Video: COMMUNITY | Ronald McDonald House
"Cookies, cookies!" a small voice echoed with delight inside the Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Alberta (RMHCNA) in Edmonton on Monday afternoon.
Having just returned from the Stollery Children's Hospital that morning, 3-year-old Aubrey raced into the RMHCNA dining area, where she was met by a table of heart-shaped cookies to decorate with some very special guests.
On February 13, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation (EOCF) and Oilers Ladies hosted the third annual Valentine's party for RMHCNA.
"Community basically runs this house," said RMHCNA Marketing and Communications Officer Kayla Gaffney. "So seeing amazing community leaders from the Oilers come in and just put smiles on kids' and parents' faces, it is just such a special moment!"
Joined by Zack Kassian, Kris Russell, Mark Letestu and Eric Gryba, the Oilers guests spent the afternoon participating in Valentine's themed arts and crafts with the kids.
While young Aubrey worked on decorating her cookie - with help from new friend, Casi Russell - her mom spoke with Oilers TV about their family's experience while staying at the RMHCNA.
"We're six hours away from home," said Amanda Baryluk, "so we aren't able to go home on weekends."
The Golden, B.C., resident continued, "But being here, we've made friends and their kids have become like family for our daughters."
Although relocating their family so their youngest daughter could receive the treatment she needed has been difficult, Baryluk said it is moments like these that help families through the hard times.
"It's nice to see [the Oilers players] get down on their level and make bracelets or decorate cookies," she smiled.
While Kassian carefully helped one little girl tie a newly made friendship bracelet onto her wrist, the Letestu family - Mark, his wife Brett and son Caleb - put their art skills to work at the colouring table.
"We're just colouring and having some fun!" said Mark Letestu.
The Oilers forward added, "My family has always had a longstanding relationship with the Ronald McDonald House. We love the organization and what it means to families. So to come here and help out, and maybe brighten someone's day, it means a lot."
But before the afternoon of festivities came to a close, the kids had one last surprise - a trip to the aptly named, "Magic Room."
A colourful room packed with new toys that have been generously donated by the community, the Magic Room is a place where the children are allowed to pick out any toy of their choice on special occasions.
And a Valentine's party spent with the Oilers is undeniably deemed a special occasion, to which the room full of smiling kids would certainly attest.