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Ask Us Anything About… The Ronald McDonald House

You've probably heard of the Ronald McDonald House of Hershey — located across the street from Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. Perhaps you've donated items to the House, prepared a meal for guests there or even know someone who has stayed there. Join us for a special tour inside this wonderful facility and learn more about the services and resources provided to out-of-town families and local families being cared for at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

We get answers to your questions from Karla Mitchell, Ronald McDonald House Charities Executive Director, and Amy Leonard, Ronald McDonald House Charities Development Manager.

View full transcript of video


Description – The video begins inside the Ronlad McDonald House in Hershey Pennsylvania. Two individuals are standing in a large living room. The two individuals are looking at the camera and the person on the left is holding a microphone. Standing from left to right is Scott Gilbert and Karla Mitchell, Ronald McDonald House Charities Executive Director.

Scott Gilbert “ From Penn State Health, this is Ask Us Anything About the Ronald McDonald House. I’m Scott Gilbert. This place is truly a home away from home for families with children who are receiving treatment at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. Today on Ask Us Anything About, we’re going to be learning about this amazing place and the work that they do here throughout Central Pennsylvania and even all across the world. And here to start that conversation with us is Carla Mitchell, she’s the Executive Director here at the Ronald McDonald House. Thanks for being here today.

Karla Mitchell – Thank you Scott. Welcome, we’re glad to have you.

Scott Gilbert “ Well, let’s start by talking about the Ronald McDonald House and I mean for people that may not be familiar with it, how big is it and who is it for?

Karla Mitchell – Yeah, so the Ronald McDonald House here in Hershey is a 35 bedroom home. It serves families as you mentioned whose children are receiving critical and medical care over at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. Thirty-five bedrooms is quite large, it’s about 32,000 square feet and it has bedrooms and living rooms and dining rooms and kitchens just like your house and mine. The idea is, it’s just a bigger of a scale for those families to be able to utilize those services. There’s a playroom and computer services and food pantries and all those types of basic amenities for the families with needs. They don’t have to worry about those while they’re here. They can focus on their child. They can focus on themselves and help be able to provide a more compassionate and caring environment for those families.

Scott Gilbert “ That’s great. And this house was built in 1984. It didn’t look like this back then though.

Karla Mitchell – It did not. Originally, the house had 13 bedrooms. And then in the early 90s, we expanded again to 20 bedrooms. And just recently in 2010, we expanded again to now have the 35 that you see here today.

Scott Gilbert “ You’re watching Ask Us Anything About the Ronald McDonald House from Penn State Health. I’m Scott Gilbert along with Carla Mitchell, she’s the Executive Director here. We welcome your questions and comments. And we’ve gotten a lot of great comments already from the Facebook post we put up prior to this, to let folks know that this interview would be happening. You must get a lot of great feedback. People must really appreciate what you do here and how you do provide this home for families.

Karla Mitchell – Yeah, we’re really lucky. A couple of things come into play there. One, we have a great dedicated staff and volunteers, they’re amazing. We have a great partnership with the medical community and they also are very good to us. Donors and families who have been here come back and that speaks volumes. So they want to come back, they want to volunteer, they want to help us out. And so we’re really grateful to the community for doing all that they do to help make this place so great.

Scott Gilbert “ Now if someone’s whose watching has a child who will be receiving care in the near future at the Children’s Hospital, what can they do to look into you know, a possible stay here.

Karla Mitchell – Yeah, they really just need to give us a call. There’s, they can also check our website, but it’s going to refer them here. And so they need to give our office a telephone call and the staff when they answer, the volunteers when they answer will help walk them through that process. It’s available to any family who pretty much lives within 30 miles away from Hershey. And as long as their child is receiving care at the medical community, and we have space, you know they are eligible to stay here.

