Imagine having a sick child in the hospital – and having to travel to an unfamiliar city with nowhere to stay and no idea where to eat or even do laundry. Soon, the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte will offer families of children being treated at Levine Children’s Hospital and Hemby Children’s Hospital a place to turn. In addition to providing a comfortable and supportive place to stay, the new Ronald McDonald House, which is scheduled to open in April, will also offer everyday conveniences like transportation, family meals and kids’ activities. The grand opening is scheduled for April 30-May 6. It’s designed to help families get through a difficult time together, and stay better informed and up-to-date about their child’s care and treatment, says Mona Johnson-Gibson, the executive director. The need for a local Ronald McDonald House had grown more urgent in recent years, as Levine Children’s Hospital and Hemby Children’s Hospital expanded and became notable pediatric care destinations. About half of the families whose kids are treated at the medical facilities - which together have about 300 beds - live outside the Charlotte region, Johnson-Gibson says. “That’s a lot of families who are scared,” she says. “That’s where we come in. We’re here to help.” The Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte will help complement the 22-bedroom Hospitality House of Charlotte, says Johnson-Gibson, which provides shelter to out-of-town families while their loved ones receive treatment in nearby hospitals. While the two non-profits have similar missions, the Ronald McDonald House caters specifically to families with sick children. Johnson-Gibson said they hope to share services with Hospitality House, and host joint fundraisers and awareness campaigns. Johnson-Gibson said that the idea for The Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte first came about when a group of concerned citizens, including medical personnel, McDonalds’ representatives, and families who had seriously ill children, got together in 2005. The following year Ronald McDonald House Charities granted the Charlotte group non-profit status in order to open the new facility. The houses have been McDonald’s charity of choice for 35 years, and McDonald’s funds part of its annual operating costs, with the rest coming from individual and corporate donors. When The Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte opens, it will join more than 280 other Houses operating worldwide today. While the RMHC’s goal is to help children worldwide, it acts locally by tailoring programs and services that address the most urgent needs of each community it serves. The Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte kicked off a $9 million fundraising campaign about a year ago to cover the cost of construction, furniture, operations, and marketing. The new 35,000-square-foot facility in Myers Park will have 28 bedrooms, each with a private bath, as well as a community kitchen, computer room, playground and sitting porch. Members of the community and businesses in Charlotte will donate meals, and a 24-hour professional staff and volunteers will manage daily operations and coordinate all services to accommodate specific family needs. To maintain the facility and support services, the nonprofit relies on financial and in-kind support from the community and donations from families staying at the house. Raising funds during the midst of the recession hasn’t been easy, but they’re only about $500,000 short of their goal. “It shows what kind of compassion and support this community has, even in hard economic times,” Johnson-Gibson says. Because of the recession, they had to try some unorthodox fundraising strategies. Rather than relying solely on the established and well-known foundations and philanthropists, they approached several smaller companies, as well as local families who had had stayed at a Ronald McDonald House elsewhere, and wanted to help locally. “They understand how much it means,” she says. This includes Nancy and James Johnson. While vacationing at Southport, N.C. during the summer of 2008, the couple’s son, Jim, then just 3, fell off a seven-foot sea wall and hit his head on a rock. Jim was rushed to the local hospital, where X-rays showed he had a skull fracture, Nancy Johnson recalls. He was flown to the hospital in Greenville, N.C., where he underwent emergency surgery. Jim was in the hospital for a week, and Nancy and James stayed at the local Ronald McDonald House. “I actually volunteered at a Ronald McDonald House when I was going to school in Chapel Hill,” she says, “but I never dreamed that I would actually have to stay at one.” The fact that they had a home base and a place to sleep helped ease what was a traumatic experience, she says. And it was the little things that made the biggest difference. “We didn’t even have toothbrushes when we arrived, and they gave us a bag of toiletries. Something as simple as that touches you so much when you’re in the middle of a crisis. And we could also make phone calls there and connect with our friends and family back in Charlotte, which is so vital.” Jim made a full recovery, and is now a happy and healthy five-year-old kindergartner. Nancy said the experience forever changed her family, and when she heard there was a fundraiser underway to support a Charlotte Ronald McDonald House, she had to help. About a year after Jim’s accident, Nancy organized a party and fundraiser at Monkey Joes, with all proceeds going towards the effort. She’s also helping train volunteers to work the front desk. “This is such an important service for the community,” she says. “And Charlotte has a real need for something like this. I’m just glad I can be a part of it.” More information: www.rmhofcharlotte.org Cookies for a Cause is donating home-baked families to the pantry of Charlotte's house. For information on how to help the effort, click here.