDonald House New York through his need to give back to his community. The relationship he cultivated with the House when he volunteered came back around and rewarded him when his family needed it the most.
Time to Invest
What will your reward be?
If you want to figure out your return on investment, you must first ask yourself, "What kind of investment can I make today?" Remember,Investment determines return.
You might be able to invest time and energy like Stephanie and Vincent. However, that investment might come in the form of a monetary gift. Both come equipped with their rewards and positive returns.
When you look at the faces of families who only want to support and stay close to their children suffering from unimaginable pain and the rarest types of pediatric illnesses, you might find that the investment is the reward. You will see clear returns on your investment instantly when you give to Ronald McDonald House New York because your investment makes an immediate and direct impact on every child.
Start summoning your return today by investing in the families and children at RMH-NY. When you see the smiles, laughter, and joy your gifts bring to these little ones at a time that could have been so dark for them, you will have more than enough ROI to last a lifetime.
Jill Sharfstein, House volunteer for over six years, recently received an award and an honor alongside her daughter, Jenny, for both exemplifying values that everyone should aspire to hold close. Jill practices those values on a daily basis and RMH-NY is lucky to have her spirit and her ingenuity helping make life so much better for our kids and families. Read her story now.
Amelia, a high school senior on the Upper East Side in New York City, embarked on a journey of philanthropy with her brainchild, Smarts4Heart. This initiative not only showcases her entrepreneurial spirit but also contributes to a cause she is passionate about: supporting the families battling pediatric cancer and other life-threatening illnesses at Ronald McDonald House New York (RMH-NY).
The holidays have officially commenced at Ronald McDonald House New York(RMH-NY). Thisyear, our families partied for three nights straight with the House hosting various events from Sunday October 29thuntil Tuesday October 31st to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve and to officially kick off the holiday season.
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.
Caroline and Beau never really slowed down from the moment they received their certificate to help. They lived on the Upper East Side of New York City where there was never a shortage of organizations that could always use a helping ‘paw’.