Meet Julie Sirard, Family Room Coordinator at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Health Sciences North in Sudbury

For Julie Sirard, Ronald McDonald House Charities was an organization she was familiar with before she ever started working here.

“Like many people, I had a friend whose child was ill early in life,” she explains. “He was diagnosed with leukemia, and my friend stayed at RMHC. She always talked about what a big support it was to her during that time.”

Today, Julie is the Family Room Coordinator at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Health Sciences North. Before starting at RMHC Toronto, she worked in family support resources and childcare. “I loved that work,” she recalls, “but I ended up moving into more of the administration and budgeting function, and then I missed that connection with people.”

When the Family Room Coordinator role came up, Julie realized that this could be something that brought her back to supporting families and being fulfilled in the kind of work she was doing.

“I can’t say enough how applying to RMHC Toronto was one of the best decisions I made in that period of my life,” she says. “I love my job. It’s so meaningful to be there for families, making those connections and offering whatever kind of support I can. There are days when I have those ‘goosebump moments,’ like when a family comes in and they’re a bit more reserved, but then they open up and tell you how much the Family Room means to them. I remember a mom who came in when her child was admitted through the emergency room and spent the day here while her child was in treatment. She told me, ‘I didn’t know I needed this room until I needed this room.’ It really meant something to me to know I had made some difference in her day.”

For Julie, her job is simple. It’s about making sure that the Family Room is a comfortable place of respite for the families that need it. Her daily routine involves preparing the room with the comfort and care of those who need it in mind.

“I make sure the Family Room is open and available to families, and that it’s set up in a warm and welcoming way; that it’s clean. I make sure there are nutritious snacks out for the families, and that we have a supply of toiletries available for anyone who may need it. Sometimes people come in in an emergency and don’t have everything they need. It’s amazing how brushing your teeth can make you feel a bit more human.”

Julie also recruits and onboards volunteers, who help keep the room operating. Currently the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Health Sciences North is actively recruiting volunteers in order to expand the room’s open hours. The goal is to be open from 9am to 9pm every day.

The Family Room itself is a warm and special place with couches, a TV, a kitchenette, and laundry facilities. Two rest and respite rooms are available for families who need a nap, or want to stay overnight. FROG bags – Family Room On the Go bags – are available to those who can’t stay in the room, perhaps because they’re in isolation, or have another child in their care they have to look after. FROG bags contain snacks and a number to call if the person needs anything delivered from the Family Room.

Julie and her volunteers also give out welcome bags to families in the NICU, to let them know about the room and the support that is available to them there.

“The moments that really stand out for me are when I make a meaningful connection with a family,” says Julie. One such memory is of a mother and father whose teenage daughter had been admitted to the hospital after coming in for a simple operation for a wound that wouldn’t heal.

“When they first started using the room, they were quiet and kept to themselves,” she remembers. “But on the third day, their demeanour had changed. They had tears in their eyes and they were whispering to each other. I knew something had happened. I didn’t want to cross any boundaries, but I let them know I was there for support if they needed, and offered the use of one of our rest and respite rooms, where they stayed for about a week and a half. Afterwards, the mother came up to me and shared their story. Their daughter had been diagnosed with lymphoma and the rest and respite room gave them a place to talk things through on their own, and to cry, so they could go back out and be brave for their daughter. That’s what it all comes down to, being able to take a little weight off a family’s shoulders.”

Working with families and connecting with people who need support is what energizes Julie.

Julie is just one of the many warm and compassionate faces waiting at an RMHC Toronto space to welcome families going through one of the toughest times in their lives. We are so grateful for the contribution of Julie – and all our staff and volunteers – to our mission and to the families in our care.