Opening its doors almost 35 years ago, the Charleston Ronald McDonald House has become a sanctuary for families who need a home-away-from-home while their children endure extensive medical treatment at local hospitals. Initially offering only 12 bedrooms, the growing facility now has 32 rooms and consistently maintains a waiting list for families in need of a place to stay.
Rachel Morrison, director of marketing of RMHC Charleston, said the house is full every night, and several families wait a few days until a room becomes available.
"Unfortunately, we do have to turn several families away each night, but typically a room opens up within a couple of days once another child completes treatment and that family heads home," she said.
With three full meals and snacks each day, laundry facilities, a playroom and even a small library, RMHC Charleston enables families to live comfortably and, more importantly, affordably, while their child is being treated.
"For families with a child in intensive care, it's difficult enough to deal with that. Providing a comfortable place they can stay that's close by and without the expense of a hotel allows families to live as normal a life as possible during their stay," Morrison explained.
The demand for rooms has increased over the years, compelling the nonprofit to put in place certain criteria to qualify.
"The family has to live outside a 40-mile radius from here, the child has to be under the age of 18 and they have to be in the ICU," Morrison said. "Once a family is placed in a room, they have it for as long as needed. The average stay is 10 to 11 days, but we've had a few families who had to stay for extended periods of time. One family was here for 364 days."
The first Ronald McDonald house opened in Philadelphia in 1974, and it's grown into a global network with more than 350 homes around the world. The Charleston chapter receives a great deal of support from the community, and they work tirelessly on their outreach efforts.
"The local community has been unbelievable," Morrison said. "We have some wonderful sponsors and local businesses who have done so much for us."
Always working to increase local awareness, RMHC Charleston created a group specifically geared toward young professionals, enabling them to get more involved.
The Red Shoe Society, named for the iconic red shoes of Ronald McDonald, is a group for like-minded young professionals who want to make a difference in the lives of families with seriously ill children.
Riley Steele, volunteer coordinator for RMHC Charleston, said the mission is to build awareness in younger generations and inspire them to participate.
"This group is a way for people who are perhaps just starting out in their career and who want to help but don't have the ability to make big cash donations," she said. "They have the heart and the interest in helping, and this gives them the opportunity to meet people and be involved."
With monthly happy hours, dinners and special events throughout the year, Red Shoe Society members are able to network with other local professionals, all while supporting the RMHC Charleston.
For more information about RMHC Charleston or the Red Shoe Society, visit www.rmhcharleston.org or call 843-577-4659.