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A Loving Home Away From Home


Kim Abramson’s warm brown eyes well up with tears when she talks about her son, Colby, who had seven surgeries in the first 11 months of his life. Born with a disorder of the esophagus, Colby spent weeks and months at a time at Rady Children’s Hospital. Kim and her husband Nick rarely left his side.


Even as they worried about their sick child, the Abramsons faced daily challenges of their own: where to get a hot meal, a shower, a nap or a night’s sleep, or simply a much-needed break from long hours at the hospital. Luckily for the Abramsons, the answer was right across the street. The Ronald McDonald House became their refuge. “From the guy who cleans the floor to the CEO who will sit down with you and have dinner, everybody is just genuine and kind,” says Kim. “You don’t find that everywhere.”


No one understands the needs of families with seriously ill children better than Sandy Camarillo, the house’s chief operations officer. “Our basic mission is to provide a home away from home,” she says. “While their kids are in the hospital, parents need a place to stay, and they need a place that is nearby because anybody who has a sick kid doesn’t want to go very far from that child.”


But the Ronald McDonald House provides far more than a bed, Camarillo says, by addressing the many non-medical needs that families have, from laundry facilities to links with social service agencies. It also offers a one-room school, play spaces, and activities for the siblings of sick children, who are often neglected during a medical crisis.


Just a year ago, the Ronald McDonald House was like a little bed and breakfast with a dozen bedrooms, serving about 100 people a month. But it had to turn many families away. Those families had few options, sleeping in waiting rooms, cars, and RVs because they couldn’t afford hotels.


When offered the opportunity to build a new 60,000-square-foot facility atop the new parking garage going up at Rady’s, the board of directors jumped at the chance. The Ronald McDonald House now has 47 guest rooms, a commercial kitchen, a computer resource room, teen center, outdoor sports court, amphitheatre, and chapel. It serves 20,000 residential and day visitors each year.


While the house helps more people, it also costs more. Its annual budget is $4 million, with a $16.5 million construction loan due in five years. “People think we have an abundance of money because we are part of McDonald’s,” says Sharon Smith, vice president of development. In reality, the house receives just ten percent of its funding from McDonald’s and that comes from change dropped in the coin boxes at the fast food restaurants. The remainder of the funding has to come from foundations, grants, and donations.


Smith hopes San Diegans will consider generous contributions to the Ronald McDonald House capital campaign. Donors can add their names to everything from the Family Care Center at $6 million to the Garden of Hope for $75,000.


Upcoming fundraisers include The Romp, the house’s 30th anniversary gala on October 2, chaired by Mary Drake and featuring singer Vikki Carr. Honorary chairs are Phil and Amy Mickelson. Leonard Simpson presents the third annual 10 Best Dressed in San Diego Awards, chaired by Linda Masters, on November 6. Denise and Bertrand Hug are honorary chairs.


Colby recently celebrated his first birthday at his Carlsbad home surrounded by family and friends. He even managed to take a bite of his cake, shaped like a gumball machine. Instead of bringing gifts, his parents asked guests to contribute to the Ronald McDonald House, where the family is truly grateful found a home away from home. (858/467-4750, www.rmhcsd.org)   ANDREA NAVERSEN


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