Men in tuxedos and Ronald McDonald stand on a stage.
The honorees at the 8th Annual A Few Good Men Gala in October, 2022, in which the Ronald McDonald House raised $1 million. Photo courtesy of Cheri Bazley.

For families with critically ill children receiving care in Long Beach, the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House provides not only shelter, but also much-needed comfort and connection.

While the first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974, it wasn’t until 2011 that the Long Beach location opened its doors, after an 18-month, $6.2 million capital campaign, said executive director Cheri Bazley.

Hundreds of families from within Long Beach and from outside of the county, the state and even the country have since come to the house each year; in 2022, the Long Beach program served 318 families, or 920 people total.

As one of 186 programs in the United States and about 380 worldwide, Bazley is “proud to be a part of that large global family,” she said, with hopes of offering even more support to families in coming years.

Currently, the organization is in early discussions with Miller Children’s Hospital and Harbor UCLA to discuss the future of a Ronald McDonald family room program in Long Beach, an initiative currently in 276 locations across the world, with 144 in the United States.

Essentially, the program aims to replicate the mission of the Ronald McDonald House on a smaller scale, within the hospital itself, explained Bazley.

While the Long Beach location is roughly 20,000 square feet, a family room program would be a 1,000-to-2,000-square-foot miniature version, providing families who are unable to leave the hospital a space to decompress and relax, Bazley said.

“The reason those are needed and successful, is there are families with such serious circumstances with their kids, that they don’t feel comfortable walking across the street to stay with us,” she said. “But if there’s a space, literally steps down the hallway from their child’s room, they might be able to take a break.”

Within the next couple of years, Bazley hopes that one or two family room programs will be in place in Long Beach, and in 2023, Ronald McDonald House also hopes to improve access to clinically educated resources to make support for both families and staff more readily available, Bazley said.

Kamsi Pascual looks at a photo of herself from when she was in the hospital—during that time, her family stayed at the Long Beach Ronald McDonald house for four months. Photo courtesy of Cheri Bazley

While the organization serves families coping with a range of scenarios, it is not uncommon to house families with premature children, or children with newborn illnesses.

A large percentage of families also have children in oncology units, according to Bazley.

“Sometimes it’s more difficult than other times, because the family’s stories don’t always have a happy ending,” she said. “Families do experience loss.”

Families are typically referred to the organization by a social worker or a medical care provider, and while the average length of stay generally ranges from nine to 12 days, some families have stayed significantly longer—for months or even for nearly a year.

With 23 rooms, the Long Beach location is considered medium-sized, a decision made by the hospital and board based on the number of children and families served.

“It could be a reason to expand in the future,” Bazley said. “But now, we’re able to accommodate families that really need us.”

From providing laundry supplies in its two laundry rooms, to travel-sized toiletries in each of the 23 guest rooms, plus an assortment of toys, books and other amenities, the organization does its best to provide small things that make a big difference in families’ stays, Bazley said.

“Emergencies aren’t always prepared for,” she said. “A family might come to us in the middle of night, because they could’ve been in an accident or they could have had a traumatic situation with their child that required them to just get in the car and come.”

Amid the challenges of caring for a critically ill child, from enjoying a home-cooked meal, to having a place to watch television or sit outside with a coffee, the space is conducive to helping families connect with each other and receive comfort during a traumatic situation, Bazley said.

Particularly for the many families who have traveled from far distances, a bond is created, Bazley said.

“I’ve had family members tell me hundreds of times over the years, how they’ve made lifelong friends with people they met staying here, that they otherwise wouldn’t have known or met,” she said. “Really, it’s the common bond with their children receiving treatment that’s kept them together.”

An overarching theme at the Ronald McDonald House is community—and some families even return after their child has gotten healthy, to cook a meal for current guests, Bazley said.

“They remember what a beautiful thing that was for them when they were going through such a difficult time,” Bazley said.

One of the families that stayed at the Ronald McDonald Long Beach House the first night it opened, back in December 2011, even returns every year on the Fourth of July to host a barbecue for the families, Bazley said.

“They feel that’s a small thing they can do to give back, because they remember what a wonderful experience that was and how much that helped them heal,” she said.

A Long Beach Memorial ICU group has provided meals, baked, fulfilled wish lists and donated toys to the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House. Photo courtesy of Cheri Bazley

Support from the greater community has also uplifted the Ronald McDonald House’s work over the years, particularly during the organization’s annual galas.

“Just when I think I’ve seen the most amazing thing, I’m proven wrong by yet another exceptional outpouring of support,” Bazley said.

This past October, the organization celebrated its eighth annual “A Few Good Men” event, its most successful gala yet, with over 900 guests in attendance, and over $1 million raised for the nonprofit.

“I’m continually pinching myself that the community is so giving, and supports the important work we do,” Bazley said. “It’s quite inspiring and I’m incredibly grateful to each and every one of the people that support us here.”

Even in the midst of the pandemic, when the nonprofit was unable to accept volunteers but continued to operate 24/7, community members continued to reach out with gift cards and donations, allowing the organization to financially carry on its work, Bazley said.

“One of the things I’m most pleasantly surprised with year over year is how passionate the community has been about our important work,” Bazley said. “I’ve never experienced such an amazing community as the Long Beach community in terms of how it embraces our mission.”

“Seeing the impact we have in such a positive way with families going through the most difficult time in their life, I think it’s much more rewarding than I had ever dreamed,” Bazley said. “It’s definitely a lot of hard work and sometimes it’s challenging work, but I feel that I leave every day feeling like I’ve made a small difference in the lives of these families going through such a critical time.”

Support the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House by making a donation here, or get in touch by calling (562)285-4300.