Media contact: Tom Hughes, (919) 966-6047, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Written by Elizabeth Swaringen for UNC Health Care
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Kaden Gray Robinson’s thick, red hair turns heads.
But even more attention-getting is his passion for helping others, especially the guests at SECU Family House where once a month he joins and helps lead a group of volunteers in providing dinner.
“He is a boy with a servant’s heart,” said Larry Robinson, Kaden’s father, and headmaster at Haw River Christian Academy, where Kaden is a student. “We are all called to serve, and Kaden truly has a special gift when it comes to reaching out to others. I couldn’t be any prouder of him.”
The monthly cooking project started three years ago as a ministry of Rock Springs Baptist Church in Pittsboro, where the Robinsons were members. SECU Family House was chosen for the outreach because of its mission to provide safe, affordable and comfortable accommodations for seriously ill patients and their families who come to UNC Hospitals for care. It’s the ideal home-away-from-home for patients who may have daily appointments at the hospital or need immediate medical attention.
I think SECU Family House is an important place because people can stay here and not have to worry about anything but getting well. The surroundings are really comfortable, and sometimes I’ll just sit in the living room and visit with people. It feels like home, but my house isn’t as big as this.
It was love at first date for then-7-year-old Kaden when the first meal was served, and the project was named Kaden’s Hearts.
And it was Kaden’s heart that kept the ministry going last year this time when, for a variety of reasons, the ministry seemed close to ending its work at Family House.
“We’ve continued primarily at Kaden’s insistence because it’s the right thing to do,” said Larry, noting that the volunteers of Kaden’s Hearts are members of Rock Springs Baptist Church and Emmaus Baptist Church in Pittsboro, where the Robinson’s now worship.
The meal is usually served on a Thursday night, with Larry and Kaden slipping out of school and making a beeline to Family House to begin final preparations for their signature meal which includes baked chicken, a variety of vegetables and Kaden’s favorite, potato casserole. Desserts vary, but are always plentiful. Fellow volunteers continue arriving and preparing until dinner is served at 6.
“I just go with the flow,” Kaden said modestly, doing whatever needs doing from stirring a pot to washing up utensils to pouring tea.
But as the food is blessed and guests begin filling their plates from the bountiful buffet, Kaden swings into action, doing his best work, working the dining room with genuine compassion.
He brings beverages as the diners find their seats. He delivers desserts for those who saved room. He offers refills for their glasses and plates. He always visits each table, talking with guests and more importantly, listening.
“I think SECU Family House is an important place because people can stay here and not have to worry about anything but getting well,” Kaden said. “The surroundings are really comfortable, and sometimes I’ll just sit in the living room and visit with people. It feels like home, but my house isn’t as big as this.”
The 40-bedroom hospitality house is at near-capacity most weekday nights, and most months Kaden sees a familiar face as some patients and their families are guests long-term. And usually audible above the din: “Who is that young man?” and “I can’t tell you what it means to see Kaden here.”
“He has always been good with adults,” Larry said. “He innately opens doors for them. He is particularly good at talking with them, showing exceptional interest in their life stories, a natural collector of oral histories of different times and places.”
Far wiser than his years, Kaden still enjoys activities common to 10 year olds.
“I enjoy playing video games, and I also like to ride my bike,” he said. “And I always enjoy doing stuff with my Dad — going to restaurants, movies, a family reunion in West Virginia, a Marshall University football game.”
He acknowledges that most of his peers don’t understand his commitment to SECU Family House, but that doesn’t faze him.
“I always look forward to the Thursdays when we cook here,” Kaden said. “We’ve already talked about why being here is so important. It motivates me to get my school work done so I don’t have to rush home. And those special Thursdays mean I get to enjoy a non-diet soda and maybe a second dessert. But don’t tell Mom.”