Star for a Day
On April 20, Ronald McDonald House Houston broke all the rules. Renowned as a comfortable and safe “home away from home” for families with children in need of care in the Texas Medical Center, the 50-bedroom House had been transformed into a five-star hotel, spa and circus show. Parents stood in line waiting for massages and haircuts while their two-legged zebras and tigers ran back and forth to the milk and cookies bar, everyone thankful for a much-needed day of leisure.
The annual event, known as Five Star Day, is made possible through a partnership between Ronald McDonald House Houston, Magnolia Hotel Group, and local vendors who generously donate their time and services.
“These families go through so much, and we just wanted to give them a day where they could relax and feel like guests at a five-star hotel,” explained Leslie Bourne, chief executive officer of Ronald McDonald House Houston. “Moms and dads in this situation never think of themselves, and we found they are so grateful for something as simple as a haircut or eyebrow wax—it makes you think about how much more we can do.”
“It really is such a treat—it’s been nine months since I’ve had my eyebrows done!” exclaimed Kasie Jankovsky. She and her family traveled from Arkansas to Houston so her seven-month-old could be treated for congenital heart disease at Texas Children’s Hospital. They have been residents at Ronald McDonald House Houston for nine months, and between appointments, procedures and taking care of her two other kids, Jankovsky’s life is anything but calm. “We’re very thankful for today.”
In just its second year, the day began with room service for families who had early-morning hospital appointments and a brunch buffet for those with more flexible schedules. The “spa” opened mid-morning, offering a full range of services including massages, makeup applications, makeovers, haircuts and barber cuts, straight razor shaves, shampoo and blow-outs, brow maintenance, satin hands treatment and aromatherapy. The younger crowd enjoyed playing video games in a state-of-the-art gaming truck, a milk and cookie reception modeled after Magnolia Hotels’ daily afternoon tradition, and a princess party offering eye-shadow application, multi-colored nail-painting, crafts and party favors. The children present were also encouraged to get their faces painted as zoo animals or princesses in preparation for the evening’s big, circus-themed extravaganza.
Dubbed “Under the Big Top, YOU are a Star,” the atrium had been transformed into a circus tent for the show, each dining table boasting an expert arrangement of balloons, popcorn, streamers and other goodies. The gourmet buffet—with dishes ranging from blackened redfish Pontchartrain to mini cheeseburgers—offered festival-themed desserts, including jumbo pretzels, funnel cakes, donut holes, cotton candy and cheesecake lollipops. Families gathered in front of a larger-than-life balloon sculpture for professional pictures before entering the tent—many of them dressed in their best outfits to accompany their fresh hair and makeup. Even Mogie, the beloved Labradoodle house mascot, wore one of his sequined bow ties for the special occasion.
Because no circus is complete without a clown, Ronald McDonald himself was in attendance, serving as ringmaster for the main event. One by one he called the children up to the stage after dinner: the princesses twirled, the tigers jumped through hoops, and the zebras pranced around, following whatever orders the ringmaster gave. At the end of the performance, each participant earned a certificate verifying their completion of Clown College as well as their very own red nose.
“Our goal here at Ronald McDonald House is to care for the entire family, and the circus really encompasses that theme as we worked to include everyone in the show,” said Matt Woodard, director of operations at Ronald McDonald House Houston. “Really it’s the theme of the whole day, to take our commitment to the next level and give our families a day of pampering that they truly deserve.”
Bourne emphasized that none of it would be possible without the generosity of the local vendors involved, especially Magnolia Hotels. In addition to catering the food throughout the day, their housekeeping staff cleaned all 50 rooms for the families.
“All of their goods and services are donated to us,” said Bourne. “Their executive chef was here all day providing breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the general manager for the hotel was here, too—he even brought an additional check, a financial gift, on top of everything. They really went above and beyond.”
John Remmers, vice president of Stout Street Hospitality and Magnolia Hotels, explained that the organization was honored to host the event. “It just touches your heart, and the smiles we see on these families’ faces are worth every penny.”
In fact, after the success of Five Star Day last year, Magnolia Hotels is working to replicate the service at other Ronald McDonald House chapters throughout the country.
“We as a company just started thinking: how can we do more? Everyone on staff enjoys it and wants to be involved—we’re proud to provide this special day for these families,” said Remmers.
In addition to hosting Five Star Day at the Holcombe House location, the organization offered many of the same services at the Ronald McDonald House Family Room at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, including catered brunch and dinner as well as spa services and a family yoga session.
“Ronald McDonald House was established in 1981 to provide families dealing with the worst imaginable crisis—a critically ill child—a comfortable and safe place to stay here in Houston,” said Bourne. “Today we are carrying on that tradition with everything we do, and events like Five Star Day are just little ways we can make this time as comfortable and as positive as possible for these families.”