How Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham helps families like the Clarks and how you can get involved

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When you walk in the doors of the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham, across the street from Children’s of Alabama and UAB, it’s clear you’re in a special place. People call it “the house that love built” for a reason. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama (RMHCA) provides tremendous support to families whose children need medical treatment far from home. They are grateful for their generous donors, many volunteers, and dedicated staff, and the difference they make.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama welcomes guests with beautiful artwork made by local artists
“Untitled” by the West Alabama Quilters Guild, designed by JoAnn Williams. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham is grateful for the community’s support

Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham is led by RMHCA Executive Director Katherine Billmeier

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama Executive Director Katherine Billmeier. Photo by Nik Layman

According to Executive Director Katherine Billmeier, “Our guest families face an enormous amount of stress. They have to take their child far from home so they can thrive – or even just survive. We cannot thank our supporters enough for sharing their time, talents and donations with us this year. Every bit has helped us ensure 73 families have a welcoming, warm place to stay each night. A place with home-cooked meals and the support of other families.

All of us at the Ronald McDonald House are grateful for your support. You have the power to give a child the best gift of all – family.”

“Flying Things,” by Birmingham-based artist Laura Levy. Throughout the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham, local artists’ artwork helps to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for families
“Flying Things,” by Birmingham-based artist Laura Levy. Throughout the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham, local artists’ artwork helps to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for families. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now

How Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham made a difference to the Clark family

When Alisha Clark’s son Jasper was born, she felt two things. First, she was delighted because she’d had a baby despite health conditions that made that seem like an impossible dream. Second, she was concerned, because he needed specialized care at UAB’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Plus, she and her husband Andy lived an hour and a half away, in Randolph County.

The Clark family stayed at Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham for a month while their newborn received treatment at UAB
Alisha Clark with her newborn son Jasper. Photos by Alisha Clark

Fortunately, a hospital social worker connected them with the Ronald McDonald House. Luckily, they were able to stay there for a month while their son Jasper was becoming stronger and healthier in the hospital.

Families staying at Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham can see Children's Hospital from the window of the east wing dining room
Families can see Children’s Hospital from the window of the east wing dining room at the Ronald McDonald House. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now

“Staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham meant a great deal to us because I was able to go be with my child every day,” Alisha said. “After sitting there all day in the room with him it was great to have a place to come back to and sleep, and have food, and not worry about where your next meal was going to come from because there’s food there you can eat.”

The Clark family stayed at Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham for a month while their newborn son needed treatment at UAB
Andy Clark with his infant son Jasper. Photo by Alisha Clark

While they stayed at the Ronald McDonald house, Dad Andy would get up at 4 am each day to drive 45 minutes to his job. Mom Alisha would get up and do laundry and other chores before spending the day at the hospital with her son.

Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham helps financially and emotionally

Everything provided by the Ronald McDonald house makes a big difference in lifting the financial burden that comes with an extended hospital stay.

“It’s a blessing that it really doesn’t cost a whole lot to stay at the Ronald McDonald House because your life at home goes on. You still have bills, your mortgage payment. None of that stops even though your life has stopped because your child is sick,” Alisha said.

One of the things that surprised the Clarks the most was getting to know other families in a similar situation. “It’s nice to have that kind of support while you’re here,” Alisha reflected.

Jasper's parents were able to stay at Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham while he spent a month at UAB getting healthy and strong
Jasper’s family was able to stay at Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham while he got stronger at UAB. Photo by Alisha Clark

“Everybody’s in that same boat, fighting the same battle. It’s a different battle for every kid. You’re up here, you’ve been torn from your home and you’re here for one purpose and it’s to take care of your child.”

Alisha Clark

While Jasper’s now better, and the Clarks are back home, they remain grateful for the gifts they received and the friends they made at Ronald McDonald House during the time he needed to be in the hospital.

Your support helps love grow

Graphic from the back of a Ronald McDonald House volunteer t-shirt
Graphic from the back of a Ronald McDonald House volunteer t-shirt. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now

“Much like your own home, we want our Ronald McDonald House and Family Rooms to be filled with love, laughter and hope. We need your support to make that happen. Whether it’s a $50 donation, providing a meal or donating Wish List supplies, every bit counts. You can find lots of information about how to help on our website and our social media: Facebook, and Instagram.”

Katherine Billmeier, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama Executive Director

How you can get involved in Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham

If you’d like to get involved, you can become a volunteer. There are many options for individuals and groups. These include both one-time efforts, such as providing a meal, and ongoing efforts, like doing regular shifts or serving in a leadership role.

Out in the community, there are a number of ways you can help support Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama. These include the following:

If you’d like to find out more about other ways to support the work of RMHCA, please visit their website here.

Pop tabs turn into dollars for Ronald McDonald House in Birmngham
Pop tabs from aluminum cans translate into financial support for Ronald McDonald House. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham was the 5th such house in the world, designed to be a place that could help keep families together when they had a child who needed medical attention far from home. Thanks to the support of many, many donors, they have been able to fulfill this mission for families like the Clarks since 1979. And, the more people who get involved, the more people they can reach, and the more people whose lives are touched by this important service. If you’d like to get involved, whether as a donor, a volunteer, or an event participant, you’ll find plenty of opportunities on their website.  

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Author: Sharron Mendel Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference