Upon entering the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House® (LARMH®, www.larmh.org) on Lyman, one would never guess its grandiose amenities from the street. I was invited to their holiday party hosted by 17 year-old Nadji Jeter (“Grown Ups,” “Grown Ups 2”) recently, and took a tour. Built in 1980 and still undergoing a number of incredible renovations, this four-story, 56-room house, features an expansive community kitchen, where stoves are conveniently interfacing; a pantry holds groceries; and organized refrigerator divides provisions by family. To top it off, most meals are cooked in the kitchen daily by Meals for Love: a group of volunteers dedicated to helping families focus their energies on caring for their sick children. A dazzling ’50s retro dining décor provides comfy tables and booths, including a Coke®-sponsored vending machine (.25 cents/can). Other “home-away-from-home” amenities include complimentary laundry service; transportation to/from area hospitals; a kids’ playroom; a library; non-denominationalsanctuary; family computers and wireless Internet; and outside grill area. The adjacent LARMH® on Fountain Avenue helps lodge the 75 families nightly. More importantly, housing is inexpensive, where families are asked to pay $25/night. However, no family is ever denied lodging due to inability to pay. And, nearly 70 percent of its families stay for FREE. LARMH® was the only place the Vladichevskis from Macedonia turned for help when Viktor and Biljana sought treatment for their son Andrej.
He was born with a birthmark that covered 60 percent of his head, and with a high-risk for malignancy. However, without a doctor willing to remove the birthmark or insurance carrier willing to cover the surgery in Macedonia, the family looked for treatment in the U.S. “We knew we needed to do something. We took out a loan. Family and friends helped us raise money,” explains Biljana. “We found a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai who could remove the birthmark through a series of weekly surgical procedures over several months,” Biljana says. Although the process sounds painful, she says Andrej remains upbeat for the most part. Her sister, Elena, also traveled here with Biljana and Andrej. Whether staying two- or eight months, it’s good to know LARMH® can meet their needs. The house also has a long-term special wing for bone marrow transplant patients, requiring germ-free living.
Biljana says she’s made friends and has a support network since she began staying at LARMH®, a place she now considers her “home-away-from-home.” The house helps create lasting support units by joining families together with those facing similar circumstances, according to Dawn L. Brown, who’s the executive director. “We’ve found that by uniquely teaming these kindred families together either because of the children’s healthcare issues or in the community kitchen, it allows the families to intermingle and bond. They find that they’re experiencing this MAJOR experience together, and can lean on one another for support,” Brown explains.
Sponsored by TMZ’s Harvey Levin, the holiday party featured an array of crowd-pleasing activities from gingerbread house decorating to T-shirt designing to roaming magicians. However, the all-female manicurists simply called The Polished Girlz, (www.Polishedgirlz.org), stood out in my opinion. They visit various hospitals, hospices and nursing facilities, providing free manicures to help patients of various ages feel better.
Since 1980, LARMH® has assisted more than 25,000 families from 43 countries, and is the largest of the Southern California Ronald McDonald House® locations including Bakersfield, Loma Linda, Long Beach, Orange County and Pasadena.
If you’re interested in donating food or your time in cooking as a Meals for Love volunteer, visit www.larmh.org, Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House, 4560 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, Ca 90029. 323-644-3080.