2009 Volume 3
Happy Birthday, Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House
Celebrating 35 Years of Helping Families at The First House That Love Built
It was the fall of 1973,and Dr.Audrey Evans wanted a house.Not for herself,but for the parents of the children she treated as a pediatric oncologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.“What I had in mind was a unisex YMCA.A simple house where families could stay,”she says.“I wanted parents to have a place to sleep in a comfortable environment.” Parents who otherwise would spend night after night sleeping by their sick child’s bedside.
So Dr.Evans and her social worker Gini Peltz embarked on a hunt for a house in the University City area of Philadelphia,putting in a bid in for a duplex on 40th and Spruce before knowing how they would pay for it.“I was always optimistic,”she says.
Suzie Norvilas and Dr.Evans at Ronald McDonald Camp.
Many families who stay at the House keep coming back long after treatment has ended.Suzie Norvilas,who first stayed at the House in 1985 while being treated for Neuroblastoma,considered PRMH her home for the 14 years she spent on and off receiving care.“Whenever I would go to our real house,I’d ask my mom,‘When are we going home?’”Suzie says.“I thought the Ronald McDonald House was my real home because I was there so often.”Today,Suzie serves as the Family Room
At the same time,the Philadelphia Eagles were raising funds in support of player Fred Hill, whose daughter Kim was in treatment for Leukemia at St.Christopher’s Hospital for Children. When the Eagles approached St.Christopher’s about making a donation,Dr.Lawrence Naiman suggested there was an even greater need for the funds resting with Dr.Evans.
The opening of the first House in 1974.
“Who are the Eagles?”Dr.Evans asked when told they had a donation for her.When General Manager Jimmy Murray presented her with the proceeds one afternoon at the stadium,she thanked him and told him what she really needed – support for a house.“It’s not every day that someone accepts a check and then tells you what she really needs,”Dr.Evans says. Jimmy Murray approached McDonald’s with the idea that they could offer the proceeds from their Shamrock Shake sales to benefit this new house for families;McDonald’s agreed,and the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House was born on October 15,1974.
Thirty-five years later,there are 287 houses all over the world serving the very families Dr.Evans sought to help.The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House has expanded from the first seven bedroom house on Spruce Street to two houses serving 60 families each night, two Ronald McDonald Family Rooms at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,and a weeklong Ronald McDonald Camp.
Ronald McDonald,Jimmy Murray,and Dr. Audrey Evans.
An array of supportive services – from home- cooked dinners every night to the assistance of two trained social workers – has transformed the House into more than just a comfortable place where families sleep.“The staff,the atmosphere,the programs,the communal meals – they all make it a huge success,” says Dr.Evans.“It makes a tremendous difference to the lives of people.”
Coordinator for PRMH,and also as a counselor at Ronald McDonald Camp.“What I enjoy the most is that I am able to give back to two places that have been a huge part of my childhood,and of my life.”
Like Suzie,Dotti Escuti has been giving back to PRMH for over 20 years.After her five-year-old son Chris was diagnosed with Optic Glioma – a tumor in the optic chiasm behind the eye – the Escuti family traveled from the Dominican Republic to receive treatment at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.“We’re very private people,and when I was first told about the House I was reluctant,”Dotti says.“We were in the door for five minutes,and I felt‘This is the place.This I can handle.’”
When her family moved back to the U S Dotti . ., The Escuti family at the House in 1988
committed to helping the place that helped her. “I knew I was going to volunteer,”she says.“I didn’t care if I had to clean toilets.”The House gave her a different role,and she has been volunteering in the administrative office ever since.Her son Chris stays involved,too,as a counselor at camp.This year,his wife Amy begins her counselor training.
From an idea for a place for parents to sleep,to a multifaceted organization helping over 2,000 families from around the world each year,The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House has grown into something even Dr.Evans did not expect.“I didn’t even really have a concept of a home away from home as it has blossomed,”she says. “But it isn’t just bricks and mortar here – you can get that anywhere.The saying of a home away from home is actually true.”
To celebrate 35 years of providing a home away from home to families,we invite you to join us at our 35th Birthday Party on Friday,November 6,2009,at the Please Touch Museum,Memorial Hall,Fairmount Park.For more information,turn to page eight or visit www.philarmh.org. Tickets are also available by completing and returning the enclosed envelope.
Chris Escuti at Ronald McDonald Camp in 2009.