Breaking ground at Ronald McDonald House builds a bigger heart

A red heart is at the center of the logo for the capital campaign of the planned expansion at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Montana.

Their mission? To keep families with sick children together and close to the medical care they need when they need it most. The expansion behind the $2.7 million dollar campaign will double the size of the current Ronald McDonald House by adding eight more family suites and updating current spaces to better serve the families who stay there. 

What’s special, though, like the core of any meaningful project, is the heart. Local Chief Executive Officer Amy Peterson chose the image of a heart to represent the community and support that people find within the walls of the Ronald McDonald House. 

The heart also serves as a memorial to Amy’s nephew, Tate, who crayoned a similar heart while he was receiving treatment for Neuroblastoma at the Denver Children’s Hospital about 10 years ago. At that time, Amy’s siblings and parents took turns staying with Tate and his mom and dad, thanks to the Ronald McDonald House in Denver. 

“We think he was sharing his heart with us,” Amy said. “That’s what donors do when they give to this organization, they share their hearts.”

During Tate’s 14-month stint of chemotherapy and radiation, members of his family traveled from Eastern Montana to Colorado to be with him. 

“We made a promise as a family that he would never be alone,” Amy said. The Ronald McDonald House Charities helped the family fulfill that promise, by offering rest, meals, and support. 

Amy noted that many families, especially in rural states like Montana, have to travel long distances to far-away medical facilities in unfamiliar communities to get treatment for their children. The Ronald McDonald House can offer families a sense of stability, allowing them space to make decisions about their children’s medical care.  

“It’s such an important service to families, really, when everything else is falling apart,” she said.

Tate passed away suddenly in 2009 at the age of 7. In 2015, Amy accepted the position of CEO at the Ronald McDonald House in Missoula. 

“I thought, what better opportunity for me to honor my nephew every day in what I do,” said Amy.  

She keeps a photo of Tate in her office for inspiration. In August, her office also contained several shovels and hard hats from a groundbreaking event in celebration of raising 82 percent of the $2.7 million goal, all thanks to AbbVie, a national biopharmaceutical company who gifted nearly $1 million to the House in Missoula, The Jane S. Heman Foundation, and local donors who shared their hearts. 

“That will make a huge difference,” Amy said, noting that in 2017 the facility had to turn away 72 families due to lack of room. 

The house in Missoula currently has eight rooms with comfortable beds, a large kitchen where families can enjoy home-cooked meals provided by volunteers, a shared family room, laundry facilities, and a play area. The city’s trail system, a park, and medical facilities are nearby. 

“But greater than those amenities is the sense of community and compassion families find with each other and from the staff and volunteers…you’re living with strangers who quickly become family,” said Amy. “You sit down for a meal with another family and they can read your heart without you having to say a word. That’s at the core of what Ronald McDonald House does.”

Families stay in the Missoula facility for an average of 17 days, at a suggested daily rate of $25. No one is turned away for inability to pay. 

Ronald McDonald House Charities has headquarters in Chicago and serves families worldwide, but each house tailors its programming based on local needs. 

As an example, the Super Siblings Program in Missoula offers activities and support for siblings of the hospitalized child. “These kids may feel confused or scared about their sibling’s illness,” Amy said. “And they may feel lonely as their parents’ attention is pulled to the child who is sick.” She developed the Missoula program as a result of being with her nieces during her nephew’s illness. 

Donations to RMHC of Western Montana also reflect the character of the local community. The Missoula House is able to offer families passes to SpectrUM Discovery Area, A Carousel for Missoula, and The Missoula Insectarium just to name a few. “These gestures make an incredible difference,” said Amy.

Like Amy, other families often “repay” the support they’ve received from the Ronald McDonald House by donating and volunteering or fundraising for their local RMHC once the child’s medical treatment ends. 

As an example, Amy shares a story of a local family whose child, Aiden, was born prematurely and received care for about eight months at Seattle Children’s Hospital. When the family returned home, Aiden’s mom, Magda, started “NICU Nights” as a way for current and former families of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit babies in Missoula to support one another. 

In addition, Amy said Aiden’s sister, Laila, started her own company, Donation Cooperation Stands Incorporated, LLC, selling lemonade to raise money for RMHC of Western Montana. Initially, Laila raised “a Ziploc bag full” of $140 until a donor caught wind of her efforts on social media and donated funds for her dad to build her a professional-looking lemonade stand, where she eventually raised more than $1,300. 

“As a locally governed nonprofit, we rely on the support of the entire greater community. 100 percent of the funds donated to RMHC of Western Montana stay right here in Missoula,” noted Amy. “Thanks to the regular and generous support of many, we are able to serve hundreds of Montana families every year.”

Support the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Montana

Volunteer: RMHC volunteers stuff envelopes, greet families, make cookies, do light cleaning, and many other helpful tasks.
Serve: Get a group of friends or co-workers together and make a home-cooked meal for families staying at the House through the “Meals that Heals” program.
Gifts are tax-deductible.

Ronald McDonald House
3003 Fort Missoula Road