Danny Dykstra finds inspiration at the Ronald McDonald House


As part of an Honor English 10 assignment, sophomore Danny Dykstra gave a TED Talk about the Ronald McDonald Houses and his involvement with them.

“When I was giving my TED Talk, nobody knew what [the Ronald McDonald House] was,” Danny said. “It was really kind of devastating because I love it there, and I bet other people would enjoy it a lot. It does a lot of good.”

The Ronald McDonald Houses and charities are non-profit organizations to help families with sick children get the resources they need. They assist families who can’t pay for the care their child needs and families who have had to move to either stay near their hospitalized child or seek better care.

Danny’s mother has been taking him and his sister to the West Michigan Ronald McDonald House since the age of three. They try to go a couple of times a month for a couple of hours. When he was young, Danny would play with the other children. Now, Danny works in the kitchen. Either way, he has plenty of time to interact with the kids.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for these kids because this is their time to decompress from hospital visits, their chemotherapy, or physical therapy,” Danny said. “It’s always nice to talk to a regular person rather than a doctor or a concerned family member. It’s just like we are the highlight of their day, and that really means a lot.”

Danny learned this young. One of Danny’s first memories of volunteering at the West Michigan Ronald McDonald House is of a girl named Rosa. She had low functioning autism and cerebral palsy, so she had trouble speaking.

At first, Rosa scared him because, at the age of five or six, Danny had little experience in situations like this. Soon, he understood that all she wanted was someone to play with and hang out with. He realized that she’s just a person, not a disability.

“[The kids at the houses] are fantastic human beings, and they’re just like you and me, just weren’t quite born the same,” Danny said. “They all want to be treated on the same level as everybody else. They want to be treated as people, not by their disabilities.”

While this was the first lesson Danny learned, it wasn’t the last. Interacting with these kids has taught him a multitude of things.

“Just from seeing what these kids are like with the hand life has given them and how they always live their best lives to the best of their abilities, and they’re always happy just to be here regardless of what condition they have, and that’s just made me really realize how lucky I am and not to take my days for granted,” Danny said.

Danny tries to remember this throughout everything he does. He reminds himself during difficult track practices that at least he can run. During a horrible third set of overtime while lifting, he reminds himself that at least he can lift something. On bad days at school. Danny has to remember that at least he can go to school and that he can do so independently. Danny even applies this to small things such as being glad that he wakes up with a full head of hair.

“I think [working at the houses] really opened my eyes to the world around me seeing what I’m thankful for now and what I take for granted usually, how much we can appreciate what we have, no matter really what it is, and what we can do for other people,” Danny said.

Moreover, the situations of these sick or disabled kids made Danny realize the unpredictability of life.

“[I’ve learned] not take your days for granted because also some of these kids were injured in accidents so you never know when either your legs get taken away or you get [struck] by a disease,” Danny said. “None of [the kids] deserve what happened to them. One day, somebody wakes up with lymphoma. You never know. You always have to take every day as a blessing, really.”

And Danny has been trying. Their desire and joy in life inspire him to have the same flame.

“[The kids are] just living–trying to live–their full lives,” Danny said. “They’re so much more hungry than I am to live a normal, happy life, and I just couldn’t see why I just couldn’t do the same.”