Ronald McDonald House still giving back 40 years later

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Taking care of four young children...exhausting. Getting them to the doctor? Forget it.

But Mark and Jennifer Matthaei face a life-threatening challenge: helping their five-year-old son Jacob battle cancer.

"At one point during Jacob's treatment, we were down here one or two nights a week... it adds up really quickly," said Jennifer.

But here the family of six can escape on what Jennifer calls slumber parties at the East Grand Avenue Ronald McDonald House.

"The kids get excited about coming, they meet other kids here," she said. "It's like a five star hotel once you get up to the rooms. It's incredible."

This is the charity's second oldest chapter, and Friday, it turned 40. That's four decades of welcome distraction, hot food and community.

"Here you're among other families that understand and get it," Jennifer said.

Ellen Rosendale, director of family services at Lurie Children's Hospital, calls the Ronald McDonald house a key partner.

"To provide this housing at such a low cost to families is amazing and has been a lifesaver for many of our families," Rosendale said.

It's not just about support, but also keeping parents physically close to their kids.

Children come from all over for treatment, but their parents still need a place to stay.

"Even with a parent at the bedside, the Ronald McDonald House provides a vital service because children come with families," said Rosendale.

In Chicagoland alone, this charity has put a roof over the heads of more than 120,000 of these support groups, keeping parents a short walk away from their hospitalized children.

It's all thanks to people like Charlie Marino.

"We noticed all these families living out of suitcases and sleeping on chairs in the hospitals...they were from hundreds of thousands of miles away," he said.

Himself a cancer patient's dad, Marino laid the foundation years ago, opening the world's second-ever Ronald McDonald House in Lincoln Park.

Today there are five houses in Chicagoland alone and they've got everything a family could need.

"It's beyond just having a comfortable bedroom. It's having the support of countless volunteers, staffers, other families that are going through similar circumstances," said Lisa Mitchell, VP of Programs and Services at Ronald McDonald House.

And for Jacob, race cars to drive.
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