Scott Gilbert “ Well fantastic. You’re watching Ask Us Anything About the Ronald McDonald House. From Penn State Health, I’m Scott Gilbert, this is Carla Mitchell and again we welcome your questions and comments and if you enjoy this content, we hope that you share the post on your Facebook page to help get the word out to even more people. As part of this, what’s great is, we get to move around in here. We get to see the place. And so, we’re going to being seeing a few rooms. And starting with this one, this is wow, a lot of nice comfy couches, a lot of nice comfy chairs, kind of a mellow lighting. Tell us a little bit about kind of the thought that goes into designing a space like this.

Karla Mitchell – Sure, well the house at one point had a committee of volunteers, family members, facility type folks who really had comfort at the forefront. They really wanted to make the space as much of a home away from home as possible for the families when they are staying here. It’s convenient and accessible and comfortable but not over the top. You know, you’re not going to have, some of there’s more significant privileges, but the idea is that there’s that comfortable care, that family center care that we can provide here for them.

Scott Gilbert “ Fantastic. Well let’s take a little walk down the hall here because my, I have to admit, this is my favorite room down here on the left.

Karla Mitchell – Mine too!

Scott Gilbert “ Yeah well and before we get to my favorite room, there’s this, there’s a little computer room over here so people can log on and maybe even do some work, do some play.

Karla Mitchell – That’s correct. We have free Wi-Fi here and for those families that need to log on to their computer to share the status of their family member as they’re recovering or you know, receiving services at the hospital, they can do that here. We also have a lot of parents that come and are still working while their child is receiving care. So they’re logging on, they’re getting work down while their child is you know, over at the medical, at the Children’s Hospital.

Scott Gilbert “ Fantastic. Okay now, my favorite room. I think it’s also the most colorful room probably in this house. It’s of course this playroom located just off of the kitchen that we’ll be seeing very shortly here, but a lot of fantastic toys, a lot of, oh my gosh, look at the size of that teddy bear, a lot of great things in here.

Karla Mitchell – Yes, we are so blessed and so fortunate. I will tell you that the teddy bear, the big one that you see in the corner actually was a gift from the teddy bear drop, the Hershey Bears, from one of their games this past season. And two of the Hershey Bears players came in along with the bear to deliver it, so that was very cool and exciting. And they actually delivered a lot of the toys that you see over here from last year’s teddy bear drop. This is a great space. It was a partnership between McDonald’s, our founding partner and also Hershey Entertainment and Resorts to be able to really make the construction of this room happen and all of the colorful designs that you see on the walls are a wrap or a brand that Hershey Entertainment did for us. It is also the exact same wrap that you will see on our hospitality carts over at the hospital. So there’s a really good consistent feeling of fun and happiness and care.

Scott Gilbert “ I’m glad you mentioned the hospital and the presence of the Ronald McDonald House over at the hospital, because there are a few different presences there. You have the Ronald McDonald family room, the hospitality cart in the Children’s Hospital. So let’s start with the family room. Tell me about that. I mean it’s on the 7th floor.

Karla Mitchell – It is on the 7th floor of the medical center and it’s for any families who really want a bit of a rest, you know, they just need a break, they want to step away but they don’t necessarily want to leave the hospital environment. And so they can come up to the 7th floor in the medical community. They can take a nap, they can get a snack, they can just sit and read if they want to do that, they can watch TV. There’s activities for smaller kids that they can do while they’re there and it’s just really a great, great space. It really is a home-like feeling for the families when they come in there. It’s right next to the NICU, so we do get a lot of NICU families there which is wonderful, but also from other patients over in the Children’s hospital. It’s great space.

Scott Gilbert “ Speaking of the Children’s Hospital, on the third and fourth floor there are special rooms there as well.

Karla Mitchell – Yeah, there are lounges that are in the Children’s Hospital that Ronald McDonald House helps to support with staff from our family room. They provide the coffee from McDonald’s and a few other resources there as well.

Scott Gilbert “ One of the coolest things we’ve seen, the hallways over in the Children’s Hospital is the hospitality cart too. That must be a nice resource for families.

