For three years, Bonnie and Eric Hendrickson made the long trek from their home in Murrieta, Calif., to Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Long Beach, helping their young son, Andrew, battle Cystic Fibrosis. Bonnie settled into the hospital 24/7, never wanting to leave her son’s side. Eric spent as many waking hours with the family as possible, but ultimately needed to sleep in his car in the evenings since hospital rules dictated only one parent could stay overnight.
“The 160-mile daily roundtrip was simply not an option,” said Eric. “So we just did what we needed to do for our son – I slept in our suburban and Bonnie stayed with Andrew.”
Daily treatments and special equipment required Andrew to stay in the hospital for four weeks straight, and then the family would drive home for a six-week reprieve. Four weeks in. Six weeks out. Four weeks in. Six weeks out.
But in December 2011, the Hendrickson’s lives changed. Andrew still required treatment, but the opening of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House meant the family would now have a “home-away-from-home” as they cared for their son.
“The house made our lives so much better during a very trying time,” said Eric. “I had somewhere to sleep during those weeks when Andrew needed treatment, and Bonnie could come over for stretches to get cleaned up and grab a little rest as well. The house, the staff, and the other families gave us a place to recharge so we could be our best for Andrew.”
These days, the Hendrickson’s only occasionally rely on the house since Andrew is doing much better after a lung surgery, but there are many other families in need of similar services.
On any given day, the Long Beach House accommodates 50 or more individuals, supporting families of children undergoing treatment for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses at Miller Children’s Hospital and other nearby hospitals and medical facilities in Los Angeles County and Orange County. Some family members stay for just a night, others for several weeks, but the top goal of the staff and facility is to always ensure families far from home have the resources they need in order to best care for their sick child. To date, the House has already served more than 4,500 people in its three-year history.
“We want every family member to feel welcome during their stay,” said Cheri Bazley, Executive Director of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House. “We really strive to provide special amenities – sibling support, complimentary robes and slippers, a locked pantry to store dry goods and an individual refrigerator – those small things give families a sense of home.”
And Bazley admits the Long Beach community has stepped up in ways big and small to support as well. The Long Beach Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau adopted the House in its first year of operation, inviting all of its members and clients to provide meals. Between local hotels, restaurants and various organizations, dinners were covered for families almost every night of the week.
“In 2015, we already have 390 meals committed for our families,” said Bazley. “Beyond the food, dinner is a great way families can meet up in a communal space and connect over what they are going through and engage in some normal conversation.”
The organizations coming to serve also benefit from the experience.
“These groups are able to volunteer and see where their help is going,” said Bazley. “They provide a beautiful meal and share some time with the impacted families – they love it!”
While the House asks families to pay just $25 to $35 per night, the average cost of sustaining the House is $125 per family, per night. In order to make up the difference and continue supporting families in need, the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House relies on philanthropic gifts.
One of the greatest fundraising opportunities, the annual Walk for Kids, will be held on April 12, 2015.
“This one event raises $300,000 in just one day for our House,” said Bazley. “There are so many ways to get involved – you can walk, make a financial pledge, volunteer to help at the event – we are always in need of extra hands.”
Planning meetings and more details will be available soon.
“I’ve walked with my own family in this event and it really is a great opportunity to support a wonderful organization in Long Beach, and also see families and children firsthand who have benefited from the services of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House,” said Supervisor Don Knabe.
To learn more about the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House, and discover how you can volunteer or utilize the home, visit www.longbeachrmh.org.