Volunteers serve dinner

Florencia Agote

For children sick with rare diseases and needing lengthy medical treatment, “home away from home” can last months or even years at a time.
For Enrique Studart, who recently received a bone-marrow transplant for a disease that causes chromosome deficiency, it meant four months in recovery at the Ronald McDonald House away from his native Brazil. But at least his family was able to keep him company.
“The Ronald McDonald’s offers a comfortable life and is also like living at home,” said Felipe Studart, 13, Enrique’s younger brother.
Volunteer students from the University’s Mortar Board Senior Honor Society served baked ham and potatoes, green beans and Rice Krispie bars Sunday to more than 50 kids with life-threatening illnesses and their parents staying at the nearby Ronald McDonald House.
The children are undergoing medical treatment at the Fairview-University Medical Center.
“It is great to see young people interested in families like us,” said Damaris Cabrera, whose 10-year-old son, Jorge, recently underwent a bone-marrow transplant. “It would be impossible for us to go through this without help; this is an oasis in the desert.”
These children and their families are staying at the Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit boarding house for families whose children have a form of cancer or other life-threatening illness.
“We choose this location because of the proximity to the University and the impact on the community around us,” said Charles Knutson, Mortar Board communications chairman and a senior biochemistry student.
Every year, families from all over the world come to the Twin Cities and stay at the Ronald McDonald House as long as the children’s treatment lasts. Composed of two buildings, the Oak Street house and the Ontario Street house, the complex can hold up to 33 families, providing living space and privacy.
Michael Snow, a 6-year-old from North Dakota, couldn’t wait to try the ham, his favorite food, and his sister Stephanie, 11, enjoyed the Sunday family meal — a rare occasion because their mother is unable to leave her job in North Dakota to visit even once a week.
In 1979, parents, doctors and friends of children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses founded the house to help families through their difficult times.
The Mortar Board not only helps the Ronald McDonald House, but it has different programs in schools and with other institutions dedicated to improving the community.
It holds a yearly essay competition at Tuttle Elementary School, located in southeast Minneapolis, in which the winner receives a $50 U.S bond. This year’s essay theme is “Reading is leading,” intended to determine what reading means to students.
Habitat for Humanity and Athletes Committee to Educate Students, a tutoring mentor program, works with the Mortar Board in their reading and mentoring program.
“We help kids at the Folwell Elementary School with their social-skills problems as well as math, while doing fun stuff,” said Kelly Casperson, president of the student organization and a neuroscience senior.
The organization, started five years ago, has 16 members and recruits students with a 3.3 GPA or higher, leadership experience and interest in public service.