The Ronald McDonald House is a place for families to call their home away from home for as long as their child is being treated in the hospital. With 137 guest rooms, the Columbus Ronald McDonald House is the largest in the world. (Pretty neat for a little ol' city in the midwest, huh?) Sr. Director of Communications and Facilities Ryan Wilkins credits the success of this chapter to the Columbus community but I'm excited to share with you the large, and selfless, role he plays in it, too.
The Reference Club: What lead you to your current position with The Ronald McDonald House Charities?
Ryan Wilkins: I would say a willingness to take on new challenges. My wife and I were looking to get back to Columbus after living in Cleveland for about five years, and this job seemed like a perfect fit. After interviewing, I received a job offer the next day, and was here at the House (that’s what we call the Ronald McDonald House) soon thereafter. Now I can’t imagine not being here. It’s like my second home.
TRC: What's the most impactful way to volunteer at the House?
RW: If someone has time to give and a skill, they can volunteer here at RMHC. Volunteers do most of the work around here. From cooking, to cleaning, to housekeeping, and everything in between, we rely on volunteers from around the community. My favorite volunteer program that we have at the Ronald McDonald House is the Team Cuisine program. Groups get to work with a talented local chef to create a home-cooked meal for guests staying at the House. Its an amazing experience for the volunteers, and they make a tremendous positive impact on the lives of families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Imagine if you had a child in the hospital. Now imagine at the end of a really stressful day, coming across the street to find a delicious meal provided by generous people in the community. That is truly the heart of service.
TRC: *Sign up here to make a meal* What would you say to someone who is interested in a career in non-profit work?
RW: Get involved. And be careful what you wish for. Lots of people see working in a non-profit as a ticket to a more fulfilling life – which it very well may be. But it’s still a job. And it is usually a lot more work than people expect. Most people like myself who work in the non-profit sector wear many hats. For instance, I am the Sr. Director of Communications and Facilities. And it goes without saying that the workload is carried by a smaller group of people. But most of all start volunteering for a mission that excites you. More than fifty percent of the people we employ at RMHC started as volunteers.
TRC: What’s the worst piece of career advice you’ve received?
RW: The worst career advice has to be the old “you need to have a five-year plan.” Don’t get me wrong, planning is great, and dreaming is even better. But if you get stuck in the rut of the plans you make, you just might miss a great opportunity that comes your way. My advice to people is to kick butt at what their current role is, and be open to opportunities as they present themselves.
TRC: If someone told me five years ago, while pursuing a degree in public relations, that I'd be working in financial advising....exactly. Thanks for that, very refreshing to hear. As a nonprofit, with typically smaller budgets, does your approach to communications campaigns differ from those of larger, more profitable companies?
RW: In short, yes. We have to be scrappy. But in a lot of ways, I think it makes our voice that much more genuine. Our story is one that people want to hear. But we get lots of support from the communications industry in Columbus. So many professionals and companies use their talents and resources to help us amplify our voice. So what we lack in dollars, we make up for two-fold in the support given by friends in the community.
TRC: You really do get a sense of the "community over competition" vibe here in Columbus. How do you define leadership?
RW: I believe whole-heartedly in the principals of servant leadership. My role as a leader is to empower the people I lead to be the best version of who they were made to be. The best leaders inspire by the way they interact with people around them. Work hard, respect people, and treat everyone the way you would want to be treated.
TRC: If you could change one thing about your career route, what would it be?
RW: Not one thing. I’m truly grateful for where I’ve been, and where I am today.
TRC: What is the most rewarding part about working for the Ronald McDonald House?
RW: At the end of the day, when my head hits the pillow, I always know that I contributed that day to keeping families close while their child is in the hospital. That is such a worthwhile, valuable gift to give. The fact that I get to do this as my job is beyond amazing to me. And these families that we serve are the best. Many of them have become friends because they are frequent guests at the House. I am truly blessed to be part of this place.
TRC: The RMHC of Central Ohio is the largest RMH in the country. Do you think the Columbus community plays a role in its size or success?
RW: One hundred percent, without question, we are what we are because of the community of Columbus. There is something truly unique and special about our community. We are so collaborative, open, and inviting – doesn’t it make sense that we extend that kind of hospitality through the Ronald McDonald House? Really, the Ronald McDonald House is a perfect exemplification of the heart of our community. It’s like our wide-open arms inviting people in who need a home-away-from-home. It’s a sweet thing to watch.
TRC: (Any readers want to move to Columbus yet?) What’s something you want to accomplish before this year is over?
RW: Next weekend, I’m running in my 9th half marathon, so I guess that would be something. But more than that, I want my wife and kids to know that I love them in everything I do. If I accomplish that, I’ve done something right.