Home Away From Home

Supporting health and wellness through lodging, meals, activities and a community of care for critically ill children and their families who need to be near a hospital for treatment, Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida.
Words by Jorge Arauz | Photos c/o Justin Architects, P.A | March 29, 2024 | Lifestyle

Children whose families stay at a Ronald McDonald House tend to be the sickest, have traveled the furthest distances for care and spend the longest time in the hospital. The only way to really understand the impact of Ronald McDonald House Charities is to witness the magic for yourself. Whether they stay for a few nights, months or years, health, healing, hope and happiness always take top priority. From cozy accommodations for as long as they need, to full pantries, expansive kitchens to cook up comfort foods galore and easy access to top-notch medical treatments, a stay at Ronald McDonald House is the only way many families survive the grueling reality of a sick child. 

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida was established on Aug. 15, 1982, thanks to the generosity and vision of an eclectic group of caring individuals that included prominent doctors, corporate supporters, famous athletes, dedicated volunteers and a steadfast group of local McDonald’s Owner Operators comprised of first-generation Cuban exiles, businessmen whose influence in the community was growing exponentially at the time. Their commitment was passed on to the next generation, and today the organization benefits from the involvement of that second generation and, in some cases, their millennial children, who are all committed to serving a city that welcomes all in need unconditionally.  

The success stories at Ronald McDonald House throughout the years are at once inspirational and life-changing. From 11-year-old Xavier Marshall who travelled with his mother from Trinidad & Tobago to stay for 50 nights while he received pediatric cardiology therapies at Holtz Children’s Hospital; to Yabdiel Fernandez, a 10-year-old who spent 152 nights with his family while going through leukemia treatments; and The Michael Family, whom were vacationing in Palm Beach from Cairo, Egypt, when their youngest son, just 2 years old at the time, suffered severe burns to his chest, resulting in a 2.5-year stay at the House while receiving state-of-the-art treatment at Jackson’s Burn Center. 

Another memorable family story is that of Nesean Blair, whose life suddenly changed drastically on his 16th birthday when a stray bullet hit him while visiting a local shop in his neighborhood in Jamaica, leaving him paralyzed. Seeking advanced care, his family found solace at Ronald McDonald House, turning tragedy into hope. After arriving in Miami to enroll in the Miami Project To Cure Paralysis after being told that rehabilitation efforts back home had stalled and more advanced care was needed, Ronald McDonald House provided a home away from home. Far removed and still coming to grips with the devastating news that her son, a promising soccer player, was paralyzed from the neck down, Nesean’s mother found the peace, unconditional support and treatment she had been praying for. In addition to securing a new motorized chair, another priority was to help Nesean build up his strength and gain some semblance of independence. At Jackson’s Lynn Rehab Center, physical therapists helped him build strength by using advanced equipment, including zero-gravity therapies used for spinal cord patients.

Each year, Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida hosts over 350 families like the Blairs. Not surprisingly, the House, located on the Jackson Memorial Hospital campus, serves a very international clientele in addition to families from Florida and the Caribbean. There are a million ways to help, including gift cards, care kits, kitchen supplies, toiletries, office supplies, food items, cleaning supplies and vehicle donations. Hugs and prayers are also always welcomed! 

Currently on the horizon is the largest and most ambitious fundraising campaign in the organization’s history: building a new Home that will more than double capacity to ensure no families ever have to wait for the support they need. The “Hope Has A New Home” capital campaign will raise walls to lift spirits, and the best is yet to come;