Ronald McDonald House opens doors to regional families

August 17, 2015

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House manager Stephanie Murphy and executive director Deborah Braines in the well equipped kitchen at Ronald McDonald House at Wagga Wagga.

When five-year-old Lachlan of Jugiong pressed a picture under her office door, Deborah Braines thought it too precious to file away.

The picture now forms the centrepiece of a wall of artwork from grateful children and their families at Ronald McDonald House in Wagga Wagga.

The house is staffed by 100 volunteers, filled with donated food and goods, and is primarily for the families of sick children and expectant mothers requiring specialist care.

Located only a block from the Wagga Wagga Base and Calvary hospitals, Ronald McDonald House provides a welcoming home away from home for families of sick and injured children, and expectant mothers receiving medical treatment in Wagga Wagga.

Ronald McDonald’s Wagga house celebrated its 10th birthday in March, providing more than 10,500 bed nights across the decade.

“Our longest stay has been 146 nights and there has been everything else in between – we can accommodate four families at the same time,’’ executive officer Deborah Braines said.

“It’s about keeping families together at a time when they really need each other.’’

Ms Braines said the home was available for parents, siblings and supporting family.

“Our footprint extends to the Riverina, South West Slopes and beyond – if a child ends up in this referral hospital because of road trauma, accident or illness, then we can assist them,’’ she said.

“There is a small charge to stay here and some families are able to access Isolated Patients Travel and Assistance Scheme.

“One hundred volunteers help run the house, with our youngest being 19 and oldest in their late 70s.

“Someone sleeps over every night, including Christmas night, as our average time of referral is 1.30am.

“We are a 24/7 operation 365 days of the year.

“Bedrooms are ready to go at any time and are equipped with air-conditioning, an ironing board, iron, baby cot and sealed baby item packs.’’

Specialist medical practices are close by and the house is equipped with laundry facilities, off-street covered parking and a games room.

The house has four bedrooms, two rooms with ensuite facilities and the other rooms have access for the disabled.

There is a comfortable lounge room, activities room for children, modern kitchen facilities, a light filled family room and enclosed yard.

Guests have a shelf for their use in a guest fridge and a basket in the freezer for their frozen food.

Ms Braines said regional farming families were raising funds for the house through Herds of Hope.

The Herds of Hope program involves cattle or sheep producers donating the proceeds from the sale of a beast to Ronald McDonald Houses.

The proceeds of a sale can be donated directly to Ronald McDonald House Wagga Wagga.

Specially branded yellow Herds of Hope eartags, supplied by Allflex, identify donated stock ahead of sale.

Ms Braines said Ronald McDonald House was also supported by an active fundraising committee.

Engraved pavers are being used as a fund raising avenue.

A donation of $100 entitles the donor to have their name engraved into a paver as a lasting record of their valued support. The pavers will be permanently installed in the front path leading to the entrance.

“Every dollar we raise for this house stays with this house,’’ Ms Braines said.

“We have gained a few volunteers through the Henty Machinery Field Days  – Henty gives us another avenue to promote ourselves to a large captive audience.

“Staff have been attending the field days for the past three years, raising awareness of the service to the Riverina and wider community.

“We meet up with lots of families as Henty draws so many in, and we hear amazing stories of people’s journey with a sick child.’’

Ms Braines said children often found the prospect of returning to school daunting after a lengthy illness.

The Ronald McDonald Learning Program helps primary and secondary students catch up with missed education after serious illness.

Individual learning programs are tailored to individual needs to help boost confidence and self-esteem.

Teachers, psychologists, speech and occupational therapists combine to put together a program to best suit the child’s needs.

Ms Braines concedes supporting families in times of crisis can be difficult for the volunteers and staff.

“We have to deal with loss and grief so we look out for each other with support and a debrief, and we make sure our volunteers are okay as they are on a journey with the family,’’ she said.

“It can be tough but there are so many positives when children are well enough for families to go home.’’