Ronald McDonald House expanding as demand rises

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill serves roughly 2,000 families a year whose children are patients at UNC Hospitals, most of them at North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

It also turns away 700 families a year because it does not have enough beds to house them while their children are in the hospital.

“Nothing hurts us more than having to turn people away,” says Shelley Day, executive director.

Opened in 1988 with 19 rooms that each can accommodate a family of three, Ronald McDonald House in 2001 added 10 rooms, including some that can accommodate up to five people.

It has served over 34,000 families from all 100 counties in the state.

To address rising demand for services, Ronald McDonald plans to add 24 more rooms, bringing its total to 53, an effort that it plans to fund with a capital campaign that aims to raise $6.7 million.

The public phase of the campaign, which already has raised $3.8 million in a “silent” phase that began 18 months ago,  likely will begin by the end of the year, when the campaign is expected to reach 80 percent of its goal, the threshold set by Ronald McDonald House Charities in Oakbrook, Ill., for breaking ground on new projects.

Campaign co-chairs are Patrick Hartley, senior vice president in Raleigh for Morgan Stanley at its Graystone Consulting team, and a professor of the practice of finance at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill, and his wife, Diane Hartley, principal at Diane Hartley Market Strategies. Honorary co-chairs are broadcaster Woody Durham and his wife, Jean Durham.

Operating with an annual budget of $900,000 a year, a staff of nine people working full-time and five working part-time, and a core of 80 volunteers who each works a three-hour shift between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., the Chapel Hill group is one of five Ronald McDonald Houses in North Carolina.

With its expansion, it will be as large as Ronald McDonald House in Durham, now the largest of the five, including Houses in Charlotte, Greenville and Winston-Salem.

Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill serves all pediatric patients who live more than 35 miles from Chapel Hill.

The agency since 2011 also has operated a Ronald McDonald Family Room at North Carolina Children’s Hospital, which provides the space and housekeeping staff.

Ronald McDonald House provides volunteers and part-time staff for the Family Room, which is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and stocks it with food and supplies, with the UNC Dance Marathon providing the evening meal several times a week.

The expanded facility at Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill is expected to open in late 2014  or early 2015, Day says, and the organization’s budget is expected grow to $1.5 million by 2017.

The expansion will include 20 suites, including eight two-bedroom apartments, for families who would stay for extended periods of time, possibly for as long as a year.

Supporting that long-term program would require the addition of five employees as well as a separate group of volunteers.

“We really feel like this expansion will enable us to serve more families,” Day says.

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