Ronald McDonald House eyes growth

By Todd Cohen

On April 15, Ronald McDonald House of Durham began offering overnight stays in five rooms donated by WakeMed in its Heart Center Inn in Raleigh to families of critically-ill pediatric patients at WakeMed Children’s Hospital.

Through September, the new WakeMed House already had provided 630 overnight stays.

And with demand from families growing, the nonprofit has renamed itself Ronald McDonald House of Durham and Wake and is considering whether to establish a new Ronald McDonald House to serve families of pediatric patients at WakeMed, says Oie Osterkamp, executive director.

Launched in 1980 with 13 beds, Ronald McDonald House of Durham was the first of what now are five Ronald McDonald organizations in the state operating a total of seven houses. The others are in Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Greenville and Winston-Salem.

The Durham House, located near Duke University Hospital, grew to 29 rooms in 2011, and was expanded to 55 rooms in October 2012 after a capital campaign that raised $7.2 million. Last year, it provided 16,200 overnight stays to families.

Ronald McDonald House also operates separate family rooms at Duke University Hospital and WakeMed that together serve over 40,000 parents a year.

Ronald McDonald House operates with an annual budget of just over $2 million, plus $500,000 to $600,000 in estimated in-kind donations, a staff of 12 people working full-time and 12 working part-time, and 4,500 volunteers.

This year, it expects to generate most of its budget — $1.85 million — through contributions, revenue from annual fundraising breakfasts each fall in Durham and Raleigh, and a “Heart of Gold” gala in February or March at the Angus Barn in Raleigh.

It also receives support from McDonald’s Corp., individual owner-operators of local McDonald’s restaurants, and their local advertising co-op, as well as investment income from its $3 million endowment.

In-kind support ranges from $25,000 worth of toilet paper to $17,000 worth of disinfecting wipes. Both family rooms provide frozen meals, the WakeMed House provides meal vouchers for the WakeMed cafeteria at WakeMed, and once a week Ronald McDonald House provide lunch for all the pediatric families at WakeMed. At the Durham House, volunteers provide activities every day and cook dinner every night for all families.

In June, Ronald McDonald House launched a new “Security Blanket Society” to recognize and encourage planned gifts, says Nancy Jones, senior director of development and communications.

And building on an existing program that offers donors an opportunity to sponsor a room or suite in its Durham House, Ronald McDonald House has begun an effort that offers donors the opportunity to endow or “adopt” a room or suite.

While the suggested fees for families total $10 a night for a small bedroom and $15 a night for a long-term stay in a suite, the actual cost is over $100. A year-long sponsorship totals $3,650 for a room and $5,475 for a suite, and an endowment gift totals $100,000 for a room and $150,000 for a suite.

“We ask for $10 a night for families to stay here, and 70 percent of families can’t afford that,” Osterkamp says.

At the Durham House, sponsors already are covering the annual cost to families of about 20 rooms.

And Aaron and Natalie Cain of Fayetteville have made a $100,000 commitment to endow a room at the Durham House named for their late son, Wells McRae Cain, and have created an annual memorial golf tournament to raise the endowment funds.

After Wells was born with a congenital heart defect, he was airlifted to Duke Hospital. The Cains spent two weeks at the Durham House before Wells died. He had lived for 71 days.

Jones says the endowment will make a big difference for families that need to stay at Ronald McDonald House.

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