For nearly 40 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central and Northern Arizona has been a home away from home for families with children facing medical challenges, providing an atmosphere of comfort and hope. Here, Kerry Schulman, CEO, discusses how the pandemic has affected Ronald McDonald House, its goals for the year and how community members can best give back to the wonderful cause.
What prompted the start of the nonprofit? Ronald McDonald House exists here in the Valley because of two very special women – Suzanne Hanson and Judy Schubert – who saw a need for a place for families to stay close to the medical resources their children needed. In the early 1980s, Suzanne had lost her nephew, Mark, to leukemia and reflected on what it would have meant to her sister to have a Ronald McDonald House near the Atlanta hospital where he was being treated. At the same time, Judy was volunteering at St. Joseph’s Hospital where she would often witness families sleeping in their cars or in waiting rooms while their children received medical care in Phoenix.
It took six years from inception to the opening of the first Ronald McDonald House on May 15, 1985. Along the way, Suzanne and Judy recruited many community champions and members of their networks to help them, including hospital partners, the Junior League of Phoenix, and local McDonald’s owner/operators.
Now, 37 years and three Valley locations later, the House has been a “home-away-from-home” for over 57,000 family visits.
What is the greatest reward in being involved with the nonprofit? I truly believe that Ronald McDonald House is an essential part of the healthcare system for families who must travel long distances to receive the medical care their children need and deserve. While doctors and nurses take care of their patients, we pride ourselves on our ability to take care of their families so they can focus on what matters most – their children.
As families gather in our kitchens and relax in our family rooms, I see the load the House takes from the heavy shoulders of parents going through their most challenging times. I see the smiling faces of families checking out and heading back home after long stays and lots of appointments. And I hear the touching stories of how the House lightened the burden of their journey.
I also have the pleasure of inviting community members to join in our mission of serving families and showing them firsthand how their support makes a lasting impression on families. Once you see the House, you can’t shake it. It is always incredible to witness the incredible impact we have when our community comes together to support these special families.
What is the biggest challenge the nonprofit faces? Has the pandemic affected the needs of Ronald McDonald House? Like most nonprofits, the pandemic brought forth many challenges. We learned quickly that pediatric illness and injury did not stop because of a global health crisis. Children and families still needed medical resources and care. For a time, we had to pause admitting new families into our programs. We partnered with local hotels that gave us reduced rates so could pay for our families to stay in hotels that were close to the hospitals where their children were receiving medical care and treatment. Our staff pivoted and added extra cleaning and protective protocols to help keep our families and staff safe. And when we had to pause our volunteer program, including our essential Dinnertime Heroes program, we raised funds to purchase nightly meals and snacks for families.
One silver lining of the pandemic was the space and time to renovate the guest rooms at our Roanoke House so they could better accommodate families’ needs.
What are the nonprofit’s goals for 2022? Volunteers have historically supported our organization in so many important ways: nightly dinners, restocking rooms, special events, front desk support, etc. It’s been difficult not to have their generous support, time and talent. One of our goals this year is to rebuild our volunteer program. Community support and volunteers are essential to the sustainability of our three Houses and programs.
Along with enhancing our volunteer program, we plan to begin renovations at our Cambridge House on the campus of Phoenix Children’s Hospital. As one of our busiest locations, rooms at this House get a lot of love. We are eager to give them a little boost to better serve families.
How can readers help? I’m glad you asked! Our greatest need is volunteers to help support our Dinnertime Heroes program by preparing nightly dinners at our three Valley Houses. This program is a staple to the services we provide families. It may seem like just a meal, but for families already going through so much, having one less worry, one less expense, and a few extra smiles goes a long way. Interested volunteers can learn more about this program at www.rmhccnaz.org/meals.
Does the nonprofit have any events or fundraisers on the horizon? We are excited to be hosting our second Heart of the House Island Party on Saturday, Oct. 15, at the iconic Hotel Valley Ho. The island-themed event will be a wonderful night of celebrating our mission and coming together to make a difference in the lives of families! You can learn more about this event at www.rmhccnaz.org/party.