Riverbend Awareness Project

Join us for the first episode in the Ronald McDonald House series. This episode, we’re joined by Lori Priest, Director of Community Engagement for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho. https://www.rmhcidaho.org/fundraisingforfamilies Text “RMFR 24” to 243-725 to donate over text Venmo @RMHC-Idaho

Show Notes

Join us for the first episode in the Ronald McDonald House series. This episode, we’re joined by Lori Priest, Director of Community Engagement for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho.
Text “RMFR 24” to 243-725 to donate over text
Venmo @RMHC-Idaho

What is Riverbend Awareness Project?

The Riverbend Awareness Project brings you a new conversation each month about important causes and issues in our community. Every month of 2024 we will sit down and have a conversation with a professional from our community about significant issues like heart health, Alzheimer’s, literacy, and more. We’ll then share that conversation with you on the Riverbend Awareness Project Podcast, with the goal of sharing resources, and information that will help you have a better understanding of the particular problems, and solutions, associated with each topic.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast episode are solely those of the individuals participating and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Riverbend Media Group or the Riverbend Awareness Project, its affiliates, or its employees. It is important to note that the discussion presented is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Listeners are encouraged to consult with qualified health care professionals for any medical concerns or decisions. The Riverbend Awareness Project is a product of Riverbend Media Group.

Melissa: I'm Melissa.

Russell: And I'm Russell.

Melissa: Welcome to the Riverbend Awareness Project. Each month, we dive into a topic our community is affected by and explore how you can help.

Russell: This month, along with literacy, we're doing a series on the Ronald McDonald Family Room here in Eastern Idaho. Here in the studio, we've got Lori from the Ronald McDonald Family Room. Lori, could you introduce yourself?

Lori: Hello, everyone. I'm Lori Priest. I am the director of community engagement for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho.

Russell: What does the director of community engagement do?

Lori: Well, I have the opportunity to go out and talk to various civic groups. I love to talk to schools. I'll talk to anybody who will let me come in and share our mission and what we're doing at the Ronald McDonald Family Room. So I make presentations, I fundraise, I get to go out in the community and let people know that we are here. If they have a sick or injured child at EIRMC, we want them to know that we are available to provide them with the services and support that they need.

Melissa: Could you give us a brief overview of what the Ronald McDonald House Charities are and how they got started?

Lori: Sure. So the first Ronald McDonald Family Room opened up in Philadelphia in 1974. It was a partnership between a doctor who was at the Philadelphia Children's Hospital, Audrey Evans, and Philadelphia Eagles manager, Jim Murray, Philadelphia Eagles player, Fred Hill— his daughter had leukemia that they were battling at that time— and the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Leonard Tose, along with the McDonald's restaurant owner.

They worked together because Dr. Evans had a vision of having a house where families could go and stay while their children were ill at the hospital. She saw frequently where families would be staying in the room, and they didn't have a way to get meals or the support that they needed. So together, they put their their heart and soul into putting together the first Ronald McDonald Family Room, and that's where it all started.

Melissa: That's pretty cool. That combination of just people being compassionate and, like, there's a need. We're gonna fill it.

Lori: There is a need, yes.

Melissa: Yeah.

Russell: What services does the Ronald McDonald family room provide?

Lori: We provide a home away from home for any family with a pediatric patient at EIRMC. That can be from preterm, where they're in the NICU, up to 18 years of age. We have a beautiful 4 bedroom, 3 bath house on the corner of the Sunnyside Professional Plaza on the south end of EIRMC.

We are there to provide a meal or meals every day for them. They can get snacks. They can come in and take a shower. We have a laundry center. Really, it's an opportunity for them to get out of that medical environment with the beeps and bells and come and just relax and replenish. It's so important that parents have that support, that they don't have to worry about the necessities of life, where they're gonna stay, eat, just take a minute for themselves. And so that is what we do.

We open our doors to them and show them around and tell them that we're here for them, and however we can help is what we would like to do.

Russell: So you guys would provide, like, hygiene essentials and stuff like that?

Lori: Definitely. We have donations from our community that come in so that the hygiene products are available. Many of the families that we serve have taken off straight to the hospital when something has happened with their child, so they don't have an opportunity to pack a bag or put anything together for themselves.

And so when they get there, we let them know that if they need a shower, show them around what what's available to them, and we want them to know that it's their home. They could come in and use it as they need to.

