A BRIGHT SPOT
IN DARK TIMES
The upcoming expansion of the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford will more than double the facility’s capacity, offering shelter and comfort to families coping with a child’s illness. STORY BY ROBIN HINDERY | PHOTOGRAPHY BY JACK HUTCHESON
ince it first opened its doors in 1979, the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford has been a haven for more than 350,000 families in crisis, providing a home-away-fromhome as their child receives treatment for a life-threatening illness at nearby Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital or another local medical facility. But for almost as many years, the Sand Hill Road facility has faced a demand that significantly exceeds its supply of rooms. In a single week in 2012, for instance, the House reluctantly turned away 67 families. Thankfully, that’s about to change. Last June, the Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved the nonprofit’s expansion to an adjacent parcel of land donated by Stanford University. The current 50,000-square-foot facility houses 47 families, and the planned 52,000-square-foot, three-story building next-door will
aims to offer much more than a hot shower and comfortable bed. Beyond the additional guest rooms and suites, the expanded House will include a wide variety of inviting communal spaces, such as a large multi-purpose room; a video and game room; ageappropriate recreational spaces for teens, younger children, and toddlers; an outdoor play area; and an exercise room. Like the existing House, the new facility will also feature a large kitchen, dining room, and laundry rooms—amenities that most families use on a daily basis. A crucial part of the expansion is the opportunity to upgrade the current facility as well, says Eros. “We want to make sure it’s just as modern and homey as the new space,” she says. The existing building will continue to house the facility’s two isolated Immune Wings—one for organ transplant recipients and the other for bone marrow transplant recipients—which provide children with severely compromised immune systems a safe place outside the hospital to recover.
“We’re associated with a world-class hospital that’s undergoing major growth, and we have a responsibility to serve those families,” stresses Eros. accommodate nearly 70 more, says CEO Annette Eros, who joined the Palo Alto House a year and a half ago after an earlier stint as executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. “We’re maximizing the footprint of the space we have, and building as many additional rooms as we can,” Eros says. “When completed, we’ll be one of the largest Ronald McDonald Houses in the world, if not the largest.” The project—which will take an estimated 14-18 months with a scheduled opening in 2015—coincides with the ongoing expansion of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH), scheduled for completion in late 2016. “We’re associated with a world-class hospital that’s undergoing major growth, and we have a responsibility to serve those families,” stresses Eros. Built with just 13 rooms, Ronald McDonald House at Stanford was the fifth facility to join the fledgling national network of Ronald McDonald Houses, which today can be found in 58 countries and regions across the globe. The facilities operate on the premise that keeping families together helps children cope better and heal faster. Thanks to the generosity of volunteers and donors, families are never asked to pay more than $25 a day (the Palo Alto House requests a fee of $10 per day), and those who cannot pay stay free of charge. With the average length of stay at Ronald McDonald House at Stanford now 29 days—up from six days in 2002—the facility
// GENTRY // MARCH 2014
Of course, the expansion itself and the resulting surge in families served will require a similarly significant increase in financial support of the House. And that’s where Melissa Badger comes in. Head of the boutique event design and planning firm Dreams & Details, as well as a longtime Bay Area philanthropist, Badger has jumped on board to chair the upcoming “House Party!” groundbreaking gala, scheduled for March 22 and expected to draw 500 guests. The event is part of a $40.5 million capital campaign titled “Hope is Growing” (which had raised more than $24 million as of December 31, 2013). It replaces the House’s annual Denim to Diamonds fundraiser and will be held in a tented setting on the site where the new facility will eventually take shape. “I’ve always been aware of the work that goes on here,” Badger said during a recent interview at the House, “and when I was approached about working on this year’s event, I realized that Annette and Jay (McCullough, the House’s chief development officer) were really ready to bring a fresh approach and steer the ship in a new direction. We’re using the expansion and groundbreaking as a springboard for that.” Badger and her eight-person Steering Committee hope the “House Party!” will solidify the facility’s already strong base of support, but also introduce new people to the important work that goes on there. “There are so many people out there
Melissa Badger, chair of the upcoming “House Party!” groundbreaking gala, and Annette Eros, CEO of Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, stand outside the current Sand Hill Road facility.
who should know more about Ronald McDonald House, but who simply don’t really know the extent of what they do,” says Badger. Eros adds, “We have such a solid foundation of support, so we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; we’re trying to evolve the event.” The impact of Ronald McDonald House at Stanford over the past 35 years cannot be measured. But the stories of individual families go a long way toward illustrating the enormous role this relatively small facility has played—and will continue to play—in the lives of so many. Take, for example, David and Mariana of Salinas, whose triplets—Sean, Alexander, and Brianna—were born healthy in March 2005. Soon after, however, doctors discovered tumors in Sean’s liver and lungs. The family traveled to LPCH, where surgeons successfully removed the tumors and replaced a portion of Sean’s liver with tissue donated by his mother. The surgery and transplant were followed by rounds of chemotherapy and a
lengthy recovery period, during which time David stayed with Sean at Ronald McDonald House while Mariana returned to work in Salinas and cared for their two other children. The House’s location within minutes of LPCH proved crucial during two trips to the emergency room, and the facility’s bright, child-friendly atmosphere helped lift Sean’s spirits during that trying time. “A smile lights up his face when he sees the fish tank or climbs the Ronald McDonald statue,” David wrote during their stay. “And he loves getting to pick a new toy from the House’s toy basket.” As David’s account emphasizes, it’s often the little touches— a designated kitchen cabinet to hold the ingredients of a favorite family recipe, a beloved book or movie available in the library— and small gestures of kindness by House staff members and volunteers that leave the most lasting impression on its temporary residents. As another family put it in a grateful note: “You are truly a Home with a Heart.” ◆
MARCH 2014 // GENTRY // Page 89
Ronald McDonald House at Stanford is featured in the March 2014 edition of Gentry Magazine. Read the article: "A Bright Spot in Dark Times"