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Ronald McDonald House: A Home Away From Home

More than 1,000 miles separate Luisa Betancourt and Liliana Sosa from their homes in Mexico as they sit on a couch inside the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House during a recent afternoon. The smiling young girls wear leg braces as a result of the medical treatment they have been receiving across the street at Huntington Hospital, the nearest place that could offer Betancourt and Sosa the proper care for their ailments. But despite traveling all the way from Cabo San Lucas with their mothers, the girls feel right at home under this roof on Pasadena Avenue.
“It’s a good place that’s very comfortable,” said 15-year-old Betancourt, who moves around in a wheelchair. “The people here are so nice.”
Providing that comfort in unfamiliar surroundings is precisely the goal of the Ronald McDonald House, one of 340 similar nonprofit organizations around the country that act as a place to stay for families with hospitalized children. Medical specialists at local hospitals refer these families — many of whom have traveled at least 25 miles for medical care — to the nearby Ronald McDonald House. The Pasadena location is composed of two brown Craftsman structures that share a backyard and combine to accommodate up to 12 families at any given time.
“We’re not doctors and nurses, but we can make sure that you have a really comfortable bed to sleep in at night and food that’s prepared by outside groups that come in and do our meals with love,” said Elizabeth Dever, director of the Pasadena house. “For the most part, the rest of the families’ lives are on hold while they’re concentrating on getting their child well. What are all the things that you would need if you were not at home and going through this really stressful time in your life? We bridge that gap.”
Aside from a bedroom for each family, each house on the property is outfitted with a kitchen, laundry room, dining room and sitting areas that include computers with internet access. Families are permitted to select food from the fully stocked pantry and cook it on their own time, while volunteer groups also come to the house throughout the week to prepare home-cooked meals as well. The backyard contains play equipment for children and barbecues for further culinary options.
There are three full-time administrators at the house, including Dever. Six part-time staff members ensure that its occupants receive 24-7 assistance.
“It’s very good support because when we arrived, we knew we were going to stay a long time,” said Carmen Ayala, the mother of 12-year-old Sosa. “A hotel was going to be very expensive, but in here we have food, laundry, a place to sleep — everything that’s like home. So it’s very good for us. We’re very thankful.”
The Ronald McDonald House requests a nightly fee of $25, but no families are ever turned away if they are unable to pay. More than 80% of the organization’s funding comes from community donations and events such as the annual gala scheduled for this November or the local “Walk for Kids,” which featured 750 participants and raised $105,000 this past June.
“Pasadena truly is its own community and people here really want to support organizations that are here in Pasadena,” said Susan Blaisdell, co-chair of the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House Board of Trustees.
“We are so grateful for that because without our community, we would not be operating.”
McDonald’s corporation is responsible for the remaining 10-15% of funding, hence the name.
“By design, Ronald McDonald House Charities want each of the programs to be community-supported so that there is that connection with the community where the houses are built,” explained Dever, who maintains an open-door policy at her office off the dining room.
Two of the house’s youngest current residents, Angelica Guadalupe Perales and Dayanna Calderon, enjoy this welcoming environment and often make their way into Dever’s office, where a desk drawer full of toys awaits. In return for the play time, Perales and Calderon have created artwork for Dever as a token of gratitude. By 6 p.m., though, it’s usually time for dinner.
“That’s when people gather and we know that food brings people together,” Dever said. “It’s really rewarding to see them interact with one another and create that community and that support. If they were just staying in a hotel, they would have a completely different experience. They know that there’s always a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with.”

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