Melissa: So you mentioned Ronald McDonald House Family Room, and I'm sure we've... Most of us, not all of us, but some of us have heard of the Ronald McDonald House. So what's the difference between a Ronald McDonald House and a Ronald McDonald Family Room?

Lori: That is such a great question.

A Ronald McDonald House, which a lot of people are familiar with, is truly a house. It is located off campus from the hospital, and it serves the pediatric hospitals in that area. So for instance, we've had a House in Boise for 36 years, and we serve the families that are at St. Luke's or St. Alphonsus pediatric hospitals over there.

A Family Room is a partnership with that hospital. So the Ronald McDonald Family Room is located on the campus of EIRMC on the south end just down the hall from the NICU. So within steps from the tiny little ones in just a minute to the other pediatric units that they have there.

Russell: So it's a partnership with the hospital. Are the Family Rooms different depending on where you go, or is it the same everywhere, you know, same services provided no matter what hospital it's attached to?

Lori: There are Family Rooms all over. In fact, there are 268 Family Rooms globally. The concept is basically the same. It's a resting place for families who have children that are ill or injured in that hospital, and they're welcome to come down and replenish however that is that they need. Ours has 4 bedrooms, so we have 2 adults that can stay per room.

You can be local and come and stay with us, or you can be the wide region that EIRMC serves. We've seen families from all over the world because of where we live. People come to Jackson or Yellowstone, and they're on vacation and something happens, and they end up at EIRMC with the need of medical treatment for their child, and they'll come and stay with us. We become their home while their child is getting the medical treatment.

Melissa: So you mentioned that local people use the family room and then also people from wherever who are in the area and have that sudden need of emergency care. Who else can use the Ronald McDonald family room, and how can they use that family room?

Lori: So any family with a pediatric patient at EIRMC, and that would be preterm to 18 years of age, whether they're in the burn unit, the behavioral health center, the pediatric ICU, the pediatric floor, or the NICU can come down anytime from 9 AM to 9 PM and utilize the family room at no cost. We— the majority of the families we serve are bedside families. They're in the room with their child. They don't wanna be anywhere else, and that is completely understandable.

But the nursing staff encourages them to come down and get a meal because they are not patients at EIRMC, and so it's important that they are provided meals and amenities that help them on their tough journey, and that's what we do. So they can come down, relax, and just take a minute at the family room and replenish.

Russell: What does it cost these families to use these services?

Lori: There is no cost. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho is who I work for, and we work with the community, and everything that we do is at no cost.

We wanna take the burden of where am I going to stay, eat, sleep off their plate. They have so much on their mind focusing on their child, and we want them to be able to do that without all of those other things to consider.

Melissa: How did you become involved with the Ronald McDonald Family Room and the Ronald McDonald Charities of Idaho?

Lori: I was invited to be a part of the community appeal planning committee when we were having conversations with EIRMC about putting a Family Room in their hospital. And I was at the time working at INL as their community relations program manager.

I was delighted to be a part of this organization and putting the Family Room in place. I've had a very sick child. My daughter had botulism, and we nearly lost her at 5 years of age. We spent 5 weeks away from home. We lived in a trailer.

I did days with her. Her dad did nights. It was really scary. As a parent, you wanna be able to help your child— fix them. You would trade places with them in a minute if you could.

So without that trailer in the parking lot of Primary Children's, we would have needed a place like the Ronald McDonald House to stay. So I have a lot of my own empathy for what families are going through. It's a really difficult and scary journey, and to be able to be a part of it is very heartfelt for me. It's something that I really enjoy doing just knowing that I'm helping them through a difficult time in their lives.

Russell: How does a Ronald McDonald family room get set up in a community?

Lori: So conversations are held between the organization and the hospital, and it requires a certain level of pediatric care and a certain patient quota. So with RMHC of Idaho, we were talking to EIRMC as they were putting together their growth plans for their pediatric department. And as all of those things lined up, we were able to put our partnership together with them. That partnership is fantastic. They provide the 2,600 square feet of space that we are in at no cost for a nonprofit.

That is amazing. They take care of our utilities, some cleaning, laundry, maintenance, and security for us. We take care of the parents or the families when they are taking care of the child medically, and we wanna have a place where parents are cared for because it is a tough journey. You need to stay strong so that you can be strong for your child and help them through. So we're delighted that we were able to put that partnership in place, and we really appreciate it.

