The following article appeared in Georgia Faces:

When you drop a coin into a donation jar, give blood or volunteer time to a local charity, you may be unable to put a face and name to those touched by your generous deed. In an instant, donors can be transformed into recipients.

Georgia 4-H agent Rebecca Thomas encouraged her 4-H’ers to collect pop tabs as a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House. She never dreamed she would one day be staying in a Ronald McDonald House herself.

Personally experiencing compassion

"I thought it was a wonderful organization for 4-H’ers to contribute to," said Thomas, Chattooga County Extension coordinator. "However, you don’t realize the impact it makes on a family until you put on their shoes."

On May 31, Thomas put on those shoes. Her 16-year-old son, Dylan, was injured in an accident. Doctors said he might never walk again. She knew that Dylan’s injury would require an extended hospital stay, and worried about living arrangements for her husband, her other children and herself. Her home was six hours away from the Knoxville, Tenn., hospital where Dylan was being treated.

Mickey D’s house is a haven

A hospital employee suggested they stay at the Ronald McDonald House. There she found a safe haven in the organization her 4-H’ers had been supporting for years.

"It’s not just a place to lay your head and throw your bags," Thomas said. "They really do become family."

With 4-H students across Georgia, Chattooga County 4-H’ers began collecting aluminum soda can tabs in 2003 when the 4-H District Junior Board of Directors voted to collect the tabs as a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House of Central Georgia. Thomas’s older son, Matthew Salmon, was the Junior Board vice president for the north district. He was named the highest pop tab collector for the year.

Since the project’s first year, 4-H’ers across the state have collected more than 100,183 pounds of pop tabs, totaling more than $54,500 for Ronald McDonald House.

4-H’er donate to return the favor

Thomas was not the only 4-H agent to use Ronald McDonald House’s services in this year. Casey Hobbs, Walker County Extension agent, spent three weeks at the Chattanooga, Tenn., Ronald McDonald House when her newborn son, Gregory, was hospitalized there.

"You really become family members with the other parents," Hobbs said. "It was nice to be able to focus on just my son for three weeks."

During the Georgia 4-H 2010 Junior Conference, Thomas and Hobbs were surprised to learn the 4-H’ers were donating the 2010 pop tab collection funds the Knoxville and Chattanooga Ronald McDonald Houses. The 17,170 pounds of pop tabs brought in $10,443, which will be donated in honor of the 4-H agents.

"I am honored that 4-H, an organization that I respect so greatly, is giving so much to the Ronald McDonald House, another organization that has become so close to my heart in the past year," Thomas said.