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The Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta

January 1st, 2014

On some nights – most nights now – the kitchen of Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta fills with volunteers and members of the community. These volunteer groups come in to Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta, arms full of groceries, to cook a meal for the hundred or so people staying at the House. Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta calls this their Home4Dinner program, and the success story of this project and others continue everyday as new volunteers come on board. The expansive house located in the heart of Queen Alexandra neighbourhood draws this breed of people – all looking to help contribute to what Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta is trying to do.

For 27 years, Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta has been offering a safe, compassionate, comforting place for families of children seeking medical treatment in Edmonton. For a family with a sick child requiring treatment away from home, the unexpected cost associated with seeking the treatment can represent a significant burden. Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta welcomes these new families into the city, providing a comfortable hotel-style room, full amenities and a support infrastructure to help guide them through difficult times. Last year, 839 families stayed at Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta, with an additional 520 accommodated at hotels in an arrangement with the House. These 2500-some people found a home at Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta, all for $12 a night.

"We are successful when we get the heck out of the way of the kindness of the community,"  says Martin Dugas, Executive Director. "All you need to get involved is a desire to do something you're good at – something you like to do – and you're welcome to come in."  The House has found a place in the hearts of the surrounding community, and the impact of this relationship is significant. In 2011, groups organized 80 fundraising events, contributing significantly to the operating budget of the House. The total volunteer hours add up to the equivalent of roughly six full-time staff each month. These volunteers contribute to the day-to-day operations of the House – cooking, cleaning and providing support wherever it is needed. More than just maintenance, volunteers contribute to the growth and direction of the Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta. Perhaps there's no better testament to this than the Quilt Room.

Nestled in the lower floor is a small, unassuming room. No more than 10 feet deep or 10 feet wide, you're greeted by shelved walls packed with densely stacked columns of quilts. Every child to enter the House receives a quilt from this room. " They begin their stay knowing that there are people who care," continues Dugas. "In 2011, we gave over 900 quilts to our children." Each quilt is unique, none of them store-bought. Ask volunteers where the quilts come from and they'll rattle off an impressive list ranging from middle-class knitting clubs to women's penitentiaries. 

The first steps towards RMHNA were taken in the early eighties when The Society of Children's Oncology Family Services of Northern Alberta set out to bring the internationally successful Ronald McDonald House® model to their province. Support grew, and in 1985, the 12,800 square foot, 16 bedroom House opened. Community support was immediate, with an infrastructure of people and families affected by similar facilities in other cities willing to help the House from its earliest stages. In 2007, Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta expanded to 30 rooms over 42,000 square feet.

"Our inaugural golf tournament was amazing. I am so proud of the committee and our team for what they have accomplished," said Director of Development, Jen Panteluk, on the topic of their Charity Golf Classic. The Golf Classic is one of several larger events illustrating the ability of the House to work with volunteers in bringing people together in the name of a good cause. "It all started with three individuals with a particular connection to us who wanted to do something for the House," she adds. "Additional committee members where recruited, and everyone rallied behind the House to help bring sponsors on board to make the event a success."

Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta welcomes people out to all of their events and to get involved in the House in whatever way they can. You can give toys to stock their "Magic Room,"  a variation on the Quilt Room there in which every new child receives a toy of their choosing. You can become a part of the House for a night by organizing a group to participate in Home4Dinner, or simply attend the Red Shoe Crawl – a citywide culinary taste test. Anyone can get involved, and Ronald McDonald House® Northern Alberta is proud to work with people and organizations in providing a little piece of home for families when they need it most.

Visit www.rmhnorthernalberta.org for more information.

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