three photos of Krsystal Smith holding baby Gus, Baby Gus in the hospital, then dad and baby Gus in the hospital.

An easy and fulfilling way to help Central Texas families this holiday season

Thank you Culture Map Austin for the lovely article. We appreciate it.


Since 1985, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas has been providing vital services to the families of critically ill or injured children, from housing and support groups to care packages. But perhaps most importantly, they’ve been doing it with the help of their communities, people like you who are lending a hand to help when others need it most.

This year, consider including Ronald McDonald House Charities in your seasonal giving. Here’s how your generosity can help their families:

Ronald McDonald House
Nothing is scarier for a sick child than not having Mom and Dad close by for love and support. Many families travel far from home and spend several weeks or even months to get treatment for their seriously ill or injured children — that’s a long time to be away or to divide a family. The Ronald McDonald House is much more than a room to stay in; it provides comfort, support, and resources for families with sick children just steps from the hospital. Families are asked to make a small donation of $20 per night, however, no family is ever turned away if they can’t make a donation.

Krystal Smith experienced the generosity of the Ronald McDonald House first-hand when her three-week-old son Gus had to be airlifted to Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin for emergency treatment. She quickly threw a bag together, and her mother and sister arrived with only the clothes they were wearing.

“I had no idea the Ronald McDonald House would be my home for seven months,” says Smith. “I knew of the Ronald McDonald House, but I never knew how amazing and wonderful this charity was until I needed it. Because I was right across the street from my child’s hospital, I didn’t have a daily 45-minute drive or even have to sleep in the hospital every night. Because of Ronald McDonald House Charities, I wasn’t in constant fear and riddled with anxiety about the distance between me and my son. Every morning I woke up, I could run across the street to my child.”

Ronald McDonald Family Rooms
When families walk into one of the five Ronald McDonald Family Rooms, the goal is to help them forget they’re in a hospital. The rooms, which provide comfortable living rooms, kitchen and dining areas, shower and laundry facilities, sleeping quarters, snacks and beverages, and a quiet room, offer families a place to rest and regroup right at the hospital, just moments away from their sick child.

Family Rooms are located at St. David’s Women’s Center of Texas, Dell Children’s Medical Center, St. David’s Medical Center, Ascension Seton, CHI St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital, and one slated to open soon at College Station Medical Center.

Jenn and Alex Zavala found comfort at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Dell Children’s Medical Center when their daughter, Emerson was born prematurely at only two pounds, five ounces.

“Emerson was in the NICU for 67 days,” says Jenn Zavala. “And each day she was there, we were grateful to have the Ronald McDonald Family Room to relax, rest, and regroup so we could stay strong for her.”

Happy Wheels Cart
Stocked with items for children and their families, the Happy Wheels Carts stroll the hospital hallways in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units of Central Texas hospitals to distribute complimentary coffee, juice boxes, snacks, coloring books, small toys, toiletries, and other items. Besides the immediate needs these small tokens can meet, they provide simple reminders to the families that RMHC CTX supports them during a challenging time.

Healing Hearts
The unexpected tragedy of losing a child is hard enough, but sometimes families may not have the financial means to cover the cost of properly interring their child. The Healing Hearts program provides families with burial assistance as well as bereavement support from licensed counselors.

Scott Carden benefited from the Healing Hearts program when, on his seventh wedding anniversary, his daughter Marie died minutes after an emergency C-section.

“My wife and I were devastated and could barely comprehend the grief ahead of us much less what to do with it,” says Carden. “Our friends and family supported and listened to us, but unfortunately they didn’t have the relevance and familiarity with the unique pain of losing a child.”

Carden and his wife felt isolated in their experience and grief until they walked into a Healing Hearts bereavement meeting, with four other families who had experienced similar tragedies.

“As a dad, I was thankful for an environment where I could open up, speak freely, and connect with other dads,” he says. “When I returned to work as an engineer, few of my colleagues (mostly men) wanted to have meaningful discussions because they were unsure of how or even if I wanted to talk.  Even today, I still lean on the dads from the group to talk about and honor Marie.”

Meet the Zavala Family