Nathan Wilkes

The Wilkes Family


Twenty-nine years ago, I welcomed my first child into this world. Nathan was born prematurely at 26 weeks weighing only 1 lb. 11 oz. We spent 2 1/2 months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at what is now Golisano Children’s Hospital. During this time, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester (RMHCR) became our home away from home.

From a very young age, Nathan struggled with mental health issues. At the age of seven, he made the first attempt at taking his life. We arrived at Strong Memorial Hospital and they sent us to the psychiatric emergency room, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program or CPEP. We sat—literally for days—waiting for an inpatient bed in the psychiatric unit. The soft, comfortable NICU seating we remembered, now replaced with fold-up chairs, which we would sleep in. No clean clothes, no food available. Dignity stripped away. We endured the circumstances because we were waiting for the best doctors and services—our son deserved nothing less. Raising children is remarkably difficult.

Raising children with behavioral health issues—even more so. Treating families with dignity and respect while their kids receive treatment should be an expectation, regardless of why or where they receive care. After several more hospital visits with my son, I made a commitment to help improve the clinical experience for families like ours.

Not long after, I became a board member of RMHCR and made it my mission to create a respite space for families with kids receiving mental health services. RMHCR, local McDonald’s owner/operators, and Strong helped to create the Mental Health & Wellness Lounge, which opened last November. Located near the outpatient child psychiatric unit, families have a dedicated respite space to take a break from the clinical environment. A cup of coffee, load of laundry, a kind staff member to listen. Simple things we take for advantage—until we are in crisis. The space has already allowed hundreds of families to realize the benefits of respite and self-care in order to better focus on the health of their child.

Thanks to a generous offer from a local family foundation, we can help RMHCR expand services to more children and families facing mental health challenges. The foundation has agreed to match dollar-for-dollar the first $12,500 we raise through this appeal! These funds will help alleviate the stress for families waiting in the psychiatric emergency department—CPEP—by giving them access to respite space at The House Within The Hospital on the 5th floor of Strong as well as the Mental Health & Wellness Lounge. Please join me in accepting this challenge to provide comfort, care and compassion to more families.

Please consider making a gift today.


Nancy Wilkes – McDonald’s Owner-Operator/RMHCR Board Member