One year ago today the first families were moving into the Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer as the facility officially opened its doors.
Since then, 212 families have stayed at the House.
“It’s surprising that it has been a year. It feels like we were just doing the opening not too long ago,” said Larry Mathieson, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta.
The 11-suite, 27,000 sq. ft. facility, located at 3908 50 Ave., is built to hospital standards to ensure the wellness of children who are recuperating from illness as well as the family members staying with them. The charge for a family to stay in the House is $12 per night.
There is also a room in the House for families who live close by but are spending their days at the hospital with loved ones.
Each floor is equipped with washers and dryers as well as a sitting area with a television. There is also a ‘magic room’ where kids can forget about their family’s stresses and play in the secret toy room. A large kitchen is the focal point of the main floor, which also showcases a library and sitting area as well as a playroom and a craft room.
Twelve million dollars was raised to build the facility. Operating costs are about $1.1 million annually and fundraising is ongoing to raise that money.
One of the surprises that the staff has seen in the first year of operation at the Ronald McDonald House is that families who require the facility are coming from all over Alberta.
“We do get a lot of families from Central Alberta but it has surprised us with the number of families we’ve had from outside Central Alberta as well. It’s kind of an Alberta resource when we typically thought it would be a Central Alberta resource,” said Mathieson.
Mathieson said compared to the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary, the Red Deer facility has a little bit more of a quicker turnover.
“The families are staying for a shorter period of time in Red Deer which of course is good news. A lot of the families we’re seeing are in the special care nursery or the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and when those babies can go home it means they are hitting good birth weights and they’re eating on their own. The average in terms of days is probably just a few days less in Red Deer. The average stay is 11 days or so.”
Mathieson said since the beginning there has also been overwhelming support from volunteers and supporters.
“Before we even built the House we had people wanting to sign up as volunteers. Central Alberta has been tremendously supportive even for a couple of years before we opened when we started raising they money. A charity like ours relies on some big donations and certainly we’ve had those, but the number of schools collecting pop can tabs or collecting pennies, the small business raising funds or the 4-H Clubs donating to us – those groups have been amazing and they’ve just continued.”
Looking ahead, Mathieson said they expect to serve even more families in their second year than they did in their first.
“One of the things is to continue to continuing the programs in the House like the Home for Dinner program. It allows the families to spend more time at bedside with their children in the hospital as opposed to worrying about meals. We’re hoping to max that program out this year.”
Julie and Justin Roth, who live in Consort, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House after their twin boys Carson and Connor were born six weeks early. They are now four months old.
“We delivered at the Royal Alex (Royal Alexandra Hospital) and I was there for about a week. The day I was discharged they said they were going to transfer us to Red Deer without really any warning. They said we could stay at the Ronald McDonald House,” said Julie.
Julie and Justin spent more than a month at the Ronald McDonald House as their twin boys continued to gain strength in the NICU at the Red Deer Regional Hospital.
“Our experience was great. It was so much better than a hotel and you didn’t have to worry about the cost of a hotel. We had our own room with comfortable beds and there were home-cooked meals. The staff there would ask how your day was everyday and they had craft night and other activities if you needed a distraction from all that was going on,” said Julie. “The staff are very compassionate, friendly and supportive.”
She added she is grateful for the Ronald McDonald House and for the opportunity to stay at the facility.
“I’m so glad we had our babies when we did and there was a place for us and that it wasn’t booked up yet. It’s a pretty amazing place.”