By Terry Rogers
In 1974, an unlikely partnership began in Philadelphia between an NFL team, a children’s hospital and a restaurant chain. None of those involved in the initial partnership could have imagined that the dream of a “home away from home” for families with seriously ill children would grow to become an international phenomenon. The only goal of the group was to create a place where the parents of sick children could be with others going through similar trials who would understand each others’ situation and provide emotional support to each other.
“The seeds were planted when the three-year-old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end, Fred Hill, Kim, was diagnosed with leukemia,” said Laura Marek, Southern Delaware Advancement Officer and Grant Writer, said. “Hill and his wife camped out on hospital chairs and benches, ate food from vending machines and did all they could to keep Kim from seeing their sadness, exhaustion and frustration. They saw other parents around them doing the same thing. They learned that many of them had traveled great distances to bring their children to a medical facility, but the high cost of hotel rooms was prohibitive. They began to believe that there had to be a happy medium.”
It was not long before Hill rallied the support of his teammates to try to raise funds to help families who were experiencing emotional and financial traumas similar to what he and his wife were facing. Philadelphia Eagles General Manager, Jim Murray, along with other team members, offered to help. Dr. Audrey Evans who was head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, had often dreamed of a house that would serve as a temporary residence for families of children being treated at her hospital. The NFL team and Dr. Evans enlisted the assistance of McDonald’s in order to create the first Ronald McDonald House.
By 1979, ten more houses opened and, over the next five years, communities worked to open 60 more. By 1989, 53 more Ronald McDonald Houses were opened across the country. The houses became a way for communities to come together to help neighbors who needed comfort and security during a difficult time. Today, there are 363 Ronald McDonald Houses in 42 countries.
“There is only one Ronald McDonald House in Delaware across from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children,” Ms. Marek said. “All Ronald McDonald Houses in the world are located near and associated with a specialized pediatric hospital. We also have three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in Delaware. Family rooms are specialized areas set aside in medical facilities serving pediatric patients. They are intended to serve as a quiet rest area for family members of children admitted to the hospital for treatment and replicate the home-like atmosphere that parents desire when they need a break from the “hospital environment.” Our Family Rooms are located at Bayhealth Kent General Hospital in Dover, Christiana Hospital in Newark and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont for Children in Wilmington.”
Ms. Marek said that the Ronald McDonald House organization is working closely with Nemours/A.I. duPont and Bayhealth Medical Center to determine the best way for the organization to work with the new Milford campus being built south of Milford which will include a partnership with Nemours.
Charitable donations to the organization are accepted throughout the year and the Ronald McDonald Houses depend on donations from the public to keep them operational. Donations can be made through their website at www.rmhde.org or calling 302-656-4847. They can also be mailed to 1901 Rockland Road, Wilmington DE 19803 with checks payable to Ronald McDonald House.
“We also have the ‘Walkway to Hope’ Brick Recognition Program,” Ms. Marek said. “People can purchase an inscribed brick on our ‘Walkway to Hope’ which is a patio of bricks that will be located directly in front of the main entrance to the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware. We also offer a ‘Donate Your Vehicle’ program. A donated vehicle will pay for a family’s week long stay. Visit CarsHelp.org or call 855-227-7435 to learn more.” The organization will arrange to pick up the donation and can be a car, truck or boat which will be auctioned for the highest possible price. Ms. Marek said to be sure to specify that the donation goes to the Delaware house.
Other fund raisers include the Annual 5k Run/Walk in Lewes which begins and ends at Irish Eyes in Lewes. There are refreshments, prizes and a race t-shirt for all pre-registered participants. Contact Ms. Marek at L.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 302-521-6540. There is an Inaugural Plane Pull planned for October 28 at the Air Mobility Command Museum. For more information, contact Dawn Brooks at email@example.com or call 302-428-5315.
The Ronald McDonald House offers two options for volunteering. House Volunteers require specific training and a minimum of two shifts per month. Episodic Volunteers are for short-term projects that require no additional training. One duty performed by the Episodic Volunteers is the Meal Program where volunteers and groups visit the house 365 days per year to prepare dinner for the families in the commercial kitchen. Groups also prepare breakfast on Saturday or Sunday as well as lunch on Friday. Space limitations require that no more than 14 people and the minimum age for food preparation is 12 years old. Volunteers may also participate in Host Family Activities, cleaning, yard work and working at fund raising events.
Families who have children admitted to Nemours and who live more than 25 miles from the hospital may use the facilities at the Ronald McDonald House. Approximately 36 percent of the families who use the house are from Kent and Sussex County. Families are provided a private guest room with attached bathroom, free meals throughout the day, transportation to and from the hospital. Transportation is also provided to run errands near the hospital.
“Families also have access to a full-time social worker,” Ms. Marek said. “Often those who stay in the house include not only parents and guardians of the ill or injured children, but also siblings and sometimes the ill or injured child themselves. The house provides all of the comforts of home and much more, including a fitness center, library, lactation room, beauty salon, 25 seat mini theater, toddler playroom, recreation room for older children and a teen room.” Ms. Marek said that if the house did not exist, there would be limited options for parents, including paying for hotels, sleeping in their cars, commuting or separate their families during the child’s treatment. With an average stay of over eight days, many of the options are not possible for most families whose children are admitted.
Ms. Marek said that it costs $72 per night to operate the 50 guest rooms at the Ronald McDonald House. Families are asked to pay $15 per night, but it is a requested contribution and it is often reduced or waived. Many people whose children are admitted are unable to afford even the modest request for payment due to other financial burdens, loss of income due to job loss or loss of wages due to time spent caring for their child. In 2016, families have been able to contribute only $3.62 per night on average.
job loss or loss of wages due to time spent caring for their child
“Families are never turned away based on their inability to pay,” Ms. Marek said. “This is possible only through the steadfast support of our community.”
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