40 From Our 40: Andy Harner

Andy Harner smiles for the camera inside Riley Hospital

Few supporters of the Ronald McDonald House have witnessed more of the institution’s positive effects than has Andy Harner, Riley Children’s Health Clinical Manager for Social Work.

Andy first partnered with the House in 1989 while a social worker at Riley Hospital for Children (now operating as Riley Children’s Health) where he worked in the hemophilia program, even helping families find shelter at the onset of the HIV-AIDS epidemic. In the 33 years since then, he’s also witnessed the growth of the House, as well as the hospital, from very limited space to the expansions that now allow families to have their own quarters and patients to
have their own rooms.

Andy’s first responsibility was organizing housing for families who traveled far to get the care their children needed from the state’s only comprehensive hemophilia program. The House did not discriminate, helping as many families as space would allow, and increasing that help as its capacity grew. That help wasn’t limited to the confines of the House, he said.

One example of how the House went beyond beds to make a family feel at home stands out for him. An exchange student from Kyrgyzstan diagnosed with leukemia while studying in the US was admitted to Riley for treatment. His mother traveled to be with him and stayed at the House for a year while the student underwent intensive treatment. Often in pain, and no doubt frightened, the boy sought comfort in foods from his home country. The House staff drove the boy’s mother to a Russian grocery store every week so she could get the items she needed to make his favorite meals.

“The House is a special place because of the staff and volunteers who think nothing of going that extra distance to bring comfort, to listen and to respond to needs expressed and implied,” he said. He continued, “It’s more than shelter. It’s a friendly smile, a warm meal, a comfortable bed, and a place to reconnect with your family and yourself.”

Just as the House team’s support isn’t limited by the confines of the structure and grounds, the sense of community that permeates the organization can’t be contained. In his years of work and observation, Andy has seen countless families make connections with other families staying at the House that last long after the hospitalizations end. “Some of these connections are life-long,” he said. “And they would never have been made without the Ronald McDonald House and all that it offers.”

By Theresa Dunn

Heart & Hearth Summer 2022