Keeping Families Close: Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley

ronald mcdonald house fargo

Our son had critical surgery when he was seven weeks old. He’s healthy and everything went fine, but it was scary. It was stressful and it was all-consuming.

The surgery he received is a relatively routine procedure, and he only needed to stay in the hospital for a few days. We also lived in the same town as the hospital, which made things easier. We could both attend appointments with his doctors pre- and post-operation. I was already on maternity leave from work, but my husband was able to keep working. He only needed to take a few days off for the procedure and immediate recovery.

All things considered, it was a relatively small disruption in our lives. And now, our son is well.

But what about the families that can’t say the same? What about the families whose children need to receive critical medical care hours away from where they live? What do those families do when it isn’t a matter of days in the hospital, but rather weeks or months? And what about the families whose children who, sadly, don’t get to go home with them at the end?

Keeping Families Close

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley (RMHC-RRV) is a local organization whose mission is keeping families together while providing the comforts of home while their kids receive medical care in Fargo. Since 1982, family members whose children are receiving medical care in town are able to stay at RMHC-RRV. This includes Sanford Health, Essentia Health, the Eating Disorder and Weight Management Institute, Roger Maris Cancer Center, or Prairie St. John’s. Families are asked to donate $20 a night, but no family ever receives a bill or is turned away if they are unable to pay.

Last year, the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Essential Health’s Neonatal Intensive Care opened to serve families right in the hospital. Overall in 2019, RMHC-RRV served 532 families.

ronald mcdonald house Fargo
Photo courtesy of RMHC-RRV.

I first learned of the Ronald McDonald House Charities when my mom stayed at one when one of my siblings received inpatient care when I was younger. A few years ago I decided to volunteer for our local RMHC-RRV. I served on the Sweetheart Ball committee for a few years before I joined the Board of Directors earlier this year.

Since joining the board, I have learned even more about the difference they are making for families across the region. Like for the Schatz family, who stayed at the RMHC-RRV for 98 nights.

Noelle and Dustin Schatz had a surprising pregnancy from when they found out they were carrying twins to the unexpected hospital stay after they were born. At six months pregnant, Noelle noticed her stomach felt extremely tight. They went into the hospital and were airlifted to Bismarck, ND where she was instantly wheeled into surgery for an emergency cesarean section.

ronald mcdonald house fargo
Photo courtesy of RMHC-RRV.

Their beautiful twin boys were born 3 months early. Xander weighed a hefty 2.6 pounds compared to his brother Xavier weighing in at 2.2 pounds. After two weeks in a Bismarck hospital, Xavier showed signs of a perforated bowel and was flown to Sanford Hospital in Fargo. It was the first time the brothers were separated. When Noelle called for a room at RMHC-RRV, they were able to get in right away.

Xander was transferred to Sanford as well, to keep the family together. They were on a long journey to recovery. Because of the RMHC-RRV, Noelle, Dustin, and their four-year-old, Keenan, were able to stay close as their twin boys healed and grew strong in the NICU. Thankfully, both boys are now happy and healthy little boys.

Providing the Comforts of Home

“After 34 years in Fargo, RMHC-RRV began to outgrow the spaces that had served us well for so long,” said Jill Christopher, Executive Director of the RMHC-RRV. “We had the fortune of learning from what was going well, and the insight for what we could do better. It was important that we tackle our House accessibility needs, hospital growth in the area, our aging facility management, as well as lack of privacy in our previous locations. We reached out to past families, volunteers, and staff to make sure that we could do all we can for the families that need us most.”

In 2018, our local RMHC-RRV opened a brand new, 30,000 square foot home near the new Sanford hospital. Complete with 17 rooms, each with their own private bathroom, expanded kitchen space, laundry rooms, a playroom for younger siblings, and a game room for older ones, the RMHC-RRV has been able to increase capacity, as well as the comfort, for more families.

ronald mcdonald house Fargo
Photo courtesy of RMHC-RRV.
“This new House not only serves many more families each year, but it has also allowed us to provide each family with a more robust experience. We are now able to offer spaces to create art and exercise as well as provide music, crafts, and more. It provides ample space for families to connect with others as well as a quiet place of respite,” said Christopher.

The local Ronald McDonald House Charities is able to do a lot with a small staff. They operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with five full-time staff and eight part-time staff. In their new location, they are not only able to offer new spaces, but they have also been able to better utilize the talents of this community to provide emotional support, as well as a little bit of joy for families who are going through a hard time.

RMHC-RRV is not only a place to sleep, it’s an ear to listen, a home-cooked meal at the end of a long day, and truly a place to get a piece of “normalcy” when a parent’s world is upside down.

Building for the Future

“Our community continues to grow and add medical specialties, adding a bigger need for our services. As we look toward the future, we must meet those ever-changing needs of the medical community and the families we serve,” said Christopher. “We look forward to continuing to innovate in the areas of programming and service to positively impact the guests we serve. We are excited about the opportunities we have to grow.”

As a mother, I cannot imagine how I would feel if my child needed critical medical care far from home. In fact, that very situation is one of my biggest fears. But I do know, that the RMHC-RRV is helping families who are in that situation. And as a member of this community, I am grateful families can stay close to their children when they need each other the most. I am proud to serve and support the RMHC-RRV because I know they are serving and supporting hundreds of families every year in so many important ways.

Learn more about the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley, opportunities to volunteer, and how to donate at rmhcfargo.org.

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After meeting here during college, Caitlin and her husband, Tanner, settled in North Fargo and live a pretty upper-midwestern life full of trying to appreciate the small adventures. As a mom to a son born in 2017 and a daughter born in 2021, Caitlin tries to balance all of the mommy things with taking time for what makes her a human outside of being a wife and mother. Along with spending her days working as a program manager, she enjoys finding unique family experiences in the Fargo-Moorhead area, volunteering, reading, and simply being honest about the realities of motherhood in all its vehement glory.

2 COMMENTS

    • Thanks, Alex! I am so glad RMHC is here to serve all the families whose children receive care in Fargo! The staff and supporters are the ones who keep this service available – thank you!

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