MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We’ve been sharing some very personal stories of people whose lives have been changed by some local nonprofits during this month’s Trees of Hope campaign. This week, our set is red and yellow in honor of the Ronald McDonald House.

The foundation provides a homey place to call home during very tough times. Siblings and parents can live in the houses while a child is being treated for chronic illness or serious injury.

Some of the homes are actually in local children’s hospitals. This large freestanding home is located near University of Minnesota hospitals. Some families stay a week, others a year and a half.

Inside the Ronald McDonald House on campus is a one-room schoolhouse; there are only two in the state.

Eight-year-old Ala Macheta is one of about seven students. She arrived from Poland 15 months ago.

“She could not say one English word when she arrived last October. And now? Now, she’s reading, she’s speaking English,” teacher Cindy Brittain said. “She won’t even speak Polish anymore, it’s amazing.”

Macheta’s sister has a rare disease that causes her skin to shed with even the lightest touch. She came to the U for treatment and she is on the mend.

“I got a bone marrow transplant. I donated blood for my sister,” Macheta said.

Cindy Brittain and Ala Macheta (credit: CBS)

Cindy Brittain and Ala Macheta (credit: CBS)

Her story is similar to all of her classmates. They are all full-time residents of the Ronald McDonald House on Oak Street and Brittain is their teacher.

“I’ve had parents say with tears in their eyes, ‘I need you to take care of my baby. I have the hospital baby. And my baby here, I can’t hardly give them any time,'” Brittain said.

She is in touch with their teachers, wherever their home schools may be, keeping students on track academically and emotionally.

“They’re not with their dogs, they’re not with their cats, they’re not with their friends, they’re not going to dances, they’re not going to football games. Nothing is normal in their life,” Brittain said. “And all of the sudden, ‘Oh, it’s a school and somebody is taking care of me.'”

Some learn lessons outside the classroom. Esme Gallegos, a third-grader, is also in Brittian’s class. She’s from Houston, and she proudly flashes her brand-new snow boots.

“My nickname when it comes to the weather is ‘Miss Texas,'” she said, showing off the boots. “I got them here because we don’t really have this gear in Texas.”

Like all the students, she lives here and learns here because of her sibling, who was small for his age as he didn’t have enough red blood cells.

Several months and a bone marrow transplant later, he’s doing better and his sister is not too bad off either. She’s taken a liking to her new teacher, and her new home.

“It’s a gift for me to be able to watch that, to see these kids take care of each other and they know what’s important in life,” Brittain said. “That’s what gets me up in the morning.”

A grateful teacher of a class full of children who get it in more ways than one.

“The Ronald McDonald House is just a giant working together community,” Macheta said. “I’m amazed at how many people donate money, and it just is so awesome, it really helps our school and the Ronald McDonald house in general.”

The school is actually registered as a Minneapolis alternative school, so they have full days. It costs about $50 to $100 a day for these families to stay in the refuge of the Ronald McDonald house. So even a small donation can offer a world of comfort.

To help, click here.

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