One of the really cool things about being on local television in my hometown for so many years was the opportunity to tell stories about upcoming festivals, fundraisers for nonprofits, mom-and-pop places and events. Also cool were the friends and relationships I made and continue to have.

One of my favs? The gang at the Ronald McDonald House of the Miami Valley.

Hard to believe they are celebrating 35 years of offering a temporary home-away-from-home for families of critically ill, hospitalized babies and children and supporting efforts that improve children’s health within our region.

Karen Dempsey-Volke is chief development officer at the house. Karen and I go waaaaaay back, and she and I got together to talk about the House’s humble beginnings in 1980.

“We opened in an old house at 741 Valley St. in Old North Dayton across from Dayton Children’s Hospital thanks to the caring efforts of several oncology nurses, doctors, parents of children with cancer, area McDonald’s franchise owners and community leaders,” Dempsey-Volke says. 

It was the 14th Ronald McDonald established and had seven guest rooms. Today there are more than 330 RMHs around the world. Over time, fortunately or unfortunately depending how you look at it, RMH saw a greater need for its services.

In 1996, the board of trustees kicked off a $3.2 million capital campaign. And, like many worthy funding efforts in our wonderful community of Dayton, the goal was reached.

Jump to November of 1998 and the RMH of the Miami Valley moved to its current location just down the street. This House has 14 guest bedrooms with private baths, a spacious kitchen, playroom, family room, laundry room and other amenities. They are open and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“Our doors of compassion have never closed since opening in 1980,” says Dempsey-Volke.

And get this: In addition to local folks, RMH has served families from more than 60 Ohio counties, 37 other states and several countries. The average length of stay for a family is 7-9 days, but they’ve had families stay for several months and some families who have a child with a chronic illness or disability who return to the House several times a year when their child is re-hospitalized.

“Since we opened, we have served over 16,000 families as overnight guests and thousands more who have utilized our ‘Day Guest’ program [and] those who come to the House for meals, snacks, to do laundry or to just have a respite from the hospital,” Dempsey-Volke adds.

I can only imagine. I’ve been truly blessed with healthy kids, but, like an insurance policy, isn’t it awesome to know they are there if you need them?

“Families count on the Ronald McDonald House for support during the most stressful and challenging times of their lives,” she says.

A big misnomer out there is McDonald’s corporation funds each and every house. Although they consider both Dayton Children’s and McDonald’s to be mission partners, neither organization underwrites the House. 

RMH is an independent 501(c)(3) and responsible for raising its own budget of approximately $1 million a year. Funds are raised primarily from individual donors, event sponsorships and participation, and family/community foundations.

In addition, there are aluminum can pull-tab collections, a vehicle donation program, Adopt-A-Room opportunities and, if you’re a regular like me, community donation boxes.

“McDonald’s owner/operators generously provide space at inside counters and drive-thrus for customers who would like to support the House. Those funds directly benefit our guest families,” Dempsey-Volke says.

But with many Mickey D’s customers using plastic in lieu of cash, donations at the boxes have been down. So, don’t forget to bring some change along. Oh, and by the way, the Bucher family loves collecting pull-tabs.

“[Pull-tabs] provide $10,000 to $15,000 annually and can be dropped off any time of day,” Dempsey-Volke says. 

As they say, another man’s trash … well, 35 years and counting for RMH, but what’s on the horizon?

“We are getting ready for a refresh of all of our guest rooms this year, sprucing them up with new flooring, fresh paint, bathroom fixture upgrades and more. Last year, thanks to the efforts of a great group of volunteers, we refurbished our playroom. We are in the preliminary stages of plans for Ronald McDonald Family Rooms inside our partner hospitals and a possible expansion of the House itself. The need for our services is definitely growing.” 

It truly is a calm in the storm, a respite from the uncertainty during a child’s serious illness. 

“Knowing that the House keeps families close to the bedsides of their children and relieves them from some of the worries and additional expenses that can accompany a hospital stay is a great feeling,” Dempsey-Volke adds. “Plus, I get to work with such a professional, dedicated and caring team of staff and volunteers—it doesn’t get much better than that!” 

Ronald McDonald House of Dayton, 35 years and McCounting.

OK, that was a bit of a reach wouldn’t you say?

Cheers!

Buch

For more on how you can help, visit RMHCdayton.org.