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As home marks its 20th year, Ronald McDonald pays a visit



Published: Thu, October 19, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Volunteers provide hot meals, warm beds and compassion, the director said.

By NANCY TULLIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Ronald McDonald said he is deeply honored to have nearly 300 Ronald McDonald Houses in 28 countries carry his name, and the Ronald McDonald House of Youngstown is one of his favorites.

Ronald McDonald paid a visit Wednesday as the staff opened doors for visitors to tour the Ronald McDonald House of Youngstown at 2450 Goleta Ave. and learn about its mission to serve families whose children are under care at Tod Children's Hospital.

This is the 20th anniversary of its opening. More than 3,000 families have called the house their temporary home, said Melinda Bowen-Houck, executive director.

Ronald said he tours the homes that bear his names as often as possible, and visits children in hospitals and schools. He said the Ronald McDonald House of Youngstown is one of his favorites because it's smaller than many of the houses -- making it seem even more like a home away from home than some of the larger ones.

About the house

The Tod Parent House was organized in 1983 and ran with all volunteer management until 1986 when it became a Ronald McDonald House, Bowen-Houk said.

There are five guest rooms, living and play areas, an outdoor play and picnic area with playground equipment and a barbecue grill, a spacious kitchen where families can eat food provided or bring their own, a laundry, and shower area where family members who don't want to leave the bedside of their child for very long can shower and relax, Bowen-Houk explained.

Several churches donate food weekly and volunteers often deliver meals to the hospital if family members want to stay at the hospital with their children, she said.

Volunteers not only provide food, family living areas and comfortable beds, but an emotional safe haven of support, compassion and understanding, and opportunities for fun and laughter, she said.

Kathy Callery of Canfield has been a volunteer at Ronald McDonald House for nearly two years. About the same time a nephew was diagnosed with cancer, she learned from television advertisements that Ronald McDonald House needed volunteers.

She said she helps check families in and out, cooks meals and generally does whatever needs to be done, inside and out. Volunteering is a small way she can help the families of seriously ill children who need a home away from home, she said.

How it all began

According to a press release, Ronald McDonald Houses started in 1994 after Philadelphia Eagles' tight end Fred Hill's 3-year-old daughter Kim was diagnosed with leukemia. The Hill family ate from vending machines and camped out uncomfortably on hospital waiting-room furniture, and saw families of other seriously ill children doing the same.

With cooperation from the NFL franchise, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and McDonald's, Ronald McDonald house became a reality. Now there are 6,000 bedrooms available for families every night and nearly 30,000 volunteers donate 3 million hours of their time each year.

Ronald McDonald House is the cornerstone program of Ronald McDonald House Charities, a nonprofit organization that supports programs that directly improve the health of children.

tullis@vindy.com




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