First-of-its-kind Ronald McDonald House hosts grand opening
David F. Mercer, M.D., Ph.D., second from right, an organ transplant surgeon for UNMC/Nebraska Medicine, watches as Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert cuts the ribbon on an expansion project at the Ronald McDonald House.
RMHC hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday morning, welcoming many of their donors to celebrate the opening of the expanded facility. Among the speakers during the program were Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, David F. Mercer, M.D., Ph.D., an organ transplant surgeon for UNMC/Nebraska Medicine, Stefanie Christensen of the CL Werner Foundation, RMHC Executive Director Lindsey Rai Kortan, and Angels Among Us (AAU) Executive Director Susie Nelson. AAU is another nonprofit that offers financial assistance to families battling pediatric cancer, and they now have moved their offices into the RMHC facility.
The expansion project doubled the size of the house, adding approximately 20,000 square feet of space, including 20 more guest rooms, which will eliminate a waiting list that forced RMHC to turn families away roughly 1,600 times over a two-year span.
In addition to the guest rooms, RMHC incorporated several new support spaces, including one that has never been seen in any other Ronald McDonald House - an in-house treatment center to be independently operated by RMHC's medical partners.
"We've always been confident in our ability to provide hope and hospitality to these families, but we knew we could do more," Kortan said. "We wanted this house to be a place where families could find a sense of normalcy in the midst of such traumatic and chaotic circumstances. That means they have a place where they can watch movies, play games, get a haircut, and have access to the resources they need."
The house also has a salon, volunteer room, glass-encased toy room, contemplation room, and many other areas strategically designed to create a comprehensive healing community capable of serving the entire family. That includes bringing in partners like AAU, Completely KIDS, WhyArts, and others to provide programs for every individual who walks in the doors.
Dr. Mercer, who is the current board president for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, praised the organization for creating all these new programs and welcomed the community to be a part of the process. "This is a center of innovation. If you can come up with other ideas, if you can help us, we can make it a reality," he said.
Mayor Stothert thanked Omaha for supporting such an endeavor, and reinforced the pride the community has in taking care of the families staying in the house.
"These families see firsthand that Omaha is a community of caring and compassion," she said. "We work together and support each other. We recognize the needs and we take action. When we cut a ribbon this morning, we create hope for families who need much more than just shelter. Thank you for providing a welcoming home away from home."
The public is invited to attend a grand opening open house and community fair this Saturday, May 11, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., where they can enjoy a tour of the house, as well as food, games, and entertainment. RMHC is located at 620 S. 38th Ave., and parking for the event is available in the UNMC Student Life Center parking lot on the west side of the House. Those interested in learning more about RMHC can visit MakeItOrdinary.com.
Harris Frankel, M.D., chief medical officer for Nebraska Medicine, also is on the RMHC board of directors.