It was the Shamrock Shake that did it.
McDonald’s owners and operators in Philadelphia helped make the vision of a “home away from home” for families of hospitalized kids a reality when dozens of franchisees donated proceeds from the sale of the green milkshakes to the founders of the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC).
The Shamrock Shake proceeds were a huge win for the the RMHC founders (shown here) — Philadelphia Eagles football team owner Leonard Tose, Eagles’ player Fred Hill (whose daughter, Kim, had leukemia), Eagles general manager Jim Murray, Dr. Audrey Evans, and McDonald’s regional manager Ed Rensi.
Inspiration for the organization came when Hill and his wife, Fran, spent nights sleeping next to their daughter’s hospital bed while she battled cancer. The Hills’ experience generated awareness of the impact and need for family-centered programming, and the founders opened the first Ronald McDonald House on Oct. 15, 1974, in Philadelphia.
A decade later, in 1984, Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) was officially established, in memory of McDonald’s Corporation founder Ray Kroc, who was a strong advocate for children. In 2003, Kroc’s wife, Joan, bequeathed $60 million to the RMHC.
Today, there are 340 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world, 195 Ronald McDonald Family Rooms, and 52 Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles in 62 countries and regions. Through those programs, RMHC served roughly 5.7 million children and families in 2014 alone, and over the years has collected more than $200 million from RMHC donation boxes. And Kim Hill (shown here with her pro-footballer dad), the little girl who inspired everything, lived to be 44. She died in 2011.
So it was a pleasure to interview Kerry Blumberg, the executive director of the team that runs one of the oldest Ronald McDonald Houses — the Richmond-based facility, which turned 35 this year.
“By providing a place for the families of sick children to stay, Ronald McDonald House Charities keeps families together and helps make sick children happier and healthier,” says Blumberg.
Kristy Seredni of Williamsburg recounts how a Ronald McDonald Family Room provided her family with comfort and care when her newborn son was hospitalized.
“The relief that we felt knowing we would be able to be by Max’s side was tremendous. We were able to be an active part of his progress, which was really important to me,” Kristy says. “I honestly can’t imagine what we would have done had we not been able to stay in the Ronald McDonald Family Room. I attribute a lot of Max’s growth and success to the fact we were able to be with him so much from day one, and could focus on his well-being instead of where Mark and I were going to sleep.”
This year, RMH Richmond will launch a new program called Happy Wheels, named for the hospitality cart that will be pushed through the Pediatric and Neonatal Units of the hospital on a weekly basis. It is stocked with coffee, juice boxes, granola bars, crackers, coloring books, Play-Doh, toiletries, and other small comforts. These items will be provided to families and children on the units free of charge.
Blumberg said the Richmond team hopes that Happy Wheels will be a simple reminder to these families that they have a network of supporters quietly working to bring them relief during a challenging time.
Scroll down for our Q&A with Kerry Blumberg, executive director of the Richmond RMHC.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us about your organization. What is your mission?
Kerry Blumberg: Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond is a home away from home for families with children receiving medical treatment in Richmond, VA. Our goal is to ease the burdens faced by families during the most challenging time of their lives, so that they can stay together and stay focused on what matters most: their child’s well-being.
Be Inkandescent: When and why did you get involved with the organization?
Kerry Blumberg: I started working with RMHC Richmond in January 2013. I was drawn to the position after spending nine years at Children’s Hospital of Richmond in fundraising and government relations positions. I am passionate about supporting and advocating for families in the midst of pediatric health crises.
Be Inkandescent: How has the organization changed over the years?
Kerry Blumberg: The past three years have brought tremendous growth to our organization. Our strategic plan is guiding us as we strengthen our relationship with our hospital partners and the community at large, and focus on operational excellence and financial sustainability. This focused effort has led to increased usage (we often have a wait list) and program growth.
Since 2013 we have expanded our in-hospital services to Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital through our family sleep rooms and the addition of our hospitality cart, “Happy Wheels,” which visits pediatric units weekly. We have also made a concentrated effort to support the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health System by providing food for its family kitchen.
Be Inkandescent: Who is your target audience?
Kerry Blumberg: We serve families who are traveling to the Richmond area to seek medical treatment for their child — last year we served families from 78 counties in Virginia, 15 states, and six countries. We also aim to engage the community at large and increase the public’s emotional connection with our organization through volunteerism, wish-list drives, pop-top donations, and philanthropic contributions.
Be Inkandescent: Can you give us an example of one or two families you have helped?
Kerry Blumberg: As a nurse, Shannon Bradley was familiar with the Ronald McDonald House. But like many of our guests, she didn’t know that one day she would be a recipient of its services herself.
Shannon’s son, Liam, was born in 2011 at 24 weeks. Amidst all of his medical problems, he didn’t learn to eat when he was supposed to. At the age of 4, Liam was enrolled in the Feeding Program at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. Because of the hospital’s two-hour distance from home, she and Liam checked into the Ronald McDonald House of Richmond. Though it was a strain to be away from home for nine weeks, Shannon found a way to make the Ronald McDonald House a home.
“It’s so nice to come home and there’s dinner already made; we don’t have to eat out all the time or come back from a long day of therapies and figure out how to get groceries,” Shannon told us. Liam adjusted well, too. “It’s been good for him to be able to interact with people here; he is very social and he thinks everyone is his friend. Every morning he asks, ‘Are my friends up?’”
Be Inkandescent: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Kerry Blumberg: The accomplishment that we are most proud of is that we work collaboratively to keep families close. Close to their loved one, close to other families on a similar journey, and close to pediatric specialists throughout our region.
Be Inkandescent: What are your goals for 2015-2016?
Kerry BLumberg: Each year we reaffirm our commitment to our strategic plan. In 2016 we will have a large focus on community engagement and operational excellence as we nurture our relationships with our 10 hospital care partners and maintain our financial sustainability.
Be Inkandescent: What is your budget, and how do you raise funds? Is this your biggest challenge?
Kerry Blumberg: Our budget is around $700,000 annually. Our staff works to raise the funds critical to operating the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Our biggest fundraiser is the Red Shoe Rendezvous Auction and Golf Tournament, which takes place in late September each year. This year’s event raised more than $215,000. We are always working to increase the number of individuals who make personal philanthropic donations.
Be Inkandescent: If you had all the funding in the world — how much would that be? And what would you do with it?
Kerry Blumberg: This is a hard question. Our biggest challenge right now is the limited space of our house. The need for our services outpaces our ability to serve families. We currently have four families on our wait list. That said, until we have a clear picture of a potential full-service hospital in Richmond, we are continuing to do the best we can in our current facility.
The top operational item currently on our wish list is a $5,000 lobby guard system that does immediate background checks on guests, volunteers, and visitors. It’s similar to a system you might see in a school, and we want to ensure the safety of all our guests.
Be Inkandescent: If our readers could learn just one thing about your organization, what would you want them to know?
Kerry Blumberg: We want our fan community to know that there are many ways for people to be involved in helping RMHC Richmond. We want you to join us in our effort to bring hope to families!
For more information, visit www.rmhc-richmond.org.