Pockat and Abraham are all smiles cleaning their assigned House in Mesa, Ariz., on Nov. 6. Contributed photographs.
Pockat and Abraham are all smiles cleaning their assigned House in Mesa, Ariz., on Nov. 6. Contributed photographs.
If there’s such a thing as the charity bug, Jennifer Pockat has undoubtedly caught it. Over the last 12 months, she has traveled around the country, donating her professional cleaning services to Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). 

“You just get gratification by knowing that you’re doing something good,” she said. “I don’t need a ‘thank-you’ for it.”

So far her travels have taken her to Greenville, S.C.; Minneapolis; and Phoenix, Ariz. Her parents, Vickie and Scott Abraham, have each accompanied her on trips.

This coming February, she and her father will fly to Nashville for another volunteering opportunity.

Regardless of the destination, the goals always remain the same: to clean, to learn and to give back.

Getting involved

Pockat is fairly new to the cleaning industry. After earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice-law enforcement, she spent time in the military and then worked as a police officer in Lac du Flambeau. About three years ago, she decided it was time for a change in pace and started working for her father, Scott, the longtime owner of Country Charm Flooring Center in Woodruff. She now manages the cleaning side of the business.

To become certified in techniques like carpet cleaning, color restoration and odor control, she began classes with the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). 

At one of her first certification classes, she met a few classmates who later invited her to a variety of Facebook groups for cleaners, one of which was called “Mikey’s Fest Events.”

As she soon learned, Mikey’s Fest is an unofficial organization founded by Mike Pailliotet that organizes and brings groups of cleaners from across the country to volunteer at Ronald McDonald Houses. In addition to cleaning, Mikey’s Fest attendants get cleaning instruction through panels, speakers and hands-on learning.

Pockat’s interest was piqued, and last December she applied for a Mikey’s Fest scholarship, which are offered to new business owners. Scholarships are available for each trip and cover the cost of a flight, hotel and event ticket.

A week after submitting her application, she found out she was one of three scholarship winners. She would be flying to Greenville, S.C., in February 2019.

Pockat and her father traveled together as representatives of Country Charm to Greenville for two full days of cleaning and instruction.

“It’s a great teaching opportunity for people like me who are new to the business,” Pockat said. “It’s a win-win.”

“It got me started,” she said of the scholarship. “You get hooked.”

And hooked she was. The next time she saw a post about an upcoming event, this time in her own midwestern backyard, Minneapolis, she jumped on the opportunity. 

In addition to national events, like Greenville, Pailliotet also organizes smaller events at Ronald McDonald Houses for local cleaners. The ultimate goal is to motivate cleaners to donate services to their local House every 6 to 12 months. 

Making every penny count

Pockat believes there are a number of misconceptions about RMHC — from what it does to where it gets donations.

Anyone who has been to a McDonald’s restaurant has seen the plastic bins of the RMHC next to the register. Donations dropped in the boxes go toward supporting all of RMHC’s programs, including Ronald McDonald Houses, Ronald McDonald Family Rooms and Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles.

The idea for a Ronald McDonald House was introduced in 1974. Since then, RMHC has become an international network with 367 Houses worldwide as of 2018. It is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. 

Houses are near large hospitals and provide families with a place to stay while their sick child receives treatment. Families are able to stay free of charge or for a donation of up to $25 a night.

“I think a lot of people need to know that it’s to help take care of families whose children are going through a crisis in their life and they may or may not make it,” Pockat said. 

For her, the mission is personal. 

“I have a son who’s 12 and in case something happened, I know it’s a great little organization,” she said.

RMHC is not so little. According to its 2018 Annual Report, “Through two of our core programs, RMHC helped families save more than $930 million in lodging and meal costs alone.”

Pockat pointed out that customer donations make up a large part of the organization’s funding each year. 

“There’s very little that comes from the actual restaurants,” she said. 

Though McDonald’s is RMHC’s largest corporate sponsor, the majority of its funds come from individual and other corporate donors. 

Mikey’s Fest events are meant to help bring the cost of Ronald McDonald Houses down as much as possible.

“It helps alleviate their budget to focus on more important things,” Pockat said.

Each year the charity grows. The 2018 Annual Report noted five new Houses were added and eight more were expanded that year.

As resources expand, so does the need for generous volunteers. 

Meaningful work 

According to Pockat, cleaning is an essential part of maintaining each House. Professional cleaning services would be costly due to each House’s size, since they are often multi-storied and large enough for several families.

Luckily, the relationship between RMHC and Mikey’s Fest benefits everyone involved.

Through cleaning these large and unique Houses, Pockat and her parents have accumulated new techniques they have brought back to their business.

On the most recent trip to Phoenix, Pockat and her mother, Vickie, were assigned to a House in Mesa, Ariz. Thanks to the its specific design, they were able to learn and practice upholstery cleaning, as well as alternative cleaning techniques for tile by getting instruction from more experienced cleaners.

“You’re almost getting a class,” Pockat said. “Everybody has different equipment, different tools, so I want to get my hands on it and see if it’s something I like and want to incorporate in our business up here.”

The hands-on experience is undeniably valuable.

“It provides opportunities that we don’t have up here in the Northwoods,” she said. “You have to be able to take those opportunities and learn what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong and just grow from it.”

Local giving

In addition to new techniques and tools, Pockat and her parents have brought the spirit of giving to the Northwoods through their business.

Just recently, Country Charm was approached by the Northwoods Wildlife Center about cleaning the part of the clinic that houses its interns.

“They had seen what we do for Ronald McDonald and they said, ‘Do you mind donating your services to us?’” Pocket said. “I said, ‘Why didn’t you guys call us years ago?’”

The cleaners completed the project earlier last month, and Pockat hopes it’s something they will be able to do every 6 to 12 months.

In terms of Mikey’s Fest events, Pockat and her father are already looking ahead to Feb. 28-29 for their trip to Nashville. 

“It’ll be the same format: one of the days will be all-day cleaning and then the next day will be the speakers that come in and talk about their experiences,” Pockat said. 

She is also interested in organizing a Mikey’s Fest event at one of the Wisconsin Ronald McDonald Houses, which are in Marshfield, Madison and Milwaukee.

She thinks Milwaukee, which is the largest, could be the best fit. 

“We just have to get the ball rolling to try to get it started here in Wisconsin,” she said.

Pockat has already spoken with Pailliotet about organizing a Wisconsin Mikey’s Fest. If successful, it will be the state’s first.

Delaney FitzPatrick may be reached via email at delaney@lakelandtimes.com.