Lady Jackets open Princess Room at Ronald McDonald House Charities

The Lady Jackets, wives of Blue Jackets players, coaches and management, opened the Princess Room at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio this week. The project was funded by the annual Blue Jackets Favorites Basket Auction and Raffle // Columbus Blue Jackets

Alison Lukan

Last week, the Lady Jackets, wives of Blue Jackets players, coaches and management, opened the Princess Room at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio (RMHC). The unveiling marks just the latest contribution that the group of women have made to central Ohio.

To work with RMHC has always been an easy decision for the women. The facility provides a home away from home for families who have a child receiving treatment at a local area hospital.

Many people think of the Ronald McDonald House as a place for families to sleep, get a shower, some people might say it’s like a hotel," said Dee Anders, RMHC Executive Director. "We like to say it’s more like a house. We have community space as a place for families to get together and do other things."

The Lady Jackets have been working with the charity for years. Kim Clark, wife of former Jacket player and current development coach Chris Clark, had been a part of projects with the House dating back to 2010.

When the Clarks first came to Columbus, she and other wives heard about how community spaces at the House were decorated to represent local sports teams. They wanted to make sure the Jackets had a presence and led a project to make part of the house "The Jackets Zone."

To fund the space, Clark brought the idea of the Blue Jackets Favorites Basket Auction and Raffle to the group –a signature event where Lady Jackets build baskets representing the players’ favorite things. The baskets are then auctioned off during the holiday season.

When RMHC announced that they were building a 30,000 square foot expansion to their existing facility, making it the largest House in the world, it didn’t take long for the Lady Jackets to get involved once again.

"Once you go in there and you learn about what the house gives back to families that have to travel here with their children that have to be in the hospital, it’s amazing," Clark said. "The House helps them not have to worry about meals, a place to stay, and other activities to do. We always go back there — it’s a place we love to give."

STORY BEHIND THE CANNON

As some of the women toured the planned expansion, they realized a facility with so much space dedicated to sports, could also provide a space with a more feminine feel. And the idea of the princess room was born.

Brett Lestestu, wife of Jackets forward Mark Letestu, volunteers at the House weekly. She cleans dishes, does laundry and other tasks for the families that are staying there. As the mother of two boys, she embraced the opportunity to not only give back but to do something for little girls.

"Normally I’m there cleaning or doing laundry or whatever else so it was nice to do something different and you’re still helping people it’s just in a different way," Letestu said. "We’re always doing something hockey related or for the guys so it’s nice to be there for little girls."

The Lady Jackets used the proceeds of their 2013 Holiday Baskets event to fund the Princess Room based on a design put together by Lady Jacket, Sarah Tyutin. The room has a castle facade, princess dresses for dress up, games, DVD’s, and other toys for children to play with. The women also plan to add new elements every month to keep children’s experiences fresh.

"We wanted them to have a place to go to get away from everything that they are thinking about," Clark said. "We want them to feel like they aren’t in the hospital right now, they can put on a princess dress and play in their little world."

At the room’s grand opening, the Lady Jackets hosted a tea party that involved food, mini-tea cups, a visit from Elsa, from the Disney movie Frozen, visits to the salon that is also in the House and lots of play.

"There were some patients who came and couldn’t even walk," said Letestu who organized the party. "To see the smiles on their faces was great. Even if they stopped by for only five minutes, it was awesome."

For the women, it’s about providing an opportunity for children to be children and find an escape from the realities of the diseases their family is fighting.

"We try to provide special space at the house," Anders said. "If you can imagine being little at a hospital, you don’t understand why you or your sibling is sick and in a bed and you have to be quiet. So you can come over here and hopefully experience a little normalcy. It’s a time they get to let loose for a while."

The project was so successful, that the Lady Jackets plan to use some of the funds that were left over from the Room to update the Jackets Zone at the House. For Clark, the importance of the community support from the Holiday Baskets and other Lady Jackets programs cannot be underestimated.

"We’re so appreciative of this community," Clark said. "Any way they support us we turn around and give it right back."

The appreciation is mutual. Anders said they could not fund projects like the Princess Room without the Lady Jackets support. She calls volunteers like Lestestu amazing and says people’s faces light up with the Lady Jackets walk into the House.

"They really do care, you can see it in their faces when they are with the kids," Anders said. "They truly enjoy making a difference for children who have an illness."

The Lady Jackets plan to bring back the Blue Jackets Favorites Basket Auction and Raffle this season as well.