The Ronald McDonald House at 39th and Chestnut Streets in West Philadelphia has begun renovations to expand its lodging by more than double for its “Room in our Hearts” campaign. The expansion will be the solution to overcrowding at the Chestnut Street House. Due to high demand and limited space, they’ve had to turn away over 5,000 families in need.
In June 2017, the organization, which provides home-away-from-home facilities and amenities that support families of seriously ill children, broke ground for their new 93,000 square foot tower that is adjacent to the current mansion and main housing facility. The 8-story building will offer 88 additional guest rooms, an additional kitchen, large indoor and outdoor dining area, playrooms, a theater and a rooftop garden and lounge space.
“The need is so great that we had to figure out a way to increase capacity,” says Thomas Servello, Director of Communications for PRMH.
The biggest obstacle is fundraising. This is a $50 million project and the Chestnut Street location’s largest funding campaign of its time. While 10 percent of funding is shared by the Ronald McDonald House Charities, 90 percent continues to be raised on their own to fund the expansion. Simultaneously, they must also continue to cover funds for the existing Philadelphia Houses and amenities.
The campaign has received a lot of support from current donors, organizations and industries, including Jill and Alan Miller for whom the tower will be named because of their preeminent gift contribution, and a recent state grant through The Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, presented by Governor Tom Wolf. At the start of 2018, $32 million of the budget had been reached, and they’re determined to close the funding gap by the start of 2019.
“Every week the staff sees something new go up,” says Servello, “which means we are that much closer to helping families who need our support.”
Since June, much progress has been made in laying the groundwork for the tower, which you can watch every step of the way through their Work Zone Cam found on the PRMH site. “This expansion will enable us to go from serving approximately 800 families annually over the past three years to an estimated 1,900 families, and will increase our available room nights from around 16,000 to more than 40,000 per year.”
In The Miller Tower, families can expect comfortable, upgraded rooms housing up to 5 family members, a designated floor with protected rooms designed to accommodate immunosuppressed patients and families, wheelchair-accessible options, laundry facilities, and multi-use community lounge areas, such as the Arts, Crafts and Education Area and the Theater and Activity Center for families to gather to watch movies together or gather for group activities like pet therapy visits and performance group shows.
There will also be a new outdoor rooftop green space for quiet relaxation. Having a large kitchen and dining space is vital for the new layout. The tower will offer a family kitchen for residential use as well as a Guest Chef Kitchen for the volunteer groups coming in to prepare dinners for the House.
The mission behind the House is to provide families with comfort and support while children receive care at nearby hospitals and treatment centers. In 1974, Philadelphia became the original location for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Co-founders, Dr. Audrey Evans and Jimmy Murray, connected while Dr. Evans was chair of the Division of Oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Jimmy Murray, former General Manager for the Philadelphia Eagles, contributed funding in support of Dr. Evans’ vision to build a facility that offered free lodging, food and transportation to families with children facing critical illnesses while children received treatment. When more funds needed to be raised to start the organization, Murray turned to the Ronald McDonald regional managers who offered the proceeds from sales of the Shamrock Shake in support of the House.
Nearly five decades since the birth of the first House, the Ronald McDonald Charities have developed multiple houses and programs for families; a second Philadelphia House location that accommodates families of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Ronald McDonald Family Rooms found inside hospitals as a retreat area for families to relax in a homelike environment, and Camp Ronald McDonald, a summer camp hosted in the Poconos for children undergoing treatments as well as their siblings.
With over 300 Houses servicing families all over the country and over 60 houses internationally, the Ronald McDonald Houses are taking difficult situations and changing lives through the positive efforts all over the world.
They strive to provide an abundance of amenities that provide a level of normalcy and ease. Guests continually receive nurturing experiences, a comforting environment, supportive services, and guaranteed warmth and kindness by the staff and volunteers. “The volunteers are really the heart of the house. Without our volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” says Servello. With the expansion, volunteers will be in high demand. He encourages those interested in volunteering at the House to come meet the families and volunteers and witness the meaningful work that takes place there.
A guest of the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, Karissa Laughlin, who resided at the house while her daughter, Scarlett Eccker, was receiving treatment, sees many new opportunities for families with the new tower. “Scarlett was given the opportunity to try new experiences that without the Ronald McDonald House wouldn’t have been possible given her weakened immune system. I don’t doubt for a second that with the new expansion more children will have the same opportunity as Scarlett.”