Ronald McDonald House celebrates four decades of helping families

  • "You want to have a safe haven you can go to," says Mallory Hicks of Joliet. Hicks used the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Edward Hospital in Naperville while her baby daughter, Josephine, was in the NICU for a month.

      "You want to have a safe haven you can go to," says Mallory Hicks of Joliet. Hicks used the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Edward Hospital in Naperville while her baby daughter, Josephine, was in the NICU for a month. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/1/2017 6:29 AM

Julie Loudermilk isn't letting her teenage son, Colin, battle cancer alone.

Since December, the Channahon mom has spent most of her waking moments with the 15-year-old, who is being treated at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

 

Still, there are times when even Colin encourages his mom to take a break.

For Loudermilk, that place of respite is across the street at the Ronald McDonald House.

"I come back here and get to sit and read a book, or do something quiet, or do something normal like pay bills," she said. "I get to step out of it."

Helping families with hospitalized children is the reason Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana was founded four decades ago. Last week, the group celebrated the 40th anniversary of the opening of its first house in Chicago.

"The entire family is affected by a child's illness," said Lisa Mitchell, the organization's vice president of programs and services. "They often have to travel far from home. Parents become exhausted sleeping bedside and not having appropriate accommodations because the hospital is focused on the care of the child. We provide support for everyone in the family."

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Lisa Mitchell, vice president of programs and services for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, says donors and volunteers for the last four decades have helped the organization ease the stress of families with children in the hospital.
  Lisa Mitchell, vice president of programs and services for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, says donors and volunteers for the last four decades have helped the organization ease the stress of families with children in the hospital. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer
350 and growing

Ronald McDonald Houses in the Chicago area provide families with a place to eat, sleep and find emotional support. While the group suggests a $10-per-night donation, it never turns away families unable to pay.

The first Ronald McDonald House opened in 1974 in Philadelphia. When the first house in Chicago opened on April 28, 1977, it was only the second such facility. Today, there are more than 350 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world.

"Anywhere you find a destination pediatric hospital, you hope to find a Ronald McDonald House," Mitchell said.

In addition to the Winfield facility, there are four other houses in the region: two in Chicago and one each in Hines and Oak Lawn. There also are three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms, including one that opened in 2012 at Edward Hospital in Naperville.

'Safe haven'

The family room at Edward provides comforts for families of young patients in the pediatric or neonatal intensive care unit. They can eat, watch TV, use a computer or simply unwind in the living room-like setting. There's also a playroom and two sleep rooms.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's great for a change of scenery while still being close," said Brittany Rhyne, family room senior manager. "There are no beeps. There are no machines they hear in the family room. There are no overhead speakers, so they don't hear any announcements. They truly get a break from the hospital setting while still being literally steps away from their child."

First-time mom Mallory Hicks used the room after her daughter, Josephine, was born seven weeks early on March 3.

During the month that Josephine spent at Edward, Hicks was at the hospital every day from 8 a.m. until at least 9 p.m.

"It was a very big, emotional roller coaster," the Joliet resident said.

Hicks said she enjoyed getting out of the neonatal intensive care unit and going to the family room to prepare and eat her lunch.

"The cafeteria is nice, but everyone goes through there," she said. "If you're having a rough day, you don't want to be in the middle of a cafeteria where everyone is seeing you. You want to have a safe haven you can go to."

The Ronald McDonald House near Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield opened in 2015.
  The Ronald McDonald House near Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield opened in 2015. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer
Just like home

The house in Winfield, which opened in 2015, is the first of its kind in the Western suburbs. It's used by families who travel to get treatment for seriously ill or injured children at Central DuPage, Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva or the Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center in Warrenville.

Because the proton therapy center is nearby, many out-of-state families use the house, said Chris Hensley, vice president of philanthropy with Northwestern Medicine.

"There are only 15 proton centers in the country," said Hensley, who helped raise money to build the Winfield house, "so we've had families stay here from Florida, from Massachusets and all the surrounding states."

Families staying in the 19,000-square-foot, two-story, Craftsman-style facility have plenty of space.

The Ronald McDonald House near Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield offers a living room and books for all ages.
  The Ronald McDonald House near Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield offers a living room and books for all ages. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

The first floor features a living room with a fireplace, a dining room, a kitchen with multiple areas to prepare meals, a playroom, a family room with a TV, a game room and a home office. The upstairs includes two dens, a laundry room and 12 guest rooms.

There also are many volunteers who help by cooking, cleaning and doing other tasks.

"They are so kind," Loudermilk said. "They have made me and my family feel like we're at home."

On Christmas, Colin was able to spend the holiday with his four siblings at the house.

"All of us were together, and they had fun," Loudermilk said.

"They did normal things together. Normalcy is the best thing that can happen when your world is totally turned upside-down."

By celebrating its anniversary, Ronald McDonald House Charities hopes to call attention to how it serves the community with the help of its donors and volunteers.

"We will be here for another 40 years if they continue to help us in all the ways they've always helped us -- with their time and with their resources and with their advocacy," Mitchell said. "They're why we've been here all these years."

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