Our Professional Staff
Laura Ragain- Executive Director
Amy Velez (formerly Blanco)- Marketing Director
Leanna Gonzalez- Business Manager
Illeny Farese- Volunteer Manager
Karen Marshall- House Manager
A Message from our Executive Director
Ronald McDonald House – Not Just Bricks and Mortar
For most people, the name Ronald McDonald House Charities conjures up an image of Ronald McDonald House adjacent to Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida – on the campus of HealthPark Medical Center. Ronald McDonald House Charities is certainly that and a whole lot more!
It started as an unlikely partnership formed in Philadelphia in 1974 between an NFL team, a children’s hospital and a restaurant chain, and none of its members could have imagined that their dream of a “home-away-from-home” for families of seriously ill children would grow to become an international phenomenon. They simply wanted to create a place where the families of seriously ill children could be with others who understood their situations and could provide emotional support.
That “home-away-from-home” became a reality in Southwest Florida when the Ronald McDonald House in Fort Myers opened its doors in 1996. Since then, more than 2,500 families from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties, and a number of other states and countries, have found comfort and support while their children were undergoing medical treatment. As you learn about the people affected by, and involved with, the House you can certainly see it’s much more than bricks & mortar.
It’s the individual stories of more than 140 families and family members who stayed a total of 1,517 days and nights at the House last year – supporting their hospitalized loved ones, each other and the other families in the House.
It’s the additional 500 families who took advantage of our Meal Pass program. Something as simple as a brown bag lunch makes a world of difference to a family not wanting to leave their child’s bedside. It’s the stories of the struggles of their children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters receiving life-saving and life-altering treatment at the Hospital.
It’s the stories of the nearly 200 volunteers who gave over 4,000 hours at the House, cleaning, cooking, answering phones, helping with office duties, planning and helping with fund-raising events and, most importantly, providing a willing ear, a comforting word or a shoulder to lean on. It’s the contributions of our volunteer Board of Directors who give so selflessly of their time to help set the direction and assure the growth of the organization.
It’s the incredible dedication of the McDonald’s restaurant owner-operators throughout Southwest Florida whose financial support through individual donations, fundraisers at their restaurants and their countless hours of support to the overall running of the House and Charities.
What many don’t realize is why the name of the organization is Ronald McDonald House Charities – why not just Ronald McDonald House? That’s because our organization’s outreach to the community extends beyond the incredible work going on at and around the House. Prior to 2004, Ronald McDonald House Charities had been a “House Only” Program under the RMHC South Florida Chapter. When we received our license as our own Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida, we were determined to establish and support additional programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children in Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties.
Therefore, in addition to the House, the organization supports the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile. This mobile unit provided much-needed dental screenings and treatment to more than 2,500 underserved children in Collier County last year. Another 200 children received free physicals. These services are made possible through our partnership with Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida. The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile also travels to Lee county one day a month for autism screenings provided in partnership with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
Another element of the Charities is the Grants program that provides financial support to other organizations that share our mission of providing programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children and their families in Southwest Florida.
And finally, the RMHC Scholarship Program. As of this year, 70 deserving high school seniors will have received a RMHC scholarship to further their education!
I’m proud to say Ronald McDonald House Charities is much more than “Bricks and Mortar.” I, and the other members of the RMHC staff, know how privileged we are to play a part in this incredible organization. We also have the opportunity to witness – on a daily basis – this tremendous gift that all of you who support the Charities have given to our community… and we thank you.