Karla Mitchell – It’s a terrific resource. And actually, as of just a couple of weeks ago, we now have two hospitality carts. There’s a large one, it’s quite large and a smaller one for a single volunteer who might be able to move that cart through the Children’s Hospital if we have only one volunteer that day. The hospitality cart is very recognizable and provides a quick snack, a quick drink for a family member who just wants to come out of the room to the lounge area, to the hallway out there, the foyer where they could just grab that from the cart and then you know, head back. We also have sometimes, reading materials for the adults because let’s face it, you’re waiting, you’re waiting, you’re waiting. And so, providing that to them, giving them that opportunity, a crossword puzzle or something like that, that helps you know, bide their time is really beneficial to them.

Scott Gilbert “ Fantastic. Great, Carla, anything else to share before we move toward the kitchen? Is there anything in general about the house that we haven’t touched on?

Karla Mitchell – No, I don’t think so. You know, we’re very grateful. Families who come here are beyond grateful for the services that we provide to them and to their children you know, when they’re here and we’re grateful to the community and our partners to help make that happen.

Scott Gilbert “ Carla Mitchell is Executive Director here at the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey. Carla, thanks so much for your time.

Karla Mitchell – Thanks, Scott, I really appreciate it. Thanks so much and thanks to the viewers.

Scott Gilbert walks into another room and stands next to Amy Leonard, Amy Leonard, Ronald McDonald House Charities Development Manager

Scott Gilbert “ You bet. And by the way we’re about to meet somebody else, so don’t tune out yet. And do feel free to keep the questions and comments coming. Just add them to the comment field below this Facebook post. Whether you’re watching it live or if you’re watching it on Playback, we can get you some answers to any questions that you might have about this amazing facility and the amazing people who help it operate. And those people include Amy Leonard, she’s Development Manager here at the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey. Amy, thanks for being here.

Amy Leonard – Thank you so much for having me.

Scott Gilbert “ Well, we are in one of the two kitchens here. So, as we continue our tour at the Ronald McDonald House, why don’t you tell us a bit about what this kitchen is used for.

Amy Leonard – Sure. This kitchen actually is used for our baking program. So we have groups from the community that come in and they prepare bake goods for us, that could be cookies, muffins, anything that you, that you could bake. And they provide those to us so that we could in turn provide those to the families. We use those here and we use those across the street that are given out throughout the hospitality cart that you all just talked about. That is you know, one of the top things that the people tend to like to eat then they’re in stressful situations. Baked goods everybody likes them. So, everyday of the week we have volunteers coming in between breakfast and dinner using this kitchen. They bring all the items themselves. So they have to bring their brownie mixes, their cookie mixes and then they prepare them here in the kitchen.

Scott Gilbert “ Fantastic. And this is as I mentioned, one of two kitchens. So, we’re going to make our way over to the other one just across the way here. And it looks somewhat similar to this, although it does a look a little bit bigger. Is that possible? Is this a little bit of a bigger kitchen on this side here?

Amy Leonard – It may be. [Lost connection]

Scott Gilbert “ And this is for, who uses this one?

Amy Leonard – This kitchen is used primarily for our guest chef program. So those are groups from the community that come in and prepare a meal. So they’re preparing for at least 70 individuals. They’re bringing the food with them. And during the week we have dinner and during the week we have breakfast and dinner.

[Lost connection]

Amy Leonard – They can [lost connection] what the people before you and after you are preparing so that you don’t have hamburgers every day of the week, spaghetti every day of the week for the guests. It’s really one of those things that’s user friendly and we would love to have more groups from the community engage with us in that way.

Scott Gilbert “ In the Facebook post promoting this video, we have a question from Donna. She asked about wish list items and things such as what are the most common items that are needed and also how does one go about donating?

