Open House

Photo by Scott Holstein
Open HouseKim Henderson and Ronald McDonald Have an Open Door Policy

By Lori Hutzler Eckert

The Ronald McDonald House bears the name of one of the most recognizable characters in the world. However, the services that the organization provides to the Emerald Coast aren’t always evident to most residents until they or someone they know find themselves with a child in the midst of a medical crisis.

Kim Henderson, area manager for Okaloosa and Walton counties for the Ronald McDonald House of Northwest Florida Inc., located in Pensacola, was hired by the nonprofit organization last year – after serving as a volunteer for five years – to raise not only some much-needed funds to operate the house but also awareness of its mission and its importance to the Emerald Coast.

Henderson, a resident of Niceville, recently sat down with Emerald Coast Magazine’s Lori Hutzler Eckert to discuss how the growing Ronald McDonald House supports the area and how local residents can, in turn, support this house of hope that Ronald built.

EC: What’s the origin of the Ronald McDonald House?
The first house opened in 1974 after Fred Hill, a Philadelphia Eagles football player, spent three years in hospital corridors while his child received cancer treatment. Hill and a pediatric oncologist formed the idea to build a house that would allow families who traveled to seek medical care for sick children a comfortable, safe place to stay. They wanted this special place to bring some happiness to people, even at a critical time, and McDonald’s has an incredibly happy image. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc gladly offered the name to the organization, and it grew from there.

EC: When did the Pensacola location open, and what are its ties to the Emerald Coast?
In 1984, the six-bedroom house opened on the Sacred Heart Hospital campus in central Pensacola and has since provided services to thousands of people. Many times, people don’t see the connection between the house, which is more than an hour away, and the Emerald Coast, but in fact, more than 65 percent of the families who used the house last year were residents of Okaloosa, Walton or Bay County, and that’s what makes our charity a local one.

EC: What services does the house provide?
Guests in the house, who are never turned away for financial reasons, have a private bedroom and bathroom and are welcome to use the common kitchen and living areas. But beyond the tangible assistance, yet of equal importance, is a sort of automatic support group. They are living with people who are able to understand what they are going through at a time in their lives when it seems no one else can.

EC: As the Emerald Coast grows, the need for the Ronald McDonald House must be increasing. What are the future plans for the Pensacola location?
In 2007, we helped more than 240 families, with an average stay of 11 days. However, for every three families we were able to take in, two families were turned away because we simply don’t have the room. We recently kicked off a $5 million capital campaign with the goal of building a new 20,000-square-foot, 26-bedroom house, scheduled to open in 2010.

EC: How can Emerald Coast residents become involved in helping the Ronald McDonald House?
The house is not funded by McDonald’s, so donations are our lifeline. During the past year, the people of the Emerald Coast have really stepped up to the plate, and we truly need that kind of support to build the new house. Our more than 40 volunteers on the Emerald Coast meet monthly to plan fundraisers and create interest in the house. Participation is key, and I know that the people of this community are willing to do what it takes to help the Ronald McDonald House reach its goal and continue its priceless mission.

For more information on the Ronald McDonald House of Northwest Florida, call (850) 678-7243 or visit