When Greer Feck was 14 months old, her parents received a diagnosis that would alter the course of her young life.
She'd been an unhappy baby but, rather than becoming more settled as she got older, things got worse: "It actually got to the stage where she couldn't lift her head," says her mum, Dannevirke resident Aimee Feck.
Eventually the reason for her unhappiness was discovered: she had a rare cancerous tumour in her spine. It was the kind of news every parent dreads.
"But in some ways, it was also a relief . . . we had a diagnosis," says Aimee.
So began a decade of extensive treatment and travel. Dannevirke doesn't have the facilities needed to treat such an obscure and serious cancer so Greer and family had to travel to Wellington and Auckland for her procedures.
There were a lot of them: 25 surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But at the end of each trying, tortuous day, Aimee and family found comfort and support within the walls of Ronald McDonald House.
"Some days were really tough. But you'd walk in and the person at the front desk would know you were suffering and give you a hug."
Greer (now 11) is one of the many children whose families have stayed at a Ronald McDonald House during health ordeals. It is a home away from home, providing free accommodation, home-cooked meals, and emotional support for extended families of young people needing hospital treatment.
Last year, Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) New Zealand helped a record 4300 families across the country focus on the important task of nurturing their loved ones in hospital.
"Having a place to stay near the hospital means the families can be close by their child to give them the love, security and emotional support only a family can give," says RMHC New Zealand's CEO, Wayne Howett.
To raise awareness and much-needed money, RMHC New Zealand is running the Build A Fort campaign. From April 15, the charity is encouraging Kiwis to get creative, to build a fort and help out children in hospital and their families.
"Grabbing a blanket to make a fort highlights the importance of family togetherness. It's something we all did as kids, something the whole family got involved in," says Howett. "It also symbolises the role Ronald McDonald House plays in providing a sanctuary for hospitalised children and their families."
Once the fort is built, you can share a photo of it online with the hashtag #buildafort and the tag @rmchnewzealand. Donations can be made by texting FORT to 4483 (for a $3 donation), or visiting www.rmhc.org.nz/donate
The Feck family has stayed at a Ronald McDonald House in Auckland and Wellington. Aimee can testify to the importance of RMHC New Zealand and the importance of supporting it.
"Ronald McDonald House is a second home to us. Having a room there enables extended family to come and stay during a time traumatic for everyone. It also removes the extra worry of accommodation costs, especially in an expensive city like Auckland."
Aimee says that it offers much more than people think: "There is a school there, outdoor play areas for children staying, special meals cooked during the week. It's homely, and best of all, within a close walk to the hospital."
Mercifully, Greer has been cancer-free for five years now. But her journey is ongoing – she has rods in her spine that need to be checked every six months. Every time the Feck family come to Auckland from Dannevirke for these checks, they always stay with RMHC New Zealand.
Aimee wants people to know how important the home is for families: "Everyone there is a long way from home and going through a terrible time. It's so wonderful to have a warm, comfortable place to go back to after the really hard days."
For more information about the Build A Fort campaign, see www.buildafort.co.nz