Katherine Estes Billmeier shares smiles, hugs, hope at Ronald McDonald House of Alabama

Katherine Estes Billmeier shares smiles, hugs, hope at Ronald McDonald House of Alabama
Katherine Estes Billmeier embraces Naomi Hollingsworth, who is going through constraint-induced movement therapy at Children’s of Alabama. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

Thanksgiving is upon us.

Time to eat way too much turkey and dressing, then take a nap on the recliner while some play football outside and little ones draw a mustache on your sleeping face.

Many organizations will be closed Thanksgiving week, but one that keeps its doors open and thrives on serving is the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama.

For CEO Katherine Estes Billmeier, the upcoming holiday is an extraordinary time for the families she serves.

“Thanksgiving is special for all of us,” Estes Billmeier said. “I wish everyone thought year-round the way they think around the holidays. Because we have so many fabulous volunteers that come, and everyone is so loving.”

Ronald McDonald House offers hospitality, comfort to families of sick kids all year round from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama hosts families whose children are being treated at Children’s of Alabama or other facilities in the Birmingham area. The one condition is you have to live more than 50 miles away. The organization does have a waiting list, which is why it’s in the midst of raising money to expand and host more families.

The charitable mission will endure.

“What we do is provide a home away from home for families whose children are being treated at area hospitals. It’s so much more, though. Our families find other voices and other bodies going through similar situations. They’re able to lean on each other, support each other, pray with each other and help each other,” Estes Billmeier said.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama not only provides a room while the child undergoes treatment, it offers programs like Hand & Paw, yoga, play time, Happy Wheels and other activities – giving the families a time of healing and respite.

“We achieve our mission by providing a fabulous room for families to sleep in, and just being there with a smile and hug,” Estes Billmeier said. “Our families come from all over the state of Alabama, and the world, actually. Children’s of Alabama is the third-largest children’s hospital in the nation and continues to grow, and we will continue to grow to meet that need.”

Estes Billmeier has worked at some capacity with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama for the past 12 years, beginning as a fundraising counsel in 2004.  For her, the job is much more than helping families with sick children. She sees it as a daily reminder of the grandeur of life.

“Doing this job is special because you get to make the difference in the life of a child every single day. I get to give them a smile and a hug. Some of these kids never know what it’s like to feel good. What we get back from them, the smiles and the hope they emanate, are humbling,” Estes Billmeier said.

It may be Thanksgiving next week. People may smile at each other a bit more, and may hug a bit more. Hope may flutter more than usual, assuring mankind of the goodness, compassion and grace we all possess.

For the staff, volunteers and families at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama, smiles, hugs and hope, along with goodness, compassion and grace, are abundant, whether it’s Thanksgiving or any other time of the year.

They also have plenty of recliners.

For information or to donate, visit https://www.rmhca.org.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected].

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