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Partnerships: House within the Hospital

Rochester Celebrates the "House that Love Built"

De' onna and her mom

Like any mother, Javonne Robinson wanted to stay close by her 9-month-old daughter’s side when little De’onna Warren was rushed to the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Golisano Children’s Hospital with breathing issues. After having spent a week sleeping on a fold-out couch in De’onna’s room on the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), Robinson was invited to stay in a newly available room just one floor up from her daughter, at Ronald McDonald House’s House within a Hospital.

“It made a hard experience a lot easier,” said Robinson, who lives in Rochester but does not have an easy way to get to and from Golisano Children’s Hospital. “I’ve been able to wash what I have and I have a nice, quiet room to sleep in right upstairs and access to it all the time. It’s just great.”

The House within the Hospital, which provides comfort and basic necessities for families whose children are critically ill or injured, celebrated its fifth anniversary this year. On top of providing seven bedrooms, a private bathroom and shower, laundry room, kitchen, living room and much more, the House within a Hospital boasts a band of nurturing, supportive volunteers. The compassionate crew is always on hand to lend a listening ear and offer a freshly brewed cup of coffee or a readily available meal to families. The House’s volunteers keep the House immaculate and focus on tending to the needs of families so families can focus on being there for their children.

Between the House within the Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House at 333 Westmoreland Rd., which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, a brigade of more than 130 volunteers provide moral support and basic necessities to families of children being treated at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

 “We’re a house, so the volunteers do everything you have to do to take care of a real house,” said Carol DeMoulin, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House.

Volunteers fold sheets, clean bathrooms, organize food cupboards, take the garbage out and sanitize toys. On Westmoreland, volunteers provide transportation to and from Golisano Children’s Hospital from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“The volunteers really run both facilities,” said Carolyn Leonard, house manager of the House within a Hospital. “I’m supposed to help them, but they really help me.”

In addition to maintaining both homes, for the past three years, Ronald McDonald House volunteers have held coffee hour for families in Ronald McDonald House break room on Golisano Children’s Hospital’s pediatric in-patient floor. The coffee hour is open to all families of patients at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

On top of freshly baked cookies and other yummy baked goods, coffee hour brings about a sense of community for families. Parents meet at the coffee hour, which runs 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, and learn about one another’s hardships and triumphs. Child Life’s hospital activity programs, which are supported by Child Life staff and pediatric volunteers, engage children and keep them busy and entertained in play programs in a hospital playroom during coffee hour, so parents can rest assured that their children are being supervised while they take some time to decompress and commiserate with other adults.

“Families get to laugh, cry and everything in between,” said Linda Wagner, a Ronald McDonald House volunteer who started the coffee hour sessions and has seen how therapeutic and connective the time can be for parents.

Only specially selected volunteers are invited to take on coffee hour duties. “It takes someone who knows how to listen,” said Leonard. Volunteers typically serve about six months at one or both of the Houses before coming to coffee hour so they’re comfortable interacting freely with families and know how to keep accommodations and conversations family-focused.

Leonard is well-versed in providing family-centered care in the hospital setting. She worked as a child life specialist in the Ronald McDonald House Pediatric Emergency Department on the hospital’s first floor before becoming a house manager when the House within a Hospital opened in 2005.

“This is truly collaborative effort,” said Wendy Lane, program coordinator of Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Child Life department. “Our job is support the needs of pediatric patients. Theirs is to help support the care of the parents by providing home comfort needs such as sleeping accommodations, meals and transportation. Together, we nurture and care for the whole family.”

The Ronald McDonald House works closely with pediatric social workers, child life specialists and health care providers to determine which families are most in need of a home environment near or at the hospital. Families with children in need of the most critical care are invited to stay above the PICU in the House within a Hospital. About 42 percent of families who stay in the House within a Hospital have a child being treated in the PICU, with 28 percent in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, 20 percent in the neonatal intensive care unit and roughly 10 percent in other units of Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“The most remarkable thing about the Ronald McDonald House is the relationship their staff and volunteers have with the hospital,” said Carla LeVant, Golisano Children’s Hospital’s senior pediatric social worker. “They appreciate and defer to us for recommendations and frequently call to let us know when there are issues at the House that might impact care in the hospital.”

On any given day, social workers and staff from the House collectively work through all sorts of issues to make sure families’ needs are being met. They constantly collaborate to find rooms for families as they open up, transfer families between Houses to make room for new families and coordinate arrival times for families moving into the Houses.

The Houses collectively accommodate about 795 family visits per year. Families are welcome to stay as long as they need to, which can range from one night to several months at a time. Over the past 20 years, the two Ronald McDonald House facilities have served more than 12,000 families who have sought pediatric care for their children at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“You hope that you never get an emergency call about your child but if you do, the people you would want around you are Carolyn and the Houses’ staff and volunteers,” said DeMoulin. “Thanks to them, we can provide a home for families who come to the hospital unexpectedly and help them get through some of the most difficult times in their lives.”

Like the trailblazers of the past, who erected the House on Westmoreland 20 years ago and established House within a Hospital at Golisano Children’s Hospital – the fourth in the nation and first in the Northeast – the new generation of Ronald McDonald House volunteers remain as passionate and driven as ever. Even after just a few weeks of service, 19-year-old college student Eric Ruff, already understands the essential need the Ronald McDonald House fulfills for families.

“It’s about making parents comfortable and giving them a place to stay,” said Ruff. “Food – we’ve got that. Beds – we’ve got that. So they can worry about their primary concern: Taking care of their kids.”

More Information

For more information on how to get involved with the Ronald McDonald House, visit:

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester, NY

Or contact:

Kathy Keenahan
Phone: (585)442-5437