40 years: Reflecting on an essential Indianapolis institution

By Karin Ogden / CEO, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana and Karen Campbell / Founding board member

In the 1970s and ‘80s, medical technology was rapidly advanced in the U.S., causing major breakthroughs in the treatment of childhood cancers. This ultimately increased the survival rate for seriously ill children. Increasing survival rates were the product of long-term, in-patient treatment plans. Not all hospitals were able to provide this cutting edge care, so many families had to travel farther from home to larger or specialty hospitals such as Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis.

 As young patients were in the hospital longer to receive care, families wanting to be with their sick child were often without a place to stay. There needed to be a place for them to escape the confines of the hospital that was still in close proximity, and not everyone could afford to stay in an expensive hotel for weeks or months on end. As a result, the first Ronald McDonald Houses were built for families to stay in during their child’s treatment.

 25-cent Hamburger Day: the creatively effective fundraiser. In the late 1970s, representatives from the McDonald’s corporation, restaurant owner/operators, individuals from Riley Children’s and Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and the local Indianapolis community, came together with the goal of building a Ronald McDonald House. Nine individuals incorporated the founding board, and they estimated it would cost $1.6 million to build the House and set the goal of opening entirely debt free.

One unique fundraising idea came from a McDonald’s owner/operator who suggested they hold a “25-cent Hamburger Day” across the state and use all the money earned toward building the House. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, the fundraiser was a tremendous success. 1,668,000 hamburgers were sold that day, raising over $450,000.

Opening Indiana’s first Ronald McDonald House. With help from across the state, the Ronald McDonald House opened near downtown Indianapolis on IUPUI’s campus on Oct. 14, 1982, after nearly three years of planning, fundraising and construction. Located within walking distance of Riley, the House began serving the families of sick and injured children receiving medical care at the hospital as a supportive home away from home. The organization, currently known as Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana (RMHCCIN), operates the Ronald McDonald House, as well as two Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in Riley.

 The House’s impact on our community. Over the past 40 years, thanks to the extensive network of donors and volunteers, the House has been able to expand and continue the mission of keeping families close and near their hospitalized child. Until Ronald McDonald Houses came along, most families had to sleep all night by their child’s bedside or in the uncomfortable chairs of the hospital lobby. Some parents were even sleeping in their cars. They couldn’t focus on their children if their own well-being was suffering. Today, families can find rest and comfort in a place that feels like home and that makes a difference in their lives, making the Ronald McDonald House a lasting and significant institution in our Indianapolis community.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana has celebrated 40 years of service this year. As hospitals grow and expand services, RMHCCIN is poised for continued growth and expansion to support more caregivers’ current needs and in the ways they will need it for years to come. Studies show children achieve improved medical outcomes when they are close to and supported by family members. Indianapolis is very lucky to have a nationally ranked children’s hospital right in its backyard, and RMHCCIN will always be right there as well to keep families close, no matter what.

 To find out how to help our organization continue serving families, visit www.rmhccin.org.