Building on Hope: Madison Ronald McDonald House breaks ground on expansion

The expansion will help ensure the house doesn’t need to turn away any families seeking a place to stay while their sick child undergoes treatment in Madison.

A parent’s worst nightmare is a sick child, but soon one local beacon of hope will be able to support even more families struggling with a child’s serious illness.

Ground broke June 2 on a major expansion of the Madison Ronald McDonald House, which provides a home away from home for families seeking treatment in Madison for their sick child.

With the growth in Madison medical service providers, most notably the American Family Children’s Hospital, the original house is no longer large enough to meet demand, resulting in many families being turned away due to lack of space. Between 2016 and 2017, the house saw 42% growth in the number of families it was unable to accommodate in the current facility.

“It is extremely hard on our staff and volunteers to turn away families,” Kevin Huddleston, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Madison (RMHC-Madison), says. “It was obvious that we needed to grow.”

A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 2 for the Ronald McDonald House expansion in Madison.

Timed in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the house, RMHC-Madison’s “Building on Hope” campaign is an $8.9 million fundraising initiative to expand and renovate the house. A little more than $7.5 million has been raised so far and fundraising expected to continue through the fall. The new house is expected to open in mid-2019.

The new house will double in size, offering more guest rooms, including several that will accommodate larger families. In addition, the existing house will be renovated to provide a seamless experience for guests. Added features include a larger kitchen and dining area, more outdoor space, and much-needed underground parking.

When the opportunity to purchase the property next door to the current house became available in 2013, the RMHC-Madison Board of Directors made a proactive decision to purchase it, recognizing the clear need for expansion because of the increasing number of stays that could not be accommodated.

When families are turned away, they still need a place to stay while their child is receiving treatment in Madison. As a result, they often have to resort to housing in local hotels, which lacks the unique elements and support system of the house.

Since it opened in 1993, the Madison house has served 28,000 families. Last year, 1,287 families were served — 1,121 were Wisconsin families, while the other 148 came from other states or countries to receive care here.

Unfortunately, in recent years the number of families who have been turned away has only increased. In 2015, for example, 336 families were turned away due to lack of space.

“Some families stay with us for a night at a time for outpatient appointments or procedures, while others are here for weeks or even months at a time,” notes Huddleston. “Our longest stay was a year; the average is four days.”

Families are not obligated to pay for their stay at the Ronald McDonald House Madison, though they are asked to make a donation of $10 per day.

The actual cost to operate a room at the Ronald McDonald House Madison is $125 per day, according to Huddleston. However, payment is never expected for those who cannot afford it. The difference is made up through donations. “Thanks to our generous donors, it is a global RMHC policy that a family never be turned away because of their ability to pay,” Huddleston explains.

Huddleston says the expansion project is not only aimed at helping families the house currently has to turn away, but also to accommodate growing future needs, as well.

Renderings of the new kitchen (top) and a sleep room show what the expanded Ronald McDonald House will look like once renovations are complete.

“We worked with our medical provider partners to get their best projections,” states Huddleston. “We then submitted those projections to RMHC-Global, which has been establishing new and helping expand Ronald McDonald Houses for almost 45 years. RMHC-Global then provided us with the number of additional bedrooms that would be necessary to accommodate the additional families we’ll likely have over the next 15 to 20 years.”

RMHC-Madison staff engaged in a feasibility study to test its ability to successfully fund raise in the Madison community, and expansion plans were informed by how much money they were confident they could raise, notes Huddleston.

“Fortunately, the plans to accommodate the recommended number of additional bedrooms coincided with the size and cost of the project,” says Huddleston. “The goal of the expansion project is to alleviate the constant use of hotels, to accommodate families at the house in a homelike atmosphere whenever possible, and to avoid ever turning another family away.”

In sum, the expansion project features include:

  • 13 additional guest rooms for a total of 31 rooms, including six ADA-compliant rooms to accommodate families of six;
  • Landscaped green space to provide a peaceful retreat;
  • Expanded indoor and outdoor play areas;
  • Remodeled existing house to provide continuity;
  • Improved kitchen and dining room;
  • Underground parking;
  • Improved security; and
  • A quiet room.



Making the house a home

When local developer John Flad and his wife Coleen were asked to be honorary chairpersons for the Building on Hope campaign to expand and renovate the Ronald McDonald House, they agreed to do so without hesitation.

“We thought it provided great continuity,” says Flad, who led the effort for construction of the original house in 1989, and Coleen, who was a longtime volunteer coordinator. “Plus, we really love the house and the families.”

In addition to the Flads, the fundraising campaign is being led by co-chairpersons Jim and Amy Hegenbarth from Park Bank and Jay and Katie Sekelsky from Madison Investment Advisors. Both couples got involved because of the compelling mission.

“Everyone has come together for our families, for the kids — our board members, staff, volunteers, and donors,” says Mary Donahue, RMHC-Madison development director.

Those families all acknowledge the role the Ronald McDonald House in Madison played in their child’s care.

“With Josie’s cancer diagnosis, we learned it would be a very long road of intense treatments and long hospital stays,” notes Jessica Perea, Josie’s mother. “Without the Ronald McDonald House, we wouldn’t have been able to keep our sanity or stay connected as a family. Josie’s siblings can stay with her and me, keeping us all close. This has given Josie a sense of freedom and normalcy while receiving chemo and radiation treatment away from home.”

“Avi was in the hospital six times last year,” says Sara Finesilver, her mother. “We desperately needed a home base to stay connected as a family, as well as coordinate Avi’s care. We are so grateful for the Ronald McDonald House for giving our family the time and space to support our daughter during her health challenges.”

“For our family, the Ronald McDonald House is a place the kids can just be kids and not worry about doctors or treatments,” Samantha Lichman, mother of Kolby, agrees. “During Kolby’s long, difficult journey to recovery after being burned, the Ronald McDonald House is the bright spot. Having his siblings close has been a huge part in keeping his spirit up and of his healing.”

Continuing its commitment to RMHC and the communities it serves, Madison and Rockford area McDonald’s restaurants are donating 100% of the proceeds from all cookie sales to support the expansion.

“Buy a Cookie, Build a House,” is a way everyone can participate,” shares Donahue. “In a campaign like this, every dollar counts!”

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