But today was a happy day. In the bustling dining room, as Robert towers over the families collecting his plate of Armenian food to sit down and eat, Sacre is part of the Ronald McDonald family. At the end of dinner, the Lakers player and Vincent Bryson told me a little more about what this day meant to them.
LN: You told me briefly about your relationship with Brandon, and I understand your mother has also worked with special needs kids. But have you ever experienced someone in your family go through a sickness similar to these families? Does it help you relate?
RS: My grandmother passed away due to to cancer only about two years ago. My grandfather also died about ten years ago from the same disease. I can absolutely relate to these families; I know what many of them are going through. Cancer can be a long battle and what these parents go through isn’t easy. In fact, it’s tiring. So, if I can brighten their lives by any means just by being here, then why not?
LN: Vincent, I am sure Robert’s story resonates with you. What is your favorite part about working for the Ronald McDonald House?
VB: I spent my whole life giving back to others and I take that message with me during my time here at The House. Even if a family is staying with us for one night, it is important for me to get to know these families. You know, sometimes I will be having a long day and I take a ride in the elevator and talk to a mother who’s riding with me. She instantly makes my day better because I look at her and think that compared to what she must be going through, I have no right to a bad day. I think these families give to me as much as I give to them. To be able to support these deserving people is such wonderful privilege and makes me keep coming back.
LN: Robert, do you have plans to come back to the Ronald McDonald House?
RS: I am definitely coming back. I have had such a great time here tonight. The people who work here are wonderful and the families are inspirational.
LN: Will you be bringing any other players with you?
RS: *Laughs* I will absolutely try. Metta is one of the most generous people I know so I could probably get him to come along.
LN: As a parent first, and Lakers player second, what piece of encouragement or advice can you give to families struggling with any sort of illness or difficulty in their lives?
RS: Life is full of problems, whether they be small or big. But you can’t stop living life. Solving these problems may seem tough, but you have to fight through the struggle.
LN: Vincent, I have the same question for you. I want to know what you hope others leave with when they visit the House and what advice you can give to families struggling like those that live here.
VB: I hope that people get a sense that as humans, we are all in this together. An illness or an accident can happen to anyone. Most of the people we serve do have little money but there is the occasional Porsche in the driveway. Families want to be here; they want to be close to their children in the hospital as well as be surrounded by people they can relate to. The Ronald McDonald House is a safe environment for everyone. This place really creates a family of strangers. Overall, I hope people learn to keep their faith. There is always a bright side to everything, and even though doctors do a great job, they don’t always have all the answers. Which is why these parents and parents like them need to keep fighting and persevere. Faith heals all.
I think the best part about getting to know Robert’s philanthropic side is feeling like I can relate to this Lakers rookie. You think about these people that you revere, like the number of athletes we all look up to, and often times wonder how unalike you both are. Not the case. This night was about demonstrating how as humans we all have the same needs and desires, the same instincts, and the ability to bond with one another. It was apparent in the faces of the employees how much each and everyone of them adored being there. Executive Director Vincent Bryson was recruited to the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House almost fifteen years ago, unsure of what he was about to walk into. But Vince describes his experience the first time he stepped through the doors of the home:
“My heart opened. And it is like that with most people who walk through the door. My work here is highly relateable and we do something here that most people don’t think about till they need it. I came to the Ronald McDonald House without knowing what to expect other than I was needed, and the House was needed. The need for something like this is very present.”
Vince really is right; your heart does open at The House. He also explained how Los Angeles is really a Lakers town, which makes Robert’s generosity all the more appealing and amazing. What he said was really evident in the room; a number of kids had on Lakers jerseys or t-shirts. You could see the sparkle in the parents’ eyes to have someone from the Purple and Gold sitting and eating with their families. It was cool to distance myself to the corner of the room and really look at how Sacre made all these kids forget about their pain for a moment and just enjoy themselves. That is the measure of a true hero.