New Ronald McDonald House — billed as the world’s largest — set to open
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org June 24, 2012 6:56PM
Chief Executive Officer of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland Doug Porter, left, shows one of several entertainment rooms at the Ronald McDonald House, 211 E. Grand Ave., during a tour Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: July 26, 2012 6:13AM
People sometimes tell Doug Porter that the converted convent he oversees in Lincoln Park is similar to a hotel.
Here are a couple reasons why it isn’t: If guests can’t afford to pay, they stay free, and when people sign the guest book, they write things like this: “I am so grateful that I am able to spend half an hour laughing and playing with my daughter. She is such a happy baby. … Right now, the thing we are lacking most is time, and we are able to steal some here. God bless those who made it possible.”
With only 21 rooms, the old Ronald McDonald House in Lincoln Park could not always make it possible for families in need of a place to stay while a sick child got treatment at the old Children’s Memorial Hospital.
“It’s very tough to tell people there’s no room at the inn,” said Porter, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.
With the new Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Streeterville comes a new Ronald McDonald House — billed as the world’s largest — set to open Tuesday. It will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The $30 million glass-and-brick tower — squeezed in between an Italian restaurant and a cafe — boasts 86 rooms, a walk-in “toy closet” filled with hundreds of new toys and a game room with an assortment of video game systems. From top to bottom, the place is awash in bright colors, from the glittering mosaics in the rooftop garden to a quirky interactive sculpture in the communal family area.
It’s a far cry from the Lincoln Park house, which, with its creaky floors and wood-paneled walls, feels a bit like a museum. The building, which dates to the late 1800s, is expected to be demolished to make way for a new development, Porter said.
What has not changed at the new house, Porter says, is the organization’s focus on encouraging families to bond as a way to handle the stress of having a very sick child; that’s why there are no televisions in any of the rooms and why there is lots of communal space.
“The families would naturally cocoon,” Porter explained. “They would stay in their rooms. … If my 4-year-old just got diagnosed with cancer, maybe your 4-year-old had that six months ago. You can sort of help me through the process.”
The Chicago Bears’ Charles Tillman sought that support, spending about a week at the house when his infant daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and received a heart transplant in 2008.
The journals are another way to help guests. New leather-bound ones lie bedside in each of the rooms. At Lincoln Park, some guests wrote about their gratitude, their worries, their faith in God and, sometimes, about a lost battle: “Our little angel’s name is O’Hanna. … She was the strongest girl in the world. She will always live in our hearts. Use this room to stay close to your little one.”
Sandy Goebel and her daughter, Jessica Goebel, have mixed feelings about the imminent closure of the Lincoln Park house. Jessica, 16, was born with water on the brain, and the family has stayed at the house dozens of times through the years.
“It’s going to be a humongous change,” said Jessica, who also does volunteer work for the house. “The smallness is completely gone. In a way, [the change] is good, but in a way, it’s sad.”
But then the teen’s mother reminds her of the downside of living in a building that’s more than a century old.
“We just had a sink fixed because it fell off the wall,” Sandy Goebel said.