Melissa: How did COVID impact the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho?

Lori: Well, like everybody else, we had to stop and take a look at what we were doing because we wanted to ensure the safety of the families that we serve. For the family room, we closed our doors from March to May, but we still wanted to do something that helped the families because it would be hard enough for them to have their child there and then COVID on top of it. So we worked with EIRMC, and we developed a process where the families could come down and use the cafeteria for their meals, and we kept track of it. And so we paid for their meals at the cafeteria.

It was a small something we could do, but we wanted them to know that we cared about them and we're doing what we could at the time. After May, we opened our doors back up where just the parents could come in, and so they were able to at least come down to the family room, utilize it. We have 4 bedrooms as I mentioned, and we utilized 2 of those so that we maintained social distancing and protocols for people being safe in there. And then we also worked with a few area motels for a period of time so that if there were additional families that needed a place to stay that we could provide that for them. And we made it through.

Melissa: You guys adapted and made sure everybody was safe. That's awesome.

Lori: And during that interesting time, there was a period of a year and a half where we were not permitted to have volunteers in, and we really missed them. They're such a vital part of what we do, and we couldn't provide tours.

And when you can come in and actually see the Family Room for yourself and our mission at work, it just brings the depth of what the donations and the supports are working toward helping families.

Russell: So along the lines of support, how can we do that? Like, you guys have a great cause. How can we support you?

Lori: Well, I can tell you that our community is amazing, and I get to see love walk through the door all the time with donations of blankets and individual snack packages, gifts for the children, volunteering.

So all of those things are a huge help, and we would love to encourage the community to continue to support us like that. We have a donation page where if they wanna provide a monetary option, that is at rmhcidaho.org. There's a donate button there. There are all kinds of things that you can do outside of those. We have a lot of support from seniors who are doing their senior projects; some fantastic projects that have brought in a lot of money.

It's amazing to see these kids get out there and wanna do something that takes a lot of organization and logistical challenges to figure out, and we received one donation that was $3,000 and just recently, a $45,100 donation, and both of those came from students at Watersprings. So that was a really fun presentation to be a part of when they gave us those big checks. We also have opportunities where you can go online to Just Serve, and you can put in Ronald McDonald Family Room. It will pull up a variety of different options.

We have something that's really fun for families. It's called "compassion on a can." If you take a label and you put a happy saying or something encouraging, a cute 4 year old drawing, it's just, it means so much to the families, and I've heard many times where they will say, you know, I just needed that. So it truly is the little things that mean so much, when you're going through a difficult time like that.

We can always use snacks. We have a big snack program for our families because with good intentions, they're going to come down and get lunch or dinner or breakfast, but something happens in the schedule. And so when they come down, we encourage them to take some snacks back to their room because at 2 AM when the day has settled, they're hungry, and we want them to be able to have something to be able to eat that they will enjoy.

So creativity is always welcomed. People will call and ask what they can do. We have a community full of very talented people who put beautiful quilts together. And you know, oftentimes we think of children as the little kid... the little children, and they are, of course, part of it, but there are a lot of older children up to 18 years of age.

And so when we get those big quilts in, it's fun. It's nice to be able to provide something that is size appropriate for those kids as well. I think if you just put some creativity into what your passion is and how you would like to help, whether that's volunteering, making something with your family or your youth group, your business, that we would love that. And then just spending some time with us, if you have that in your day to come in, and you can help us sanitize. That's really important for what we do.

We have volunteers that help us with that. They help us organize. You can do a food drive. We have a wish list that folks can go online and get, and it has all of the things that we currently need. We have served 700 families in this past year, and we're delighted to be able to do that, but it takes a lot of snacks and foods and gifts.

And so any way that our community can help us with that, we appreciate it very much.

Russell: How hard is it to become a volunteer?

Lori: It is not hard at all. I call it "volunteer on your terms." Sometimes when you hear we need to volunteer, you think, "I can't do every Monday at 1," and that's okay.

We have a one page online application that we ask our volunteers to fill out. And then once you have been approved, we provide you with the link to our calendar, and you can go in and decide that you wanna provide service or volunteer support one day a year. And we are so grateful for that time. Or if you realize next week that something has fallen through on your plans, then you can look and see if that day is available to come in and help us. Our volunteers need to be 12 years of age.

