Walker twins

Walker Twins take on Rio at the 2016 Olympics!

J’son Walker has yet to meet a stranger, says his mom, Shalonda Polk.

So, chances are the 12-year-old from Sylvester, Ga. will have a world of new friends when he and his twin sister, Ja’Kerria, return home from a trip to the 2016 Olympic Games.

“It’s the trip of a lifetime,” said Shalonda, who had to keep this a secret from the kids for several weeks while arrangements for a surprise announcement were underway. The trip will be an amazing birthday present for the Walker twins, who will celebrate their 13th birthdays on August 7 – the day they return home from Rio.

J’son and Ja’Kerria are among four pairs of children who formed friendships or shared similar experiences at a Ronald McDonald’s House®, and who have been selected by McDonald’s to participate in the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games on August 5. McDonald’s Corporation is the founding mission partner of Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC®), and McDonald’s invited RMHC alumni children to Rio de Janeiro for the upcoming Olympic Games.

The children are part of the global McDonald’s Olympics Kids Program, which celebrates the spirit of friendship – a key message of the Olympic movement. Nearly 100 children aged 8 to 12 years old from around the world are involved.

McDonald’s has sent children to the Olympic Games before, but this is the first year the children will participate in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. U.S. Olympic gymnasts Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci and their 9-year-old son, U.S. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and her 9-year-old daughter, and U.S. Olympic soccer player Julie Foudy and her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son are among the athletes that will join these children and their families in Rio.

J’son and his family have been regular guests at the Ronald McDonald House on Gatewood Road near Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston since 2005, when he was diagnosed with a serious form of sickle cell disease. Ja’Kerria has a milder form of the disease and doesn’t require the same treatment, but she does often accompany her brother when he comes to Egleston for care.

The Ronald McDonald House on Gatewood, one of two Ronald McDonald Houses in Atlanta, is a 3.5-hour drive from Sylvester. When J’son needs a checkup, which until recently was at least once a month, the family stays at the Gatewood Road House. When he had a more serious health setback many years ago, the family stayed for several months.

For Shalonda, the House is a place where her family is always welcomed “with open arms.” They can count on a good, hot meal; a safe, nice place to sleep, and even nightly entertainment, including movies and video games or visits from musicians and taco trucks. “I can just go and relax and they take care of you,” she said.

In fact, J’son is so busy making new friends and playing video games when he’s at the Ronald McDonald House that she has a hard time getting him to bed. “He never wants to go to bed,” she said, laughing. “Every time he goes he meets someone new.”

April Smith, family support services manager for Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities, agrees. “J’son makes friends with almost anyone who comes to the House. He is just one of those kids who is comfortable talking to anyone.”

In fact, J’son has become a role model for many of the children at the House. He teaches some to play video games, and encourages others to follow doctor’s orders. “J’son will say, ‘Come on, you got to take your medicine!’” said Shalonda.

The Walker twins are close, and so Shalonda knows Ja’Kerria will be thrilled to take the trip with her brother. “It would’ve just killed her to know that he was going someplace like that, and she was going to have to stay home and be so far away from him,” she said.

But now they can be together, as twins – and friends.