Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba breaks ground on new house to help more families

Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba is transforming itself into even more of a home-away-from-home for sick children and their families as they navigate some of the hardest times of their lives, undergoing treatment for serious medical conditions or injuries.

Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba (RMHC Manitoba) is successfully wrapping up a $20-million capital campaign and broke ground in March on its new 48,000-square-foot home at 62 Juno Street, Winnipeg. The new facility will expand the organization’s space more than three-fold and is expected to open by July 2022.

Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba - Juno Street facade

The new RMHC building, designed by ft3 Architecture Landscape Interior Design with a look reminiscent of children’s building blocks, will include more apartment-like rooms with private bathrooms, kitchens and laundry facilities, special suites for organ and tissue transplant patients, a private outdoor recreation area and underground parking.

Expanded space with plenty of upgrades

Wendy Galagan, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba

“We are so thankful and excited we have raised over $19 million, which includes a $5 million commitment from the Province of Manitoba — a transformational gift pushing the project very close to the finish line,” said Wendy Galagan, RMHC Manitoba’s CEO. “From our current location, we can hear the construction and staff go for walks to see the progress. It’s inspiring for all of us who are part of the mission because it means, very soon, we’re going to be able to help more families.”

RMHC Manitoba, 566 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg

RMHC Manitoba opened its current building back in 1984, located at 566 Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg. Since then, the organization has hosted thousands of families from across Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. But like any home a few decades old, the current house has some outdated features.

“It has served thousands and thousands of families, but it’s 37 years old. Over this time, families’ needs and healthcare standards have changed,” Wendy said. “For example, we currently have shared washroom facilities and small common area spaces. Our new house will not only be growing from 14 to 40 bedrooms, every bedroom will have its own private washroom as well as many common area spaces for families.”

“We will also have specialty suites to serve larger families and transplant patients. They need a separate entrance, elevator and need to stay for about 100 days post-transplant.”

Most importantly, expanded space means fewer families are left out.

“Our goal is to have no families on a waiting list,” Wendy continued. “We built to the max so we’ll have rooms for families with scheduled medical appointments, but also for emergencies or accidents on very short notice. More children are healing today than ever, but their journeys are often longer and more complex. We want to be here for all families needing the essential services of RMHC Manitoba.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba Leadership and Bird Construction
From left, Wendy Galagan (CEO, Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba), Pam Sobering (Project Co-ordinator, Bird Construction), Eden Ramsay (Development & Communications Officer, RMHC Manitoba) and Teressa Blank (Capital Campaign Administrator, RMHC Manitoba)

Home-away-from-home feeling

While the new Ronald McDonald House Charities building in Winnipeg will be much larger than the current space, Wendy says it’s vital to maintain the home-away-from-home feel.

Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba - Concept interior space

“One of the most beautiful support systems that happens organically here is families supporting families,” she said. “They’re going through different circumstances, but they’re all parents with sick or injured children, all experiencing similar feelings, whether scared or confused, or the fear of the unknown”

RMHC Manitoba tapped into the resources and knowledge of the global RMHC charity and 367 other houses worldwide, tailoring their growth-to-population data and pediatric healthcare projections.

“RMHC Manitoba proudly serves all pediatric medical disciplines including high-risk pregnancies and premature babies,” Wendy explained. “It’s incredible for the RMHC Manitoba team to work in service to the families. Inspiration is all around us.”

Partnership with ACU

That inspiration is what attracted ACU to the project.

Bill Dinsdale, ACU

“RMHC Manitoba is an exceptional organization with an incredible reputation, so we knew we wanted to be a part of this new construction,” said Bill Dinsdale, Senior Community Account Manager with ACU’s Community Financial Centre. “What really stands out is the role they play in the community. There’s real impact in terms of the number of people who will benefit from RMHC Manitoba’s growth.”

Knowing how much of a positive impact this initiative would make to the community, ACU was eager to provide financing to help get shovels in the ground.

“They have funding commitments over many years, which will come in over time, but they need money now to be able to proceed. That’s where ACU can help because we understand it’s a challenge,” Bill explained of how they approached the project.

That understanding was very important to the team and RMHC Manitoba, Wendy elaborated. “This is our biggest-ever fundraising endeavour and project, so we needed bridge financing as well as project long-term financing,” she said. In fact, it was ACU’s community focus and experience with non-profits that appealed to RMHC Manitoba.

“We really appreciate ACU’s flexibility and willingness right from the start to partner with us to find solutions to make this successful. We’re happy to work with a local financial institution,” she continued. “ACU has also committed to participate in fundraising events, so they’re stepping up as a partner in many ways.”

Also read: Tips for successful construction loan applications

Launching a project during a pandemic

As with any organization, COVID-19 forced changes at RMHC Manitoba, from more stringent sanitizing and health screening to the way the organization raises funds.

Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba - Concept interior

“We are providing essential service, and the need for our mission hasn’t paused,” Wendy said. “If anything, it’s increased because families are faced with the pandemic on top of already stressful medical issues. We modified events to stay engaged with our donors, and they have been absolutely amazing. It really is their generosity allowing us to be here for families and keep moving forward.”

Once the new RMHC building construction is complete, the current house will be sold, with proceeds strengthening RMHC Manitoba’s financial reserves. The organization anticipates its annual operating costs will rise from about $1 million to around $2.3 million with the new facility. The new home will also mean more staff, up to as many as 35, and they will be adding many more volunteers.

“Pre-pandemic, we had a team of about 25 to 30 volunteers, and we’ll be looking to triple that,” Wendy explained of the need for additional support.

A breath of fresh air

Looking forward to the completion of the project, the team is excited to reveal the new building’s outdoor space, which will be a real oasis for families.

Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba - New private outdoor space

“It’s going to be a beautiful space with a walking track, play structures, seating, dining areas and a meditation garden,” Wendy described. “We’ll also offer a gardening program called ‘Dirt Therapy.’ Many of our families come from rural Manitoba so it’s often a part of their day-to-day life. It will be beneficial and therapeutic programming — the cycle of planting, tending and harvesting.”

McDonald’s owner-operators in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario have also stepped up for the project.

“Every year, local McDonald’s owner-operators in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario provide us with 25 to 35 per cent of our annual operating costs,” she continued. “Along with RHMC Canada and McDonald’s Canada, they have collectively contributed $2.7 million to this project, over and above operational support. Our McDonald’s partners stand in service to families each day. It truly is a gift and blessing to the families we serve.”

Learn more about Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba’s initiatives and how you can make a donation by visiting their site today.

About Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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