Hannah Boca at the new Ronald McDonald House Charities Maryland. -Matt Roth
There’a a new addition to the Baltimore skyline: a 26-foot-tall glowing red heart that overlooks 1 Aisquieth Street. That beaming symbol belongs to the much-anticipated Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Maryland, which will open its brand-new location in the historic Jonestown neighborhood on May 14.
The $30-million project will allow the RMHC to expand its mission of providing a home away from home to families with seriously ill or injured children by accommodating 2,200 families annually, more than doubling the occupancy of the current house on West Lexington Street. “We were turning away as many as 30 families per night and over 600 families per year because we didn’t have room,” says RMHC president and CEO Sandy Pagnotti. “Our old house is a wonderful place, but our families deserve the absolute best.”
While some guest-favorite comforts will continue at the new house (gift cubbies for the children and volunteer-made meals, to name a few), families will have access to new five-star amenities such as a business center, a classroom, and a meditation room.
Since the house was designed around the team’s philosophy of making it “the Ritz meets Disney meets Grandma’s,” messages of love and warmth are spread throughout the 60,000-square-foot facility, including “hope stones” made by previous visitors that are layered into the foundation of three of the floors. As part of RMHC’s effort to engage with the Jonestown community, the house’s “backyard” will transform into a city park featuring a playground and a basketball court.
For Renee Boca and her 7-year-old daughter, Hannah the experience of staying at the RMHC has been defined by its community of staff and volunteers. When they left Ireland in December to receive treatment at Sinai Hospital for Hannah’s rare orthopedic condition, Boca worried that the intense physical therapy would wear on Hannah’s outgoing spirit.
But now she says that Hannah has blossomed thanks to her interactions with everyone from the shuttle drivers to the other children. “She’s really grown as a person because of the supportive environment she’s been in,” says Boca.
As for the families who will move into the new house once it opens this month, Boca says they can expect to live by the saying, “Enter as strangers, leave as friends” that hung on the wall of the house on West Lexington Street: “People say that it takes a village to raise children, and it very much feels like that when you’re at the RMHC.”