Amy Leonard – At any given time we have a short list as part of our wish list. That is a vast list of everything that we could possibly use or want here for our guest families. But the wish list, shorter list provides things that we’re low on. And currently those items that we have on our short list is salty snacks, so that would be like individual served bags of popcorn, chips, pretzels, veggie sticks, anything like that. Also, ravioli, spaghetti, individual served microwavable meals. So, the, like your Chef Boyardee or something similar to that where a family is able to access that through the hospitality cart, microwave it over at the hospital, taking care of themselves again so that they can be involved in their child’s care. And then the last thing that we are in need of is colored pencils. So, it’s very different, every week it kind of changes and over at the hospital which I know a lot of the folks that will be watching this know Ann. She’s very good at keeping us updated on what supplies she needs to be able to provide to the large number of folks over at the Children’s Hospital.

Scott Gilbert “ One of those resources for patients but also for families, a lot of siblings stay here, so you’ve got to keep them busy, for sometimes for a long period of time.

Amy Leonard – We do and each child that comes and checks in, one of the things that you’ll see on our wish list is toys. So what we do with those, a lot of people don’t know is every child that comes in receives a toy from the treasure chest. So the volunteers are great at taking them over to the treasure chest whether it’s a sibling or the patient and being able to provide them with the toy of their choice. We have a volunteer who, that’s her role, she comes in stocks the treasure chest with donations from the community. We have tutus in there that have been made by volunteers and super hero capes and all kinds of fun stuff. But you know, again that’s one of the ways that we can refocus, maybe a negative situation to something a little bit positive temporarily for a child to help mom and dad get a, get a breather and be able to check in and get settled. So, you know, again 30, more than 30 years of history and volunteer input has brought us to this point where we feel like we can continue to provide what we provide and then look ahead and see what’s next, what more can we do for these families that need us during such a difficult time.

Scott Gilbert “ That’s great. You’re watching Ask Us Anything About the Ronald McDonald House. I’m Scott Gilbert, talking with Amy Leonard, she is Development Manager here at the Ronald McDonald House. And we do welcome your questions and comments in the field of this Facebook post whether you’re watching it live or on Playback. I think we’re going to transition over to this room over here and check out a really cool looking fish tank. Wow, what a, that’s amazing. Is that a saltwater tank, freshwater?

Amy Leonard – Yeah, honestly I’m not sure.

Scott Gilbert “ I’m putting you on the spot.

Amy Leonard – Yeah, you’re putting me on the spot. You know, I do not know the answer to that but they are resident fish and we love them. We have a great guy that comes in and takes care of those fish for us. And the kids absolutely love to visit the fish tank.

Scott Gilbert “ You know Amy, one of the questions we had on that preview Facebook post prior to doing this, we had a question from Kelly who asked how a ladies group could help out here at the Ronald McDonald House. And she asked, whether the biggest need is for volunteers or even for financial. I imagine financial contributions are very much needed.

Amy Leonard – Yes, running a 35 bedroom home is expensive as well as the other things we do as —

[Lost connection]

Amy Leonard – plenty events that we have throughout the year that bring in funds to support the house. One of them coming up is actually our Lancaster County community auction.

[Lost Connection]

Amy Leonard – Community auction is really a neat partnership with the Amish community. They, we serve a lot of their families here because of the proximity to Lancaster County. And they, in their way of giving back, do a one day auction. It’s on Tuesday, May 23. It starts at 11 a.m. and will run most likely until about 8 or 9:00 at night and basically all items are sold. It also has a food sale that goes along with it so if you like good Lancaster County cooking, it’s the place to be on May 23.

Scott Gilbert “ You’re watching. [Lost Connection]

Amy Leonard – And more information. [Lost Connection]

Scott Gilbert “ You know, as we talked about when this building was built in 1984, it obviously looked different than it does today. So in order to fund those bigger projects, I imagine, who knows, another expansion could be needed I’m sure. Capital projects are a fact of life for an organization like this. How are those funded?

Amy Leonard – Well, we for our most recent expansion back in 2010, we launched a capital campaign to be able to raise enough funds to do the construction project and as well as put all the furnishings and equipment in. We’re always looking for a support in that way. It’s an ongoing thing with a facility like this. We’re always looking for donors who are willing to support equipment and facility needs as well as our operations. So, there’s many different ways for a corporation, foundation or individual to be involved when it comes to financial support. It just wouldn’t you know, they would need to contact Carla or I and we could have the discussion about the current needs are with our organization.

