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Google's sweetest service? A trip to trick out Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill

Local Google employees clean toys at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill as part of GoogleServe, a month-long volunteer program.

After nearly three months of planning, Jorge Gutierrez was finally walking through the bright halls of the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. 

As he made his way back to the large blue and green room where he was stationed for the day, Gutierrez crossed paths with a family that was staying at the house. 

Seeing Gutierrez’s black shirt with the unmistakable Google colors and font, the family stopped to chat. It wasn’t long before the son revealed his excitement about video games. In particular, the boy said, he couldn’t wait to play Mario Kart. Gutierrez’s smile widened as he invited the family to take a peek at what he had been working on all morning. 

An employee from the Google Data Center in Lenoir, North Carolina put a new Nintendo Switch in the boy's hands and showed him how to maneuver the controls. 

“His eyes lit up,” said Gutierrez, the Lenoir Data Center’s hardware operations site manager. “That’s what I’ll walk away with today. We made his day better.”

Local Google employees redid the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill game room on Friday, June 28, donating new gaming systems, toys and technology.

A total of 50 employees from the Lenoir Data Center, the Chapel Hill Google office and Google Fiber in Durham took part in the day of service as part of GoogleServe, an annual volunteer program throughout the month of June. 

Volunteers worked with different organizations on Thursdays and Fridays during the month, partnering with the Lenoir Soup Kitchen, Robin’s Nest Children’s Advocacy Center and Habitat for Humanity. The day spent at RMH Chapel Hill was the center’s largest donation and the finale to GoogleServe. 

“We want to be strong corporate citizens in the markets that we’re in,” Gutierrez said. “We recognize that there’s a lot that we could be doing and we have a team of folks that are passionate about serving in the community, about coming out and helping out.”

The Google offices donated around $7,500 in supplies to RMH Chapel Hill, which included Xboxes, TVs, Chromecasts and a Google Home Mini for every family. Google also donated $10 per person per hour of volunteer service for the day. Volunteers baked cookies, cleaned rooms and added new toys to the House’s play rooms. 

Google employees redid the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill videogame room, bringing new gaming consoles, TVs and Google Home Minis.

While the employees from the Chapel Hill and Durham offices were able to easily access RMH Chapel Hill, the Lenoir employees had to travel three and a half hours to get to the House. They piled into a charter bus to make the trip. 

“We had no shortage of people who wanted to come out,” Gutierrez said.

RMH Chapel Hill, which provides a “home-away-from-home” for families with children receiving care at local hospitals, is largely dependent on volunteers and donations to support their 53 guest rooms. The House raised 93 percent of its 2018 operating budget through donations, events and grants. 

When the Lenoir Data Center reached out to RMH Chapel Hill, the House gave them a dream list of projects they could choose from Cathy Hall, director of volunteer services and community engagement  said. The Data Center jumped at the chance to redo the video game room. 

“When we built out our expansion about three years ago, we envisioned having a space that had several gaming chairs, different screens where families could go in and play games after a long day at the hospital,” Hall said. “But, over time some of the materials broke, some of the materials got misplaced. What you could do in there was less and less.”

Christopher Chesnutt, administrative business partner at the Lenoir Data Center, said his team was excited to enable the children staying at RMH Chapel Hill to interact with artificial intelligence. 

He said the day was humbling, as the residents of the House are dealing with stressors that no one wants to experience.

“We’re just kind of loving on the kids and letting them know they’re not alone in this process,” Chesnutt said. 

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As the day wrapped up, the organizers were already looking to the future. The partnership between RMH Chapel Hill and Google is just beginning. 

“Next year, we’re back,” Chesnutt said.