How the Smallest Action Makes the Biggest Impact

A Volunteer Story

Ronald McDonald House New York Volunteer Kelly Chu

Kelly Chu, Ronald McDonald House New York Volunteer

Finding Jenga

Kelly Chu had searched every inch of the internet and was about to throw her hands up and declare, “There is no digital Jenga game anywhere on the internet where you can share your screen and play.”

Okay, so it was a very specific ask. However, for the kid from the House that was paired with Kelly for House Hangouts, Jenga was his favorite game ever. He played every night after dinner in the playroom before the Pandemic hit. Therefore, Kelly was bound and determined to find a COVID-friendly Jenga game for her little buddy from the House.

Then poof. There it was. As if a magician drew it out of his hat or a European college student created it as a final coding project (where Kelly actually found the game), it appeared on the computer screen before her. It was all in a different language, and it may not have been the highest quality online Jenga game. However, it was a digital version that could be played in House Hangouts by sharing her screen with her co-buddy Sophia and their paired child from the House. Kelly was thrilled to share the news with the crew the following day during their regular hangout time.

Luckily, the excitement of finding the game was only the beginning. The child she was paired with who was currently living at Ronald McDonald House New York with his family was thrilled to engage in his favorite after-dinner activity again, even if it was just him telling Kelly which block he wanted to move and Kelly moving the blocks it with her mouse.

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 quite the skilled technician with a mouse after moving digital Jenga blocks for hours upon hours during the Pandemic.

Ronald McDonald House New York Volunteer Extraordinaire, Miss Kelly Chu

Founder of RMH-NY Fundraiser Sweat to Support, Kelly Chu

Kelly Chu grew up an hour north of New York City in Slate Hill and moved to Baltimore for College.

Kelly was first introduced to Ronald McDonald House Charities in Maryland. Kelly served at the Ronald McDonald House Charities Maryland as a volunteer while finishing school at John Hopkins University. She fell in love with the mission and the kids at RMHM from the beginning.

Kelly moved back to NYC after college and within two years, she worked a retail strategy job with Calvin Klein. With extra time in the evenings, she couldn’t think of anything better than devoting her time to helping Ronald McDonald House New York.

When Kelly began volunteering at the House, she was a member of the Communications team. She took pictures at special events and wrote stories for the Communications team about events, families, and all types of different experiences that were critical to the RMH-NY mission.

Kelly was a consistent member of the Communications volunteer team for two years until 2020 when the pandemic struck.

Pandemic House Hangouts

Since Kelly was stuck at home and volunteers were not allowed to physically be in the House, she wanted to find some way to give back. She was chilling at home, riding her brand-new peloton exercise bike, and waiting for it all to end. Kelly knew Ronald McDonald House New York had a digital initiative called House Hangouts. In this initiative, volunteers would be digitally paired with another volunteer and together, they would spend time together with a child at the House through zoom once a week to play games, catch up, or just hang out for a while.

This was where Kelly met her friend, Sophia. They were co-buddies and met with their House Hangouts buddy every Sunday at 2 pm. Yelly had a clear memory of passing the playroom after dinner on the nights she volunteered at the House pre-pandemic and always seeing her little buddy with one hand on a Jenga piece. Kelly knew she had to find that game to play during House Hangouts. She knew how excited he would be and she was right. Jenga rules!

Kelly Chu's Advice to New and Prospective Volunteers at RMH-NY

Pantry Partners

If you are in the House in the evenings around dinner time and you see two very happy-go-lucky 20 something professional young women obsessively organizing the snack cabinet and tossing hail mary Oreo cookie passes to kids across the dining room, then you have found Kelly and her co-buddy Sophia during one of their sporadic volunteer dinner services.

They both enjoy organizing, so they lend their keen enjoyment of putting things in a neat and orderly fashion to effective use by reconfiguring the allocated cabinet space into a sugary symphony of nicely assembled snack treats.

But what was the real reason Kelly and Sophia loved organizing the snack cabinet? It was that inevitable moment when a kid sees their favorite snack getting put away, their eyes light up, and Kelly or Sophia offers it to them, usually making their night in the process.

Kelly Chu RMH-NY Volunteer during an interview at the Ronald McDonald House New York

Kelly Chu, 5-year Volunteer at Ronald McDonald House New York

“Yes, it is a mundane task of packing boxes of Rice Krispies and putting them in a cabinet, but you know that even if it is a small mundane thing for you, it could be the highlight of that kid’s day seeing those Rice Krispies refilled. It’s just those small things that make a big difference.”

Who wouldn’t be excited to see Rice Krispies back on the shelf after all those days without them? 

Kelly's volunteer footprint is wound in circles around every inch of this House, but she hasn't stopped there. In recent years, Kelly's stepped outside the House to fuel her biggest volunteer project yet.

