When a child experiences a health crisis, time seems to stop for the family. Shock and devastation set in, followed by unspeakable stress and an inability to focus on anything other than the child’s treatment. This is why Ronald McDonald House Charities have become so vital.
It all started in 1974, when NFL player Fred Hill’s 3-year-old daughter, Kim, was diagnosed with Leukemia. Hill and his wife practically lived in the hospital waiting room, and they noticed other families doing the same. Those families had traveled great distances and were literally living in waiting rooms and cars. Fred and his teammates fundraised and ultimately partnered with local McDonald’s restaurants to open the first Ronald McDonald House — a nonprofit home away from home for families experiencing a medical crisis.
Forty-three years later, Ronald McDonald Houses can be found in 30 countries and serve over 100,000 families every year.
Judy Burns is the executive director of Pensacola’s house. She says that when these problems happen, people tend to focus on the child in the hospital and forget about their siblings and parents, who are also in crisis. “When this happens to a family, they’re in shock the first couple of days. Everyone’s struggling to take things in. The house is there to take care of them in that moment.”
The Pensacola house has 26 rooms and houses over 1,000 families every year. They stay for as little as one meal or as long as six months. Burns says it makes a huge difference for the children, too, when their families are close.
“Research shows children heal better when their families are nearby,” Burns says. “The child feels safer and more secure. For ongoing care, parents can be there to hear the doctor make critical medical decisions.”
Not every family has the best outcome, but most leave the Ronald McDonald House in higher spirits than when they entered.
Burns says they couldn’t function without their wonderful volunteers. If you’d like to pitch in, you can call 850-477-2273. To learn more about supporting Pensacola’s Ronald McDonald House, visit www.RMHC-NWFL.org. They are accepting donations and volunteers for their provide-a-meal program.