The First Ronald McDonald House
When an unlikely partnership was formed in Philadelphia in 1974 between an NFL team, a children’s hospital and a restaurant chain, none of its members could have imagined that their dream of a “home-away-from-home” for families of seriously ill children would grow to become an international phenomenon. They simply wanted to create a place where parents of sick children could be part of an understanding and supportive community.
The seeds of the partnership were planted when Kim Hill, the three-year-old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill, was diagnosed with leukemia. Hill and his wife camped out on hospital chairs and benches, ate food from vending machines and did all they could to keep Kim from seeing their sadness, exhaustion and frustration.
All around, the Hills saw other parents doing exactly the same thing. They learned that many of the families had traveled great distances to bring their children to the medical facility; but the high cost of hotel rooms was prohibitive. They continued to think, “There has to be a better way.”
Hill rallied the support of his teammates to raise funds to help other families experiencing the same emotional and financial traumas as his own. Through the Philadelphia Eagles’ general manager, Jim Murray, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It was Dr. Evans’ dream of a house that could serve as a temporary residence for families of children being treated at her hospital that led to the first Ronald McDonald House.
In 1977 in Richmond, a group of parents, representatives of the Association for the Study of Childhood Cancer, medical doctors at MCV, and McDonald’s Owner/Operators launched a letter-writing campaign to the McDonald’s Children’s Charities for a Ronald McDonald House in Richmond to serve the Medical College of Virginia. Later that year, they received approval to open Richmond’s very own Ronald McDonald House.
The current site was purchased in September 1978 by the Richmond McDonald’s Owner/Operators Cooperative who agreed to pay the mortgage in full. Renovation on the House began in 1979 and lasted fifteen months. Built in 1913, the House needed central air conditioning, a new heating system, and complete rewiring. The House was completely painted and wallpapered, a steel fire escape was specially constructed, fixtures were obtained, and the House was furnished- all at no cost. Everything was donated, the goods, the materials, and the labor.
The day it opened (April 15, 1980) the Ronald McDonald House was named the “Miracle on Monument Avenue.” It is that and more. Like the rest of its sister houses throughout the world, it is truly the House that Love Built. Throughout the years, RMHC Richmond has expanded its programs to serve families from all of the hospitals and medical facilities in the Greater Richmond area.
In 2000, the first Ronald McDonald Family Room opened at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. The Family Room consists of three sleeping rooms for families of the most critically ill children and is located just down the hall from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
In 2012, RMHC opened a Ronald McDonald Family Room at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital with two sleeping rooms and a kitchen.
Also in 2012, RMHC Richmond received an anonymous donation to support the renovation of the kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House. The donation was given in honor of eight-year-old Beckhem Gemerek and his bravery and courage as he recovered from an emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. Beckhem’s family stayed by his side thoughout his recovery utlizing the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. In February 2012, the kitchen renovation was completed and RMHC Richmond celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony and by naming the space “Beckhem’s Kitchen.”
In 2015, RMHC Richmond launched Happy Wheels, a new program featuring a hospitality cart that is pushed through the pediatric floors of the hospital. The cart is managed by volunteers and offers snacks, beverages, toiletries, and toys to families and patients.
In 2016, we expanded our Happy Wheels program, launched Lunches with Love — a new meal delivery program to pediatric and neonatal units, and opened the doors to the new RMHC Sibling Center in the Children’s Pavilion of the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.