How Silent Auctions Turn into Fitness Classes with a Waitlist

Did I mention Kelly is into fitness? Yes, organization and fitness!

But, beyond her daily peloton workout and when she is not stuck indoors, Kelly and her friends and sometimes cousins check out various boutique fitness classes around the city on the weekends. Of all the fitness regimes in NYC, Kelly ranks Barry’s Bootcamp as the superior overall experience. That is critical to note as Barry’s will return to the conversation very soon.

First, we need to discuss Kelly and the Ronald McDonald House New York annual silent auction. I know going from fitness to auction is a big jump, but it will all become clear in good time.  

Kelly Chu’s first silent auction at RMH-NY did not go well. She wanted to find something to purchase to support the kids at the House, but nothing fit. She wasn’t really looking for a trip to the Caribbean and didn't make enough money to bid on the Jets tickets, so Kelly was stuck.

After coming away from that first auction empty-handed, Kelly started thinking about the kinds of things that someone like her would want to and be able to successfully bid on and win.

Fitness classes. See how it returned so quickly.  

The following year and every year until 2022, Kelly made it her mission to get local UES fitness companies and studios to participate in the RMH-NY silent auction. She succeeded too. Every year 25 to 30 companies she contacted would donate services or equipment to the auction all because Kelly made it happen.

Sweat to Support

Sweat to Support 2022

Volunteer Kelly Chu created Sweat for Support pictured here with all the members of the class.  This fundraiser benefitted Ronald McDonald House New York

Sweat to Support 2022 at Comeback Cycle

In 2022, Kelly began her usual outreach several weeks before the auction to gather companies, as usual. However, she contacted a studio that refused to give her anything for the auction. Instead, the UES fitness studio Comeback Cycle told Kelly they wanted to host a fundraiser fitness class at their studio. Kelly offered fitness classes via Zoom during the pandemic. Modeling her class after influencers she had seen do it well on TikTok, Kelly hosted her first Ronald McDonald House New York Sweat to Support charity event.

All participants donated $50 to join the class. Kelly reached out to several fitness companies that donated goodies for a goody bag she offered after the class. Everyone got a free protein smoothie upon class completion as well.

The springtime Saturday morning of the first Sweat to Support saw about 30 participants show up to class at Comeback Cycle. Kelly raised $2,400 for the House and promised to do it again next year.

Sweat to Support Fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House New York Ad

Sweat to support sponsors for fundraiser

Sweat to Support Year Two Social Ad with Sponsors

Year two was an even bigger success. This time Barry’s Bootcamp, her favorite studio, offered to host the event. Kelly received donations from 50 companies, so the after-class goody bags rocked, and an UES restaurant donated a catered lunch. Wow. She raised over $4,000 on her own from 50 participants in the class. There was even a waitlist of people who wanted to join Sweat to Support!

Full Sweat toi Support class of 50 to raise money for Ronald McDonald House New York

Sweat to Support 2023 at Barry's Bootcamp 

Check out the recap reel from Sweat tio Support 2023 which was held at Barry's Bootcamp. Photo/video credit should be given to Connor Sink for his great work capturing the fundraising event.

Bring Your Talent to the Volunteer Table

Kelly attributes the massive success and growth of her Sweat to Support fundraiser to the fact that she found a way to do something she already loved - to support Ronald McDonald House New York.

As a volunteer for over 5 years, Kelly never tried to fit into a cookie cutter volunteer slot. She found a way every time, from her communications volunteer days to her fitness class fundraisers, to incorporate something she loved into her volunteer work at the House. Her creativity and innovative thinking had paid off in dividends.

A Final Thought from Kelly

Let's conclude this blog with another quote and quotable from Kelly Chu herself. Her thoughts on donating to Ronald McDonald House New York.

“The reason you give money to Ronald McDonald House New York is because they do so much with every bit they receive. Even if it’s a ten-dollar donation or a hundred-dollar donation, you know that that money will benefit the kids directly. Whether it be funding an activity or supporting the meal program. As a volunteer, being able to see the kids react so positively to even the smallest change, or the biggest activity; their faces light up and you can see how big the impact is on their lives.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a quote and quotable that could only come from a bona fide and seasoned Ronald McDonald House New York volunteer.

Kelly Chu is a one-of-a-kind, enormously successful young professional in New York City whose talent is only eclipsed by the size of her heart. Ronald McDonald House New York is so lucky that she has picked this House to use her talents and compassion to ease the burden for our kids and their families. What an outstanding advocate for the RMH-NY brand and such a wonderful and loving friend to our families.

Thank you, Kelly Chu, for choosing Ronald McDonald House New York!

For more information on becoming a volunteer of the House, click here.

To donate to the expanding mission of RMH-NY and help us continue elevating our level of support to reach more and more families with children suffering from pediatric cancer and other serious illnesses in the five boroughs of New York City, Click here!

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