In the midst of the 20th Anniversary celebration, Micah Schisler approached the front desk at the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States with determination.

The 6-year-old from Webb City, Missouri, was on a mission - to deliver a bag of pop-tops from cans.

Micah said he collected the tops with the help of his sister, Autumn.

At 8, Autumn Schisler is one of the junior volunteers at the RMH. 

She said she likes to help at the house, not only because it lets her help alongside her mother, but because it makes her proud.

Volunteers like Autumn, as well as those providing support from the surrounding communities, were celebrated on Friday, July 27, as supporters and staff gathered to celebrate the home's 20th anniversary in Joplin.

Celebrating 20 years

Twenty years ago, on July 27, 1998, the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States began operation at the corner of 34th Street and Jackson.

The facility, a vision of Bob and Libby Jennings, was 185th in the family of homes which now exceeds 360 in both the United States and around the world.

In addition to the home which sits near the Freeman Hospital campus, volunteers in Joplin established a Ronald McDonald Family Room at Mercy Hospital in Joplin.

Families with seriously ill children at both hospitals are eligible to receive services at RMH.

Annette Thurston, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Four States, said the completion of the RMH in Joplin meant families have a place to call home while their child was receiving care.

"It meant no longer sleeping in cots or waiting rooms, or eating out of vending machines," Thurston said. "It meant families would have their own bedroom and private bathroom, access to a kitchen and laundry, as well as in and outdoor play areas, a patio and a chapel."

Thurston spoke proudly of the chapel, saying it was the first to be built within the walls of a RMH.

"Families have access to transportation, meals, computers," Thurston said, as well as interactive apps and computer programs which allow families to stay in touch with their child 24/7.

Thurston said volunteers, which number close to 200, provide families who stay at RMH with a variety of additional services including parent education, counseling and visits by a therapy dog. 

Thurston said the home continues to operate primarily by volunteers ranging in age from junior volunteers (12 and under), teen volunteers (13 to 17) and adults (18 and above).

Thurston said because of the amount of volunteers, as well as the many community supporters, the home continues to operate each month with a $32,000 budget. 

"I've never had a budget line item fall through, because of your generosity," Thurston said, adding people's support of the home "reflects the character of the people of the Four-State area."

Mike Jennings spoke for his family during Friday's ceremony. He said he remembered the day, 23 years prior, when volunteers gathered on the hillside where the home now sits, to host the first fundraiser and telethon.

He recalled how Warren Turner's baseball team from Missouri Southern was present, stacking blocks to symbolize each $100 donation received during the event.

"I remember that day so vividly," Jennings said. "Parents would pull up along 34th street, and their kids would get out walking towards the fish bowl with big grins.

"They would drop in their pennies, nickels and dimes. You could just see the joy on their faces, as they dropped in what probably came from their piggy banks."

On the other end of the spectrum, Jennings said, came the large donors, who brought in financial contributions as well as in-kind donations.

"Between the two ends of the spectrum, think about how much in between, you had the individuals and clubs and organizations raising funds," Jennings said. "No matter what the contribution was, rest assured it was acknowledged and we were thankful for it."

Jennings said his heart was full as he looked out among those taking part in Friday's celebration.

He said his father, the late Bob Jennings, would be pleased with how the home has grown in 20 years.

Helping families

Tyler and Natalee Gleason were among the families who took part in Friday's celebration.

The Gleasons, who reside in the Joplin area, stayed at the RMH after their daughter was born on April 29, 2016.

Graclynn, now 2, took on some fluid during birth, necessitating a multiple-night stay in Freeman's NICU.

"[Staying here] took so much stress off us, stress we didn't even know we had until we went home," explained Natalee Gleason. "Going home meant a 40-minute round trip. Her care hours were every three hours, and it would take one and a half hours."

Natalee Gleason said staying at the RMH meant the family were able to rest during the time between care visits, and stay close to their daughter. 

Her husband said the RMH gave the couple a place filled with warmth and support.

"It was family and it was home," Tyler Gleason said. "It was like being in our own home with warm meals. We never felt like we were intruding. They welcomed us every night."

Since Graclynn's birth, the couple have become supporters of the RMH. 

"It's made me want to make sure people know about what they do," Tyler Gleason said.

As a branch manager for U.S. Bank in Joplin, Tyler Gleason has arranged for his staff to fix one meal each quarter for the house.

Others provide time filling a volunteer shift staffed by bank employees. 

In July, culminating with the RMH's 20th anniversary, bank employees organized a toy drive, to provide new items for the home's play rooms.

Natalee Gleason said while she appreciated all of the services provided by the volunteers, what she remembers most from her stay is the people themselves.

"It's easy to give somebody a room to stay in, or stuff the kitchen with food," Natalee Gleason said. "Those things don't mean anything without the people running the house. "

For more information about the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States, persons interested may visit www.rmhjoplin.org or call 417-624-2273. The house is located at 3402 South Jackson Avenue in Joplin.

Why Pop Tabs

Ronald McDonald House officials say pop tabs are an easy way for people of all ages to support the RMH and to raise funds for children and their families.

The pop tabs are easier to store - and more hygienic - than the entire aluminum can.

Since 1997, the RMH's recycling program has raised more than $33,000. The monies raised from recycling goes to assist with lodging costs.

For more information, persons interested may visit www.rmhjoplin.org, or drop off pop tabs at the house located at 3402 S Jackson, in Joplin.