Scott Gilbert “ Very cool. Let’s take a walk down this hallway here, because there’s another nice room around the corner. It has a view of the playground outside which is really cool. I know I’ve seen a lot of kids playing out there and yeah look at this. So again, just another nice, comfortable, homey setting and we’ll it might not be best for Facebook. It is kind of dim lighting too, which I know is relaxing for the families and I’m sure that’s by design.

Amy Leonard – Yes, we like to keep a calm atmosphere for the families you know, with the stressful times they’re going through. This, again, Carla had mentioned earlier that we have, we had a big group of people come together and talk about really what the look and feel of this place should be. And we, from day 1 have been, you know, very calming colors, very calming atmosphere, just to be able to set us apart from the hospital setting.

Scott Gilbert “ Very cool. All right, and what do we have here? I guess this is like I said, another one of those settings. We have a fireplace, oh a piano in corner and everything.

Amy Leonard – Yeah, so this is part of, we were actually in the original Ronald McDonald House that we opened back in 1984 and this space just available for families. So, if they have a group come in from out of town, say they’re here for three or four months and the grandparents are coming in to visit, this is a nice space for them to be able to sit and talk. Because when these, this side, the original 13 rooms are, when they were built, they were built much smaller. So there’s not really enough room for visiting within the rooms, so this space offers that. We also do have in the one corner hutch over there, a computer that’s available for families. So that’s an addition to the computer room that you saw before.

Scott Gilbert “ Very cool. Obviously there’s a connection to McDonald’s. It’s in the name so people may wonder, so how close of a connection is that? How is it linked to the famous restaurant chain?

Amy Leonard – Well, McDonald’s is our founding mission partner. I mean they started the first one. They were very involved with starting this one back in 1984 and they’re still very involved. They’re involved at the board level. They’re involved in funding the organization but one business can’t do it all. So, we rely heavily on all, the entire community to help fund this. It really, it takes a village I guess is what they say. But we certainly you know, do value our partnership with McDonald’s. Those, the support that we see the McDonald’s is through the Central Pennsylvania Co-op which a lot of people don’t know. And that is a co-op, I believe they have 92 restaurants currently in an 11 county area. And so those owner-operators or franchisees of those restaurants are the ones that are supporting our house here locally. So it’s not a big McDonald’s corporation supporting or completely funding. It is the local owner operators in Central Pennsylvania and they are truly to this day very generous to us.

Ronald McDonald House charities has a worldwide presence. So there’s five Ronald McDonald Houses in Pennsylvania, scores of them across the country. So can you kind of put into context, the work that happens here in Hershey that also plays out in communities across the nation and the world.

Amy Leonard – We have, I’m not sure if Carla mentioned, we have 366 Ronald McDonald House locations in the world. And, but each of us operate independently of one another, so the things that you see here, the things that we do here, with the mission is the same but a lot of the things that we do may be very different from what you’re going to see in other states and other countries, but again, serving that one mission of providing a place for families.

Scott Gilbert “ Well Amy it’s a nice place you’ve got here and a very important mission. Thanks for doing what you do.

Amy Leonard – Thank you so much.

Scott Gilbert “ Amy Leonard is Development Manager here at Ronald McDonald House in Hershey. If you have questions for her or for Carla or any comments you’d like to share, feel free to do so on this Facebook post whether you’re watching it right now or if you’re watching it on Playback where we get most of our views. Feel free to add your questions and we will get, we will get some of those questions and comments answered. All right, thanks to both of you for being here.

Karla Mitchell joins Scott Gilbert and Amy Leonard

Karla Mitchell – Thanks so much. We appreciate the viewers being able to see the house if they’ve never been here before. And we invite you to come over if you’d like tour personally. We’d be happy to do that for you.

Scott Gilbert “ Excellent. Thank you very much for watching. From Penn State Health, this has been Ask Us Anything About the Ronald McDonald House.

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