The new Ronald McDonald House Southern Colorado (RMHSC) under construction in northern El Paso County is striving not to miss a beat, racing to open in tandem with the new Children’s Hospital Colorado this summer.
Seventeen-year RMHSC Executive Director and Black Forest resident Beth Alessio is leading the charge.
Three acres of land for the new 25,000-square-foot facility were donated by UCHealth. The new house will have 20 beds, “with the opportunity to expand at least 10 more in the future,” Alessio said.
Alessio also said all funds for the new house are being raised in the community and not granted by the McDonald’s corporation, as many might think. “We raise our funds locally,” she said. “That’s the expectation of the charity.”
A $10 million capital campaign is currently at $8.7 million. All amounts have been donated, from $50 to $500,000, and a grant that made it possible to break ground.
“It’s been challenging, but we love how the community is rallying around our families,” Alessio said.
The new house will serve approximately 20 families daily and 650 families annually at 4223 Royal Pine Drive. Like the old one, it will be within walking distance and sight of parents who need to leave their children for treatment.
“It’s very important for the families to be in walking distance,” Alessio said. “If not, they won’t use it.”
For Alessio, a project in northern Colorado Springs hits close to home. She grew up in the area, walking to her elementary and middle schools, then busing to Air Academy High School. After finishing college, Alessio returned to El Paso County, when she said she again “felt that small community feel” that permeates local neighborhoods. Alessio and her husband now live in Black Forest with their two sons, one of whom had extra medical needs, and Alessio said the support of others was crucial during that time.
An average stay at the Ronald McDonald House is eight days. Sometimes the opportunity to have a no-cost place to stay with meals and other resources provided saves people from homelessness or bankruptcy. Alessio said a group effort is what makes it happen. Everyone’s various skills and gifts combine to create a home-like feel and a caring, family-type system.
When Alessio first went for an interview with the Ronald McDonald House, she said she was unsure if she could handle the emotional aspect of the job. She wondered, “Could I really handle being around kiddos that are sick and having difficulties?”
Turns, out, she can handle that and more.
“I loved it and (I loved) that we were able to make such a difference and families were so appreciative,” Alessio said.
Years later, her dedication has not wavered.
“I still believe in the mission,” she said, crediting the organization’s volunteers with keeping her inspired. “Volunteers in the community are the lifeline of our organization. Volunteers do everything at the house — office, check-in, cleaning, making meals, baking, helping in other programs; (and) in the family room inside the hospital, (helping) keep the house a friendly, warm, welcoming place.”
Becky Phipps, the longest parent to stay at the RMHSC (seven months) didn’t know what Ronald McDonald House was when she was first airlifted from Alamosa, Colo., in labor with premature twins. When someone told her about it, “I thought I might be on a cot in the restaurant,” she said.
Phipps said the people at the house became her support in every way when her “whole world got flipped upside down.” One twin died; the other was “a 26-weeker” at 1 pound, 3 ounces — and who still has health challenges 12 years later. At the time, her husband also sought a divorce.
“Staff and volunteers became my huge support system. They really became my family and still are,” Phipps said.