CHICAGO — Lauren Cox found 5-year-old Stanley Parchman pounding on a pint-sized piano in the corner of a playroom at aRonald McDonald House on Sunday.
Cox folded her 6-foot 4-inch frame into a crouch to strike up a conversation with the suburban Chicago youth.
An instant bond was formed.
Parchman grabbed her hand and led Cox through a series of activities — including an Easter egg hunt — joining more than 40 of the nation’s elite high school basketball players during a visit to the downtown Chicago home for sick kids and families.
“There’s no words for it, it’s a great experience and I’m really happy to be here,” said Cox, a Baylor signee from Flower Mound (Texas) who is ranked as the No. 1 player in the country.
She was quick to hoist Parchman for hard-to-reach spots where eggs were hidden. “I love little kids and being with them,” she said.
Parchman kept circling back to show Cox his haul, which ultimately totaled three small bags of plastic eggs with candy inside.
The two-hour visit to Ronald McDonald House was the opening event of four days of hope and hoops for the players, set to showcase their skills at Wednesday’s 39th McDonald’s All American basketball boys and girls doubleheader at the United Center.
Sunday’s Ronald McDonald House visit, a fixture of All American Game weeks, offered athletes in peak physical condition some one-on-one interaction with children dealing with health and physical challenges.
“These are an amazing group of kids, they come in, have a great presence, they sit down and hang out with the kids,” said Holly Buckendahl, CEO of Ronald McDonald Charities of of Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
“It’s a great distraction because otherwise they get up every day, they go for treatment and we have a lot of kids in the hospital, too,” she said. “We try to — at least — bring some normalcy and something to do. It means a lot.”
Brian Godish knows first-hand the impact Ronald McDonald House has had.
Last year he spoke to participating players while the family was staying there following stem cell surgery on his son Bradley as part of treatment for leukemia.
Godish returned Sunday, this time with a healthy 5-year-old son in tow.
“When I first came to Ronald McDonald House in 2014, I had no idea what it was,” said Godish, a resident of suburban Elgin, Ill. “It changed my life forever. This house kept my family going, we lived here for five months while Bradley was in treatment.
“I know basketball has brought you young men and women here today, but I hope as you moved forward I hope you find a chance to come back. … The impact you all have on this house and what it means this week means the world to us.”
Chicago’s Ronald McDonald House is the second-oldest of more than 300 worldwide. It serves as home away from home for families to stay close to hospitalized children suffering from serious illnesses or injuries.
Each house offers meals, private bedrooms for families and play space for kids. The houses, located in 60 countries around the world, served an estimated 5.7 million children and families in 2014. Non-profit houses are supported by McDonald’s Corporation and franchise owners as well as other corporate sponsors and and individuals.
Buckendahl said the game nets up to $500,000 which is poured right back back into services.
“It’s huge, it goes right back in the houses,” she said.
Buckendahl also hopes that players will remain connected.
“We hope that — like All-American players before them — they’ll continued to be touched by the mission and maybe find their niche in helping others,” she said.