Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Doug Wilson

Doug Wilson: Giving Ronald McDonald Houses a Makeover

First, thanks so much for the letters and emails about this site; I love your support! Last week, after launching, I spoke with someone who said, “Why give celebrities more photo opportunities; that’s the only reason they help charities.” Maybe some do, but I have met some celebrities who are very passionate about helping their cause and are working very hard; isn’t that what we want, more people helping other people? I also spoke with friends at various charities who said, “We need the celebrity faces to help bring attention to our cause.” So, while helping out a charity might get the celeb some PR, it gets the charity some too, so it’s a win-win situation.

Doug Wilson is the designer on Trading Spaces who viewers either love or hate (his designs that is). But you have to love the work that he's doing with the Ronald McDonald Houses.

When Doug Wilson’s nephew Tyler Wilson was a mere two years old, he was diagnosed with rhabdoid cancer, an aggressive and very rare form of cancer. Statistics show that even after surgery and chemotherapy treatment, the survival rate for children younger than 3 at diagnosis is less than 10 percent. According to Tyler's website, when Tyler was 2 years and 4 months, a large abdominal mass was found on his right kidney after having flu like symptoms...he had surgery 2 days later to remove it. Five weeks into treatment, his diagnosis came back as a Rhabdoid Tumor of the Kidney. At the time of diagnosis, Tyler lived on a farm in Illinois and loved tractors, construction equipment, airplanes and trains. He liked Mickey Mouse and his favorite TV show was Rolie Polie Olie.

For the next few years, while other toddlers were playing at the park, this child’s life would be consumed with hospital visits and intense chemotherapy treatments to try and stop this horrific cancer. Tyler’s parents stayed at the nearby Ronald McDonald house as their new home away from home while Tyler was getting treated. Unfortunately, this sweet boy lost his life to this terrible disease on January 28, 2004, at only five years old.

Doug and I talked about losing his nephew and using his decorating talents to help the Ronald McDonald House.

Why did you start helping the Ronald McDonald House?
I always knew about the Ronald McDonald House, but until you have a personal involvement you don’t understand what these charities really do. If the parents have to stay in local hotels, it can be expensive – and that adds up over time because they are away from home several weeks at a time. At the House, they can have a place to gather and talk to others and make their own meals, but many of them are run down.

You decided that to give back, you would use your decorating skills to improve these Ronald McDonald houses. How did you know what they needed?

I had spoken with a lot of families and I listened to them and got the feel of what they needed. I found out that siblings were often pulled out of school and away from home because the parents couldn’t afford babysitters. So my first makeover was in Grand Rapids, Michigan to makeover a basement. It really needed updating. I turned this big open space into two separate areas with a bookcase wall, pool table, computers and Internet access. The kids could communicate with friends and school, parents could come back from the hospital and get online and do their own research. I wanted to help the whole family and give the siblings a place where they could go to rather than just have one television and one computer stuck in the management office.

When I went to the Ronald McDonald House in Columbia, the fathers and their kids hang out more there, so I did more of a high-tech and home theater. It was a different feel for those who use the common spaces.

Why doesn’t McDonald’s help them and improve these rooms?

It’s a fallacy that they get millions of dollars from McDonald’s – these houses are independently run and funded. (Check this out.) You just can’t understand how important the community is to stand behind these houses to be successful. (I helped this one because), in a smaller area, it was easy to get the community excited, have a celebrity come in and help them, so it can draw attention to their House. You’re not going to get that much attention in the smaller pockets of the country and nothing is better than word-of-mouth.

Did TLC help you?

I did have TLC to help me out. We shot a PSA on the Ronald McDonald House and that lead up to their World Children’s Day that year. I did have a nice media machine behind me to help bring awareness.

How did your brother feel about everything?
We are a strong family and they were very thrilled. I was on the road doing Trading Spaces when Tyler was sick and I felt bad and felt that I had to do something, so how could I help? We have to make good of a bad situation and for me it just made sense that these houses need help.

How can we help?
Go to the House in your local community and hand them a check. They need volunteers whether you’re coming in to clean for two hours a week or mow the lawn – but there’s so many other things. It’s important to give back to your own community.

Thank you Doug!

For more information on the Ronald McDonald Houses, visit here: Remember these kids and their families the next time you grab a Big Mac.

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