How it all Started
When Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill’s 3-year-old daughter, Kim, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1974, he and his wife camped out on hospital chairs and benches, and ate food from vending machines. Noticing the many families around them in the same situation, Hill rallied the support of his teammates to raise funds to help other families experiencing the same emotional and financial traumas as his own.
Through the Philadelphia Eagles’ General Manager, Jim Murray, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It was Dr. Evans’ dream for a house that could serve as a temporary residence for families of children being treated at her hospital that led to the first Ronald McDonald House – a seven-bedroom house on Spruce Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That House grew to its current incarnation: a 44 bedroom House on Chestnut Street that currently serves over 2,100 families each year.
5th in the World
Birmingham’s Marianne Sharbel, then the PR and Communications Director at Children’s of Alabama saw the same trend with families that Fred and his wife did. She took the idea of the Ronald McDonald House to the late Max Cooper, the local McDonald’s owner/operator. With their hard work and dedication to this cause, the 5th Ronald McDonald House in the world (known then as Children’s Oncology Services of Alabama) opened in Birmingham in 1979. This house was the first to open debt-free, and the first to open in a non-NFL franchise city.
The original Birmingham House opened with nine bedrooms and only served parents of cancer patients treated at Children’s of Alabama. Faced with enormous demand from families of children with other diagnoses, RMHCA’s mission and facilities were expanded in 1991 to serve families not only of cancer patients at Children’s of Alabama, but also families of children in special care units at Children’s or UAB. At the same time, property to the south of the original building was purchased and a connector building was added between the two structures, expanding the House to 32 bedrooms.
In 2002, RMHCA evaluated changes in medical practice, including shorter inpatient stays, extended outpatient treatments and the development of specialty pediatric services at other Birmingham area medical centers. As a result of this evaluation, RMHCA further expanded eligibility to serve families of any sick or injured child that comes to Birmingham for inpatient or outpatient care regardless of diagnosis or provider.
The Young Leadership Board (now the Junior Board) was also formed in 2002, to serve as ambassadors, raise money and awareness among the Young Professionals (20- to 40-year olds) in Birmingham. This was one of the first among more than 38 junior boards in Birmingham.
In 2003, a consulting firm was hired to assess the long-term viability of the facility. They concluded that the expansion of pediatric services in Birmingham would make the services of the Ronald McDonald House necessary for the foreseeable future. In addition, almost $2 million in repairs and renovations would be needed to maintain operations.
As a result of the study and their recommendations, the Board voted in 2004 to build a new facility. The Capital Campaign went public in February 2006, with a goal of raising $6.75 million to fund the new building. With a donation of land worth over $1 million from Children’s of Alabama, the location of the House was decided upon and construction started in February 2006.
New Ronald McDonald House – 2007
The New House opened for families on June 27, 2007. With 41 bedrooms, an elevator, private bathrooms and cable television in each bedroom, it is a major improvement from the previous structure.
Just like the original House in Birmingham, it also opened without any debt, meaning all money raised today go to the families staying at the House and not toward any interest or mortgage payments.
Ronald McDonald Family Room – 2010
In March of 2010 the Ronald McDonald Family Room at DCH Regional Medical Center was opened to serve the families of pediatric and neonatal intensive care patients. Our Family Room was the first of its kind to open in Alabama. It offers a special place of respite, relaxation and privacy for families within footsteps of their child’s bedside. The room includes a kitchen, light snacks, a computer, Internet access, a large screen television and comfy La-Z-Boy furniture. There is also a large playroom for patients’ siblings.
Happy Wheels Cart – 2016
In January of 2016, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama began a new and innovative program that delivers the comfort and care provided by the Ronald McDonald House to children and families while they’re at Children’s of Alabama. Thanks to the great folks at Brasfield & Gorrie, our beautiful Happy Wheels Cart will be able to serve so many at the clinics within the hospital.
Families at the hospital, including siblings, often wait long hours or even days without being able to leave the hospital or even their child’s bedside. Happy Wheels volunteers move throughout the hospital and offer items such as toiletries, drinks, snacks, books and age-appropriate activities and toys to patients, siblings and their caregivers.
Expanded Ronald McDonald House – 2018
After 10 months of construction, RMHCA opened the expanded Ronald McDonald House in January 2018. Nearly doubling in size, this larger house boasts 73 guest suites, including five apartment-style suites; a toy store stocked with donated items where families can shop for free; an exercise room; an additional family kitchen; a dedicated volunteer kitchen adjoining a larger dining room; several new family rooms across all three floors; a newly rebuilt playground/patio area; and many more features.
Ronald McDonald Family Room at UAB Women & Infants Center – 2018
Located within the Continuing Care Nursery and RNICU, the newest family room is managed by RMHCA in partnership with UAB. It features a lovely common area with a kitchen full of snacks, a microwave, ice maker and fridge; tables where families can share a meal or enjoy group activities; a bookshelf stocked with reading materials and games; and a sitting area for socializing or watching TV. Nurses within the CCN help manage the three private sleeping rooms and three private showers.