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Providing A Home Away From Home for Families With Critically Ill Children

By Pamela Sosnowski

Since 1974, Ronald McDonald House Charities has been providing nurturing homes for families with ill children to stay at while they undergo treatment. The houses are an alternative to a hotel; a warm, welcoming home away from home for family members to relax, bathe, do laundry, and nap at while a child in the family is hospitalized.

One of these homes is located in Pensacola, operating as the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Northwest Florida. It opened its doors in 1984?initially as a 6-bedroom house that underwent two transformations that converted it into a 26-bedroom house by 2010. Today the house serves over 1,000 families a year and has a waiting list. Says Caitlin Crowe, the home's Community Manager, "The philosophy of our house is simple: nothing else should matter when a family is focused on healing their child- not where they can afford to stay, where they will get their next meal or where they will lay their head at night to rest."

In addition to accommodations, RMHC of Florida provides healthcare, dental, vision, and counseling programs to families staying there. "Our house was built for the community," says Crowe. "For families just like yours who thought, 'It'll never happen to me.'" Families with a critically ill child that is under 21 and receiving medical care are qualified to stay at RMHC. The house must receive a referral from the hospital the child is staying at. Room availability is on a first-come, first serve basis. Features of the Pensacola home include a courtyard with a playground, water park, and gardens, a family dining room, and spacious guest rooms.

RMHC of Florida could not provide the level of service that it does without the help of its volunteers. The friendly staff and volunteers greet guests every day and provide hot meals, which Crowe says is one of the most fulfilling ways for the community to get involved with RMHC. Local organizations often volunteer their time to help serve meals at the home.

To further engage the local community and help raise money for the non-profit, RMHC of Northwest Florida sponsors several events throughout the year. Next month RMHC is sponsoring a painting class at Pensacola's Painting With a Twist, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the charity.

The RMHC staff is proud of the 98% approval rating from surveyed families who have stayed in the property, and level of service they're able to provide. Says Crowe, "Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida strives to be the best home-away-from-home for families who travel to Pensacola to receive critical medical treatment for their children."

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