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Greenville & Hockessin Life

Ronald McDonald House of Delaware celebrates 25 years of helping families

Jun 29, 2016 01:59PM ● By J. Chambless

The Ronald McDonald House of Delaware has served about 42,000 families who have been seeking specialized medical treatment at local hospitals.

By Steven Hoffman
Staff Writer

The Ronald McDonald House of Delaware, an organization that has already served as a silver lining to more than 42,000 families in need, is celebrating its silver anniversary this year. During those 25 years, the Ronald McDonald House has been a home away from home to families of seriously or chronically ill or injured children who are seeking treatment at area hospitals.

Pam Cornforth, the president and CEO of the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware, said during an interview in June that each one of the 42,000 families has represented a special chapter in the organization's ever-growing story of help and hope. There are many heartwarming stories about how the staff and volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House have provided comfort to a family or made a connection with one of the children.

One such story: In 2006, a family from Chile sought care for their eight-year-old child at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. The family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House periodically through the years as the boy sought the specialized medical treatment. Eventually, the family settled in the area. The boy is now 18, and doing very well. He recently graduated from high school, and Cornforth was invited to the graduation celebration.

That's just one of many stories,” she explained.

While Cornforth joined the organization about 17 years ago, first as the executive director and then as the CEO and president, she was volunteering to support the Ronald Donald House of Delaware even before it officially opened. As a mother of three herself, Cornforth said she feels very strongly about helping those families who have sick or injured children.

I believe in that commitment of helping families,” she said. “The families are all so special.”

Cornforth said that the reputation of Ronald McDonald House Charities and its more than 350 chapters has grown to the point where the presence of a Ronald McDonald House factors into the decision-making process for families who are deciding where to have their children treated. The organization has earned widespread praise for the services that it provides to families in need.

The Ronald McDonald House has a history of serving families in need and our story is one of growth and change over these 25 years,” Cornforth explained.

When the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware first opened in June of 1991, it had 17 guest rooms. That number has now increased to 50 guest rooms as needs have increased. Each family that checks into the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware has a private guest room with a private bath, a telephone with voicemail, and a television. The house is also equipped with three computers with high-speed Internet, a fitness center, four different playrooms, including a teen room, a kitchen, library, and outside playgrounds. Some of the rooms are wheelchair-accessible.

We also operate three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in pediatric units where families can rest, gather strength, and find some comfort during very difficult times,” Cornforth explained.

The families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware have children who are being cared for by Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and the Christiana Care Health System. The Ronald McDonald House of Delaware has opened its doors to families from all over the world during the first 25 years, but a significant number of families do live in Delaware. According to Cornforth, approximately 36 percent of the families who stay at the house are from Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware.

The staff and volunteers do everything they can to make the families feel like they are at home. One of the most important programs that the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware offers is a meal program for the families.

We have a saying that food is love,” Cornforth explained. “We work with different volunteer groups and civic organizations to make sure that a hot meal is prepared in the evening for families, and we do that 365 days a year.”

There are other programs aimed at making sure that families are comfortable during their stays.

For example, they provide guests with transportation—there are vans available so that guests can go back and forth to the hospital to see their children or run the errands that they need to run.

When the guests are in the house, every effort is made to make them feel like they are at home.

Every single night,” Cornforth explained, “we have a family activity planned—that allows the families to relax a little bit.”

One new thing that the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware has added is a Good News Bell—families get to ring the bell in celebration whenever they receive good news, such as if their child came off a respirator, finished the last chemotherapy treatment, or is going home. The staff will gather around and cheer when the good news is announced.

A staff of 14 people run the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware.

I have a great team,” Cornforth explained. “My staff is very capable, and they work very hard.”

She emphasized that the organization is very reliant on volunteers to do its work. There is a roster of approximately 410 volunteers who help out various capacities. Individuals from Delaware and southern Chester County offer their services on their own, but large corporations and civic organizations also work with the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware to line up volunteers. There are four volunteers assigned to each shift to ensure that there are enough people on hand at any time to meet the needs of guests.

We have a reliable group of volunteers,” Cornforth explained.

The financial support from the local community has been important as well.

Cornforth explained that the organization must raise about $2 million annually. A small amount of that comes directly from the families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House. There is a suggested donation of $15 per night, although no family is ever turned away based on the ability to pay. It costs about $72 a night per room to operate the house, so it takes quite a bit of work just to make up that difference.

Each house raises funds in a variety of ways, including special events, a major gifts program, an annual fund campaign, planned giving, direct mail campaigns and more. Cornforth explained that the owners of McDonald's franchises always help out considerably. Other businesses, foundations, and non-profit organizations also provide assistance, as does the United Way of Delaware. Because each Ronald McDonald House chapter is operated locally, all the funding that is raised locally stays to support the effort in Delaware.

Every dollar we raise here, stays here,” she said.

The Ronald McDonald House has a strong partnership with Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Christiana Care. The organization's board of directors is required to have one-fourth of its board come from the medical field. Paul Kempinski, the president of Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children is the current chairman of the board of directors.

I really can't say enough about our board of directors,” Cornforth said. “They are so engaged. They are very important to our success. Every year, we hold a dinner for our volunteers, and the board of directors will prepare a meal and serve it to the volunteers.”

All the volunteers and contributors are helping to meet an important need in the community. The Ronald McDonald House of Delaware has about an 85 percent occupancy rate, just one illustration of the level of need.

Cornforth added that they receive many positive comments from families thanking them for their help during a difficult time. For the last six or seven years, a survey has also been distributed to parents. The Ronald McDonald House of Delaware routinely scores 4.9 out of 5 on these ratings.

The 25th anniversary is a good time to celebrate the good work. There are a number of events planned to celebrate the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware's silver anniversary. There was a family birthday party in June, a brick pathway campaign is underway, and a gala event is slated for October at the Hotel du Pont. Cornforth said that it's a time to celebrate the contributions of everyone who supports the mission of helping families in need.

It's pretty exciting,” Cornforth said. “The Ronald McDonald House is truly grateful to the thousands of friends and partners, including hundreds of volunteers who have made our first 25 years such a tremendous success. It takes everyone working together for that success.”

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected].

How to help

There are many ways to support the Ronald McDonald House financially. For information about how to help, contact Barbara Loeslein, development director, at 302-428-5331.


The Ronald McDonald House of Delaware always needs volunteers. For more information, contact Sara Funaiock, volunteer manager, at 302-428-5340.

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