RMHC family on outside playground

Ronald McDonald House is comforting place during difficult times


“With the Ronald McDonald House Party — Red Shoes, Vines & Brews, we are very excited to welcome people into our house and show them exactly what it is that we do and how we try to be the best stewards of their gifts,” said Scott Matlick, development manager with the nonprofit organization that has been assisting children with serious illnesses and their families for more than 35 years. “We had overwhelmingly positive feedback from the event last year.”

Each year, the Ronald McDonald House, a 24,000-square-foot facility on the Banner-University Medical Center north campus, serves about 500 families who travel to Tucson seeking medical care for children age 21 or younger.

Guest families must live at least 30 miles from the house and have a referral from a local hospital. They come here from across the country.

At one time, families who could afford it were asked to pay $15 nightly for the accommodations and food provided by the house. Now, community support allows the house to provide its services for free.

“I know from talking to families that this place is a godsend for them. It is really a comfortable home away from home. Even for a middle-income family when you have a child who is seriously ill, paying for lodging and food can push you over the brink,” said Kate Jensen, president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona.

Jensen said that home-cooked meals provided by the Chef For a Day Program — in which groups of up to 12 volunteers bring in food to cook lunch and dinner for the families — are a wonderful amenity that allow guests of the house to focus on their families during a health crisis.

“They don’t have to think about planning for meals and worry about the expense of going out when they have a sick child, so that makes it even more home-like. They are especially thankful for that,” said Jensen.

Volunteers are the backbone of the Ronald McDonald House, according to Jensen. In addition to the 1,000-plus volunteers who assist occasionally with Chef For a Day, special events and other programs, more than 80 volunteers contribute regularly to the daily operations of the house services.Among those is Judy Goddard, 77, who celebrated her 28-year anniversary as a volunteer last week.

Goddard, who assists with coordination of house volunteers and many other tasks, said the house is one of a kind.

“I really feel I am making a difference. The staff is amazing and the families I meet here are so inspiring because in spite of everything they go through, they wear smiles and portray happy people. It is just a wonderful place,” Goddard said.

She said the children give her extra incentive.

“They never complain. These children have serious illnesses and they smile and go about their day-to-day activities like nothing is wrong. They go off to the hospital for treatment and come back and continue on,” she said.

For her part, Goddard plans to continue her volunteerism.

“Whenever I wonder if maybe I have done it enough, I think about all of the things happening here at the house and I don’t want to miss any of them,” she said.

The upcoming House Party will feature live music, hosted tours of the Ronald McDonald House along with tastings of wine, beer and signature cocktails and a gourmet buffet. The evening, which also features a silent auction, seeks to raise at least $200,000.

Matlick said the funds will assist with general operating costs and help to expand existing amenities with needed services. He cited the recent purchase of a shuttle in which to transport sick children and their families to medical appointments as one such service.

“We are look at deepening the services we offer for our guests at the house. We feel there is more we can do to support them when they are going through crisis. Sometimes the ground is a shaky place during all of that and we want to stabilize it in every way possible,” Matlick said.


Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net