Anne Czarnecki cares for families in need every day as senior house director of the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) near Advocate Children’s Hospital.
While those families worry about their children, Czarnecki makes sure the families’ other concerns, such as housing and financial obligations, are taken care of.
So, it made perfect sense that on Aug. 29 Czarnecki received the Caring Heart Award, named in honor of the late Caroline Griffin, at Mother McAuley High School’s annual “Fore the Macs–Playing it Forward” golf outing at Ridge Country Club.
Griffin, a Beverly resident who attended McAuley and was an avid golfer, battled a lifelong heart condition that unexpectedly took her life in 2015 at age 21. She had many long hospital stays throughout her life, and while she never benefitted directly from Ronald McDonald House, millions of children like her have.
Czarnecki said she is honored to be recognized in Griffin’s name.
“It’s quite humbling because Caroline has quite a legacy,” said Czarnecki, a 1998 McAuley graduate who also volunteers with the school. “While I don’t feel like I have had the hardships that Caroline had, I help families who are going through medical crises themselves. To be able to celebrate Caroline’s life doing something that she loved to do—I know she found peace out on the golf course—is pretty incredible. I feel so lucky to be part of the McAuley community and to be amongst women who are empowering themselves.”
Czarnecki, of Oak Lawn, was the third recipient of the award, which is presented during the golf outing that raises funds for McAuley’s Tradition of Excellence scholarships, which are awarded to legacy students whose mothers, grandmothers or aunts attended McAuley. This year, school officials said, 53 freshmen have received $1,000 scholarships.
At RMH, 4410 W. 93rd St., Czarnecki leads staff and volunteers, and oversees family-care matters, hospital relations, community outreach, fundraising and facility maintenance.
This spring, she led a million-dollar expansion that added five guest bedrooms to the RMH.
She also led an internship program this summer that included two McAuley students, and she oversees an RMH teen advisory board that is made up of local high school students, including from McAuley.
Czarnecki, who serves on McAuley’s institutional advancement committee, said students from her alma mater frequently support RMH, whether it’s cooking meals or making blankets for families.
“We’re a home away from home for families whose children are in the hospital, and they are undergoing an interim crisis,” Czarnecki said. “Moms and dads can stay together, stay close, so that they can make the best decisions for their child while they’re at the hospital. In the Southland community, we have a great relationship with McAuley. We always have.”
Griffin, a Class of 2012 McAuley graduate, was born with a rare heart condition called endocardial fibroelastosis, in which the heart does not pump sufficiently. The condition took the lives of her older sister, Maura, at 3 months old, and her father, Michael, at age 42.
Griffin received a heart transplant before she turned 1, and she led an active life, playing golf at St. Ambrose University before her death on Jan. 15, 2015.
Her mother, Georgina, and sister, Courtney, said Czarnecki is an excellent choice to receive the award because as Griffin spent so much time in the hospital, they saw up close how RMH makes patients’ lives easier.
“She was at Children’s Memorial [now Lurie Children’s Hospital] for 3 months,” Georgina said. “Thankfully, we didn’t have to use the Ronald McDonald House, but other patients around us, we would see the benefits of the Ronald McDonald House up at Children’s.”
McAuley President Mary Klingenberger praised Czarnecki for supporting her alma mater and said that for “as busy as she is with her career,” she remains actively involved at the school.
Carey Harrington, McAuley vice president of institutional advancement, said Czarnecki is always “sharing her unique talent” to advance McAuley’s causes through her outreach, community engagement and fundraising efforts.
Czarnecki said she sees parallels between RMH and McAuley. Both, she said, are focused on providing bright futures for children.
“I just think that the correlation of family, the correlation of giving to our future generation to set them up for future success is very powerful.”
According to McAuley officials, 150 golfers played in the outing, and over 200 people attended a dinner reception afterward.
For more information on Tradition of Excellence Scholarship, visit mothermcauley.org.