Central Alberta has a heart

The character of a community is best defined by how it cares for those in distress. This community, better than most, understands how to embrace projects that answer calls of distress with compassion and lasting solutions.

The character of a community is best defined by how it cares for those in distress.

This community, better than most, understands how to embrace projects that answer calls of distress with compassion and lasting solutions.

In Central Alberta, we show that compassion in dozens of significant ways every day, from the support and services offered through organizations like the many member agencies of the United Way to simple acts of kindness for neighbours, friends and strangers.

We conjure up remarkable new initiatives that provide basic needs for the most vulnerable, like the Youth Winter Inn program that was launched last weekend.

We respond when the Red Deer Food Bank makes an urgent call for donations, by leaving food at our doors, and then we buy seats at an event like the Gourmet Mac and Cheese Luncheon that wiped out the food bank’s mortgage in one astonishing $105,000 afternoon.

We think nothing of pitching in to raise thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a worthy cause — from the annual Festival of Trees all the way to the United Way’s latest goal, an enterprising $2.1 million.

But $12 million for construction of a single project, and another $500,000 in annual support?

Absolutely — it can and will be done, on behalf of Red Deer’s single most ambitious charitable undertaking: an 11-suite Ronald McDonald House for the families of sick children.

This week, the municipal planning commission approved the plans for a Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer.

And so the campaign begins to fill a critical need in the health-care continuum in our community.

The new Ronald McDonald House will be built adjacent to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre to fill an integral role, offering housing, solace, counselling, companionship and stability for parents whose lives have been torn apart.

It will include 11 overnight suites for the families of sick children, day space, and room to provide a variety of services, support and diversion.

It will provide stability and calm for parents whose world has suddenly become one of uncertainty and chaos.

No crisis is more emotionally devastating than when sickness overtakes your child. We would do anything to protect our children. But suddenly we are powerless.

Without a Ronald McDonald House, many parents from outside Red Deer struggle to stay at bedside, to offer the nurturing and support that only a parent can provide. The house will give parents that opportunity.

The new facility is expected to serve 400 families a year. It will draw as many as 150 caring volunteers through its doors. It will likely include eight staff members. It will be the 13th built in Canada, and Red Deer will become the first new community in more than 20 years to get a house. And it will require a great deal of fundraising.

Construction won’t start on the house until 80 per cent of the capital funding is in place. Officials hope to begin construction before next summer and be welcoming families by the summer of 2011.

But this project is not really about numbers.

It is about heart — and we have plenty of heart. Already, Central Albertans have donated more than $1.3 million to the project. School children, families, businesses — people stepped forward to seed this project long before it was even officially launched, through 18 separate fundraising activities.

That kind of unsolicited giving is unprecedented, Ronald McDonald House officials say.

But it is just typical of Central Albertans, who understand how to best answer a need: with compassion and generosity — and in a hurry.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

For donor, volunteer and/or sponsorship opportunities, contact Marla Cohen, director of development at Ronald McDonald House Charities at 403-240-3000 ext. 128 or marla@rmhsouthernalberta.org. For information on the Red Deer house go to

www.rmhcentralalberta.org

Donations can also be mailed to:

Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta, 111 West Campus Place NW, Calgary, Alta., T3B 2R6. (Make reference to the Red Deer house.)

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