Currently, there's RSV restrictions, and so eventually, it will go back down to 7, which allows families to come in, and it's really neat to see them all preparing a meal or goodies for the families. And then we ask that groups are 6 or less, and that's so that we maintain the respectful, you know, privacy for the families that we have in there. You can bring in your own items that are store purchased and unopened to make your meal or goodies. You can use just the things that we have there, or you can do a hybrid of both. And any way that you wanna do it is right.

We're happy to work with you on where you're at and what you're able to do for us.

Russell: I've done some volunteering for the Ronald McDonald family room here in Eastern Idaho, and I've really enjoyed it. There's actually one Sunday where I wanted to make a German chocolate cake, and so I talked to Diana and she got some supplies that we needed to make that, and we made a— I made a German chocolate cake from scratch, and it was a lot of fun, and I'm sure people enjoyed it.

Lori: Thank you for doing that. I'm sure they enjoyed it too.

There's something just so caring about having a homemade goodie on the counter for them to enjoy, and we really appreciate the time that you took to do that.

Russell: Thanks.

Melissa: It's awesome. Makes it feel more like home.

Lori: Yes.

Melissa: So we have the upcoming days of giving. Could you tell us more about what those are and how people can help?

Lori: You bet. We are going to host our 5th annual Fundraising for Families event on March 11th through 13th. It is a 3 day online peer to peer opportunity to give to support our mission at the Ronald McDonald Family Room.

We will be as many places as we can be in our community to let them know we're offering an opportunity for them to support us. We will be on the radio, Riverbend's five radio stations. We're always delighted to have the support from Riverbend. It's a great partnership that we have. We will be in the newspaper on East Idaho News.

We will showcase three families, one each day, and these families are so amazing. They have utilized the family room either by staying with us or coming down for day use, and they were willing to share their stories. That's a hard thing to do, and they all were so willing to go into IE Productions and make a video, and they turned out so heartfelt. And so we will be sharing those in as many avenues as we can. No one can tell the story better than a family who has utilized our services, and they can share how heartfelt and thankful they are for the folks who donated and supported us so that we could take care of them.

So the donation, there will be a donation link online. We hope that our listeners will go in and like our Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho Facebook page. You'll be able to see the donation link, the videos that I mentioned of the families. And if you're so inclined, we would love to have our community share that link out. It can go as far and wide as people are willing to share it with their networks, and that will make a difference to our success in raising $70,000 in three days.

So any help that people are willing to support us with would be really appreciated.

Russell: What is that link?

Lori: So the URL will be rmhchidaho.orgforward/fundraisingforfamilies. You can also text rmfr24 to 243725. We also have a Venmo, under the charity.

It's @rmhc/idaho. And if you want to bring a check by, we are located at 32100 Channing Way, Suite 106.

Russell: How has the Ronald McDonald family room directly impacted our local community?

Lori: In 2023, we served over 700 families, and I can tell you that those families are local families and then from all over the place— globally, oftentimes. We are able to provide them with a home away from home, a place to come and just gather themselves.

We've celebrated birthdays, because life doesn't often understand or care that it's your birthday and you're in the hospital. We wanna make it as special as possible for the hospitalized child and their families. Or we've held Super Bowl parties. We try to make it as fun and caring as we can. You are in a really tough spot, and our staff knows that. And so we wanna be able to make it what you need the family room to be.

Melissa: Is there anything we haven't talked about that you want people to know about the Ronald McDonald family room?

Lori: Well, first of all, I want to say how thankful we are for the generosity and support of the community in Eastern Idaho, for the past four and a half years that we have been open. They have been so good to bring in items that we need and the financial support that keeps our mission going as well. I personally would love to invite the community to come in and take a tour. If you have 15 minutes to come in and see the family room for yourself, you'll be able to see our mission at work, the donations and how we utilize them to support families on their tough journey, the opportunities to volunteer.

We have a beautiful kitchen, and then the sleep rooms that we have. I think seeing it is the best way to truly understand the services and support that we're able to provide. So we are open from 9 AM to 9 PM every day of the year, and you are welcome to come in. You don't need to call. If you wanna see it for yourself, we would love to have you drop by.

