Generous Hearts

Despite Tough Path, Mother-Daughter Duo Looking to Future

Listen carefully to Jael Arroyo’s story about what the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House has offered through the years, and you’ll hear something exceptional.

Tucked between the usual praise for the comfortable rooms and delicious meals is Jael’s gratitude for how the House has helped her and her daughter, Jaelynn, grow as people and deepened their appreciation for the things they have.

Jaelyn and her Pop Tabs“The love of the community is so special there,” Jael says about the Gatewood House. “Jaelynn learns compassion and it’s opened my eyes to things. In sharing with other people, you find you are not alone, and many are dealing with things that are much harder than your own issues.”

To be clear, their path is not an easy one. Now 9 years old, Jaelynn, who is autistic and deals with eating disorders and related growth issues, has been coming to Atlanta’s Marcus Autism Center from her home in Ocala, Florida, since she was 2. The treatments often require lengthy visits, making it necessary for the Arroyos to stay in town for days and even weeks at a time. Time away from work is challenging for single mom Jael, who has stared down more insurance and financial hurdles than she can count.

After a long day of uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing therapies, Jael says the House’s respite is something she and Jaelynn look forward to. And beyond the relief from having to find money for hotels and food, it’s little things that mean the most.

“As a single mom, it’s just so nice to always have someone to talk to. There are always other people who are going through what I’m going through,” she says.

As a result, the two actively look for ways to contribute to the House’s needs these days. When planning for a trip to Atlanta, Jael says that includes thinking about items they can bring to donate.

Jaelynn has also embraced the philanthropic spirit. In addition to helping people through her local Kids Helping Kids chapter, she’s become a champion for Atlanta Ronald McDonald House’s Pop Tabs Program. The program, which has collected more than $151,000 since its 1998 launch, caught Jaelynn’s attention during one of her visits when she saw the pop tab pile.

In her mission to collect the tabs for the House, the otherwise reserved girl has appealed to Ocala radio listeners, walked up to strangers and even commandeered a microphone at a conference she’d accompanied her mother to.

While her appreciation for the House’s creature comforts is evident, Jael continues to circle back on something more subtle but also ultimately more important to her: Her child who has enormous challenges of her own, is learning that she is not alone in those struggles and that she also has the ability to help others in meaningful ways.

As she looks down the road at the journey ahead, Jael says she’s comforted knowing that she and Jaelynn can lean on their home-away-from-home for all their needs — the cozy rooms, the hot meals, the books to read, and the inspiration yet to be found in the House’s standout treasure, its people.