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Ronald McDonald House announces fundraising campaign ahead of major Calgary expansion project

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Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Alberta has officially launched its ‘Big Build’ fundraising campaign as the organization’s Calgary facility aims to triple its living capacity through a major expansion project set to open up next year.

Currently, the existing Calgary RMHC on West Campus Place N.W. can accommodate 27 suites for families of sick kids in need of a place to stay. The new house which will connect both buildings adds more than 60 suites, bringing the total number up to 91 suites.

“Each and every year, Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta delivers services to 1,200 families, which is an impressive number, but it's only 14 per cent of the demand that's currently being met,” said RMHC Alberta CEO Jason Evanson.

“Last year, we helped save those families that stayed with us $8.5 million and when we triple our size, we triple the savings.”

It’s estimated that more than 8,000 families in Alberta travel annually for pediatric care meaning often there are dozens upon dozens on a waitlist to accommodate those in need.

Supporting families

Renee Labriola was extremely grateful for her family’s experience at the RMHC Calgary facility after her son Marco was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021 at the age of 10 months old.

“We were faced with a COVID-plus-cancer scenario which made things really hard from a support standpoint because a lot of programs were not running at the time,” Labriola said.

“Nobody could look after our other older son Enzo as well, he wasn’t allowed in the hospital, so it was a bit chaotic, going through treatment, having all of the support that would have been there in any other time vanish.”

Renee Labriola is pictured with her sons Marco and Enzo. (Courtesy: Renn Labriola)

Thankfully Labriola and her family, who are originally from Edmonton, were able to stay at RMHC facilities for the better part of six months between both cities.

 “My son was so ill with his cancer treatment that he was in an isolation room all six months, so for us to be able to walk around and interact with people was amazing and for my older son this was like a playground to him,” she said.

“He had an immunocompromised brother. He couldn't play with other kids. So this was really his sanctuary representing just peace and calm amidst the chaos of cancer treatment.”

For others like Lisa Jensen, the RMHC Calgary house represented a new lease on life. She moved her entire family from Victoria, B.C., after her infant son Henry was born with kidney disease which quickly turned into end-stage renal failure.

“My son needed hemodialysis, a life-saving treatment for him four days a week at a children’s hospital. We spent over 270 nights at RMHC Vancouver and when we realized he was going to need long-term treatment, there were no other options and we had to move to Calgary,” Jensen said.

“Our experience really brought tears to my eyes, we've met so many wonderful families, volunteers, and employees, and they've helped us all through our journey. It’s really nice to be able to share what you're going through with families going through the same thing and they understand you.”

Lisa Jensen's son Henry pictured during his treatment in Calgary. (Courtesy: Lisa Jensen)

40-year legacy

For 40 years, RMHC Alberta has been a staple of the community with its family-centred model of care, and the latest Big Build Campaign represents a new era.

Lanny McDonald, the honourary co-chair of The Big Build and 1989 Stanley Cup Champion with the Calgary Flames, knows all too well about the journey towards expanding this facility.

Speaking on Thursday during the fundraiser announcement, he spoke of when he first got involved with RMHC Calgary and the facility only had eight beds.

“Every donation, it all adds up to make a difference in making sure that this is not only finished on time but gives those families the opportunity to stay here and share their stories with each other,” said McDonald.

Calgary’s RMHC expansion has a goal of opening up in March 2025 and plans are in motion towards expanding Edmonton’s facility soon after.

McDonald says he called up long-time Edmonton Oilers rival Kevin Lowe to join in fundraising efforts in Edmonton and the response was tremendous.

“I ran into Kevin Lowe so many times in the corners over the years and we didn't really like each other, but now we love each other. I asked if he would come on board to do his part in Edmonton and he said ‘absolutely’ he would.

“So this is a great rivalry and we can't wait for not only this facility in Calgary to open, but for Edmonton to follow suit.”

As an exciting recognition opportunity, part of the Big Build fundraising campaign is the ‘Brick-By-Brick initiative which will recognize donors with a physical brick on the exterior of the RMHC expansion building in Calgary.

For more information on how to donate and get involved, visit RMHC Alberta’s Big Build website.

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