Melissa: What are some common misconceptions people might have about Ronald McDonald House Charities or the Ronald McDonald Family Room?

Lori: I get asked a lot what is our relationship with the McDonald's. I think a lot of people think we work for McDonald's, and we don't. We are our own 501c3 nonprofit organization, but we have a wonderful partnership with them. Our local owner operators— the Johnson family in Pocatello, the Cichos family in Rexburg— they have the restaurants in Eastern Idaho, and they are big supporters through the Round-Up Program.

So when you are ordering, you can let the crew member know that you would like to round up, and it truly will come and support the Ronald McDonald family room. There are also donation boxes at their locations, and they really provide that funding back to us. They put programs through the year, with their happy meals, and they provide sponsorships to us. So when we have events like Fundraising for Families, they are our legacy sponsor. They've been with us for such a long time.

Not only here, but we've been in Boise for 36 years with our house. They have always supported us, and I think, globally, that relationship that RMHC has with McDonald's is all over the place and long standing. And so it's really awesome to have them and all of the support that they provide to us. I had a gentleman that stopped by because he saw our dining room table outside of the family room, and he came in and he said, "can I get a cup of coffee?" And I sort of looked at him and he said, "oh, I thought this was like McDonald's."

Melissa: Oh.

Lori: And I— you know, it was cute. It was an opportunity to share.

Russell: What's the atmosphere of the Ronald McDonald family room?

Lori: We are a home. I mean, when you open the door, you see the living room with a fireplace, big screen TV. It is truly a home away from home without the beeps and the bells of the hospital room. And so we encourage our families to come down. They need to get away from the sterile, medical hospital room and take a minute where it's calm, it's peaceful, it's supportive.

And we have families that some of them need a hug and some of them need a lot of space. And so we try to see what their needs are and how we can meet them where they're at. But it's a lovely home. That's why I would love people to come by and see it. You are greeted by kind and loving people.

You are welcome to lounge on the couch. You are welcome to use the dining room to enjoy a meal. Or we've had many families who will put up their laptop and work remotely because they're trying to keep their livelihoods going. That is perfectly okay. We want them to be able to do that.

We encourage them to take long showers, just to take a minute for themselves. And you can see when they walk in, they're afraid. They're burdened, worrying about their child. We encourage them to come in and take a shower and just take a minute for themselves because we can see them walk in and they're burdened. They're concerned about their child, and there's something magical about a shower. When they're headed back upstairs to see their little one, their shoulders are back a little.

They're ready to go and take on that challenge of support and love to help their child get through.

Melissa: How does RMHC of Idaho help families in Eastern Idaho?

Lori: We have the family room at EIRMC. We are here to support local families. You can live across the street and you can stay with us.

We support families at our house in Boise. 13% of the families that stayed with us in 2023 were from Eastern Idaho. So we wanna support Idaho families. We also wanna support any family with an ill or injured child, when they're needing medical treatment wherever they may come from. That's what our organization is about and our mission, but it is great to know that as the family room, you can be local, and we are here to help you however we can.

Russell: During my time volunteering, I noticed that people had a hard time finding the Family Room, and I myself had a hard time. The first time I went, I couldn't actually find the room. It took a good amount of searching. Could you tell us how to find the Family Room, where the Family Room is located?

Lori: You bet. We are located on the south end of EIRMC, so the main doors face the intersection of Channing and Sunnyside. There are lots of yellow flags out there, and we are part of the Sunnyside Professional Plaza. Another good visual is the big sign on the building that says East Falls Clinics. The doors are right underneath there. You would enter, go past 2 elevators, turn right, and we are the first suite on the right.

So hopefully, that will help with location and visuals to get people to come and take a tour.

Russell: Thank you, Lori, for coming in.

Melissa: Thank you, Lori.

Lori: Appreciate you letting me have this opportunity. It's... it's... I really appreciate it.

Melissa: Thanks again to Lori for coming in and sharing what the Ronald McDonald Family Room does for our community. There are resources in the description if you'd like to contribute to the Ronald McDonald Family Room's cause, or you can click on the awareness tab at eiradio.com for more information.

Russell: If you enjoyed today's episode, you can share it with your friends and family. And if you wanna share feedback, go ahead and send us an email at podcast@eiradio.com. To be notified of our future episodes, make sure to subscribe.

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time on the Riverbend Awareness Project podcast.