San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House is here today thanks to the efforts of a social worker, Irma Gusfield, and a support group she organized for parents of young cancer patients. Several of these parents had lost a child to cancer. They knew firsthand the need for support as simple as a clean bed and hot bath. It was the 1970s, and few supports existed.
This group of parents looked to Philadelphia, where the first Ronald McDonald House had opened in 1974. The name comes from one of the organization’s very first funders: McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.
Our founders learned from their experiences, and in 1980 opened San Diego’s first Ronald McDonald House. From the very beginning, it’s been an independent, locally-run effort to keep families together when it matters most.
A Growing Need in a Growing Population
Our initial 8-bedroom House operated primarily as a bed and breakfast service for families with young cancer patients. Yet the population of Southern California was growing, and new pediatric treatments were appearing for a range of critical conditions. In 1989 we added four bedrooms to address this growing demand.
However, we were turning away a hundred families a month due to lack of space. Even with subsidized hotel stays, there was no way we could serve all of the families who so urgently needed to be near their hospitalized children.
In 2006, we seized a unique opportunity to build a much larger House. The location was unusual—the top deck of a parking structure—yet it was ideally located directly across from Rady Children’s Hospital. With great community support, we built our current facility, which opened in 2009. This Silver LEED-certified building has 47 guest suites and a variety of shared living spaces, as well as peaceful courtyards and both indoor and outdoor play spaces. Our entire old House would fit inside our current Great Room.
Serving Families Better, No Matter Their Needs
This expanded space presented new opportunities to serve even more families. In 2009 we added a Family Care Center to support families who are not staying with us overnight. Local families can take a break with us before returning to their child’s bedside. The Family Care Center offers hot meals, napping rooms, showers, computer access, play spaces, and much more during daytime hours.
While parents must focus on the urgent needs of a hospitalized child, it’s not just hospitalized children who need attention. Healthy siblings need support, too. For this reason, in 2010 we opened an onsite school in partnership with San Diego Unified School District, along with enrichment activities and “camp” during vacation periods. These programs help children continue to learn and grow while also being with their families at this critical time.
Returning to Our Original House
In July 2017, we reopened our original House as the North House, serving an additional eight families.
Families have come from as far away as Ireland, France, Mexico, Japan, Argentina, and Guam. We also serve families right here at home: San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial Counties. While most children are inpatients at Rady Children’s Hospital, we also partner with Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, UCSD Medical Center, Balboa Naval Hospital, Scripps Memorial Hospital, Mercy Hospital, and Kaiser Permanente.
Our “Global” Relationships
Ronald McDonald House Charities is based in Chicago, Illinois. Their mission is to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children. Besides sharing best practices with all Houses, Ronald McDonald House Charities also works with national retailers to facilitate donations.