Volunteer Spotlight: McKenna Kerns

McKenna at the Ronald McDonald House after cooking dinner.
McKenna at the Ronald McDonald House after cooking dinner.

For most, the end of a long and arduous hospital stay marks the beginning of a new chapter—a slow journey to full recovery. The brightly illuminated hospital hallways and stiff beds are replaced with feelings of comfort from being at home and surrounded by loved ones. However, for McKenna Kerns, once she was discharged from the hospital, she started thinking about getting back inside. This time, to care for others. 

McKenna was hospitalized twice, once in 2014, when she was 9 and once in 2015, both for sudden and dramatic decreases in her stamina and ability to breathe. “As a kid, my last few memories before going to the hospital were of finishing my last soccer tournament,” she said. “I was playing keeper and it was very clear something was wrong because my stamina and breathing went down really fast.”

McKenna pushing the Happy Wheels Cart in 2023.

“In the hospital, they do their best, but the guest beds are concrete, and it is never dark enough to sleep. And all the devices making all the sounds are just there to show you the music of the hospital and not to ever let you have peace.” 

However, in the midst of the discomfort, McKenna found a “glimmer of light” from the bedside visits from the Ronald McDonald House Charities Happy Wheels Cart—a volunteer-pushed cart filled with complimentary comfort items donated by members of the community. She reflects about how much she loved the rubber ducks, bead jewelry kits, and toy cars that all came from the cart as it strolled down the hallways of the hospital’s pediatric care units. 

“In the hospital, you don’t have normal holidays, or birthdays, and your friends don’t want to visit because you’re in a hospital,” said McKenna. “When I felt alone it was things like the Happy Wheels Cart that showed me there is still hope in the world.”

McKenna remembers that her hospital stays affected her entire family, especially her mom. She paints warm stories of how her family found solace within one of our Ronald McDonald Family Rooms, comforting spaces inside the hospital for families to rest, eat, and relax together. 

“For families, the Family Rooms are a place to stay where you feel like you are home,” McKenna says. “It’s the best place to be with someone who is there to support you when no one else is.”

From her interactions with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas (RMHC CTX) during her hospital stays, McKenna fell in love with the RMHC mission to “Keep Families Close” to their children and the pediatric medical care their children need. Galvanized by her newfound purpose to help make the hospital experiences of others more comfortable, McKenna began volunteering with RMHC CTX in early 2015. Over the past eight years of volunteering with RMHC, she has helped families from across the globe who have visited the Central Texas area for life-saving pediatric care realize that they have a home-away-from-home with RMHC. 

During her 9 years of volunteering, McKenna has had an enormous impact on RMHC CTX. In addition to personally raising over $25,000 to support RMHC programs, she has cooked meals for guest families at the Ronald McDonald House, helped refurbish and clean guest family rooms, and helped steward a donation of $100,000 to the expansion of the Ronald McDonald House.

McKenna delivering items from one of her donation drives to the Ronald McDonald House.
McKenna delivering items from one of her donation drives to the Ronald McDonald House.

McKenna has also organized multiple community donation drives resulting in thousands of items being donated to RMHC for guest families to utilize. Today, she distributes the very items she helped gather as a volunteer pushing our Happy Wheels Cart, personally delivering the same comfort to children and their families that she once received from the Cart during her hospital stays. From McKenna’s perspective, she is right where she needs to be to make the impact she wants to make. “Children in the hospital feel like darkness is all around them and from the Happy Wheels Cart, they get to see a little bit of light”.

McKenna proves to be a rare sort of anomaly beyond her desire to begin a philanthropic undertaking following her hospitalizations. She also is a fierce community leader, a seasoned athlete, and pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering seeking a career to pioneer and innovate accessible healthcare solutions for tomorrow.

McKenna’s benevolent nature is something she attributes to her family. “I was raised in a household of serving where I was always taught about community and giving back. When you’re raised in an environment where service is such a given, I see it now as a way to make an impact for the greatest number of people as possible. One by one we can change a million.” 

“It’s so easy to go about your daily life in your bubble but working as a volunteer gives you a perspective outside of your life,” she says. “You get to see people and perspectives from all walks of life.” 

For those considering volunteering with Ronald McDonald House Charities, McKenna has this advice: “Just be there and take it all in. You will never find another charity so dedicated on so many fronts to helping so many people.” 

If you are interested in volunteering or supporting RMHC CTX, check out our “Get Involved” page to see the many ways that you can give back.