Behind the Scenes at RMHC-KC – How Our Houses Work
By Tami Greenberg
Recently, I had a friend come see me while I was at work. It was his first time visiting one of our RMHC-KC Houses, and he was stunned: “Wow, I pictured you working in something like a four-bedroom bungalow, with maybe a Ronald McDonald statue in front!”
He was close … at least he got the statue part right! He, like many folks, had no idea just how big RMHC-KC is or all that we do. Maybe you already know a bit more about us, but if not, I wanted to use this post to share a little more background into who we are and just how our Houses work.
Simply put, our mission at RMHC-KC is to reduce the burden of childhood illness on children and their families. We provide comfortable lodging and an uplifting environment—a home away from home. We do everything we can to keep families close, at a time when they need it the most.
Overall, we have three Houses available for families with a child receiving medical treatment in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Our Houses comprise a campus-like setting on Cherry Street in Midtown and provide 80 individual guest rooms, complete with private baths, as well as common living rooms, play areas and communal kitchen space.
Then there’s our Family Room, which is like a smaller House inside Children’s Mercy and serves any family who has a child receiving inpatient care at the hospital. The Family Room has seven guest bedrooms, a kitchen, and a common living room, as well as shower facilities and a washer/dryer available to our families free of charge.
People often ask me how we determine who stays at our Houses. Families are usually referred to us by hospitals—really, any health care facility in the Kansas City area—and specifically, by social workers or nurses who are able to identify families needing to be close to their children while they’re receiving medical care.
Those social workers or nurses then contact us, and using an online process, we get those families put into our system and ready to receive our services.
We don’t need to know the medical diagnosis in order to have families stay with us, although if we have a waitlist at the time, the social workers will identify for us the more urgent medical treatments—such as cardiac issues, an upcoming transplant, or cancer —that might warrant a family’s need to find a place quickly.
Priority is also given to families who live a distance of more than 35 miles away from Kansas City to ensure there is room available to those families traveling longer distances for their child’s medical care. Although we invite families to consider a $10 donation for each night they stay, we don’t charge our families and no one is ever turned away for the inability to pay.
Another question I tend to get a lot is “how often are your Houses full?” The quick answer? All the time! The real answer is a little more complicated: technically, we’re usually right around 95% capacity, but a lot of that remaining 5% happens over weekends—families tend to check out on Friday or Saturday night. Then Sunday evenings and Monday mornings, we fill right back up.
As you can imagine, the operational demands of our houses are huge—from big things like housecleaning and 24/7 security, to all the little things that go into it, like bedspreads and coffeepots. Basically, we’re running an 87-room hotel. And not only do we want all of our rooms to be clean and ready for our families, we make sure each one is what we call “housewarmed:” with every little detail all ready to go for families who need a comfortable place to stay. When a family comes for the first time, we give them a “welcome bag,” which includes an adorable tote from 31 Bags and a donated Project Linus blanket. We want to makes sure families feel, right away and every minute of their stay, how much we care about them.
The operational costs alone for a family to stay with us come to about $99 per night. And that’s only what it takes to keep the lights on, the water hot and everything else it takes to keep the Houses running for our families.
No matter what, throughout our three Houses and the Family Room, we do everything we can for our families. Like providing free meals served daily and helping with transportation to nearby hospitals. We even have a staff member whose sole responsibility is to coordinate fun activities for families, with everything from Bingo Nights and Craft Nights to tickets to Chiefs and Royals games.
But here’s the really amazing thing, and after three years serving as CEO of RMHC-KC, this still blows me away: just how many families we serve. Last year we served a whopping 7,325 families throughout our four programs. Let me repeat that and add a few exclamation points: 7,325!!!!!! That’s more than 7,000 families with sick kids who were able to find a place to eat, rest, shower, or perhaps just find a comfortable place to sit for a minute.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of our challenges: one of the biggest being how to meet more needs of the families staying with us all while tackling the day-to-day operations that it takes to keep everything running smoothly at our four houses. We are so busy, every single day, that we often don’t have the time we want and need to give individual attention to our families—who all have very different needs of their own. On any given day, we check out 15–20 families, ensure those rooms are cleaned and housewarmed, and turn right back around to check in another 15-20 families. And our waiting list is formidable—so far this year, we’ve had to turn away more than 549 families. Thankfully, with 80 rooms in our Houses and 7 in our Family Room, when it’s necessary for families to wait for a room, they usually don’t have to wait for more than a day or two.
One of my goals as CEO is not just to make sure we’re taking great care of our families, but to make sure we’re taking great care of our staff and volunteers as well. The 45 people who work here (25 full-time, 20 part-time) and the 200+ core volunteers, who give 10-20 hours of their time per month, are really the ones who put love into everything we do.
In the near future, our board of directors will be starting work on a new strategic plan, which will help to chart our course for the next three years. I’m looking forward to sharing that plan with you once we’ve built it. But what we know for sure is that we will never deviate from our true north—our core purpose: to keep families close to their seriously ill children, and to reduce the burden of childhood illness on those we serve.
On behalf of everyone who shares that mission, thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City!