Ronald McDonald House Charities of Maine raised $67,500 at the annual Hearts and Hands Gala on Oct. 25 at Aura in Portland.

“This gives approximately 75 families the gift of a 12-night stay, which is the average length for our families,” said Kate Weidner, special events manager.

The nonprofit has a house in Portland with 21 guest rooms (an expansion for 15 more rooms is under way) and a house in Bangor with 14 guest rooms where families stay while their children receive care at local hospitals. Last year, 570 families stayed at a Ronald McDonald House in Maine, regardless of their ability to pay.

“Families can shift their energy to where it matters most – their child,” said Development Director Alicia Milne.

Kelly and Ryan Gleason of Augusta attended the gala with their 4-month-old twin girls, Emma and Riley Gleason. The babies were born at 35 weeks gestation, and for their first month of life one or both were at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Maine Medical Center. Their parents were guests at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland.

“The one thing we didn’t have to worry about was where to stay,” Kelly Gleason said. “We knew we were only a walk from the girls.”

The Gleasons talked about how welcoming the house was, with home-cooked meals, handmade quilts and a beautiful garden, thanks to volunteers.

Four volunteer master gardeners – Robin Babino, Delores Testa, Rachel Stamieszkin and Nicki Griffin – were recognized at the gala for their transformational work at the Ronald McDonald House garden in Portland.

Griffin began volunteering with Ronald McDonald House in 1997, providing shift coverage and acting as a guest chef. But, as a master gardener, she saw an opportunity to make the house even more welcoming. The Urban Garden Center has donated supplies and other master gardeners have donated their time alongside Griffin for the past several years.

“You can visibly see the passion she has for design,” said board President Celine Couillaut. “The garden is full of bright colors and it’s just beautiful. It makes it feel like a home.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

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