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Rotary hears about the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House

Rotary Club of Tehachapi


To thank Scarlett Sabin, who is also a member of Bakersfield East Rotary, President Paul Kaminski presented her with a certificate and $100 was donated to the Rotary Foundation in her honor.

The featured speaker at the June 22 meeting of the Rotary Club of Tehachapi was Scarlett Sabin, house director at the Ronald McDonald House in Bakersfield.

Scarlett has worked at the Ronald McDonald House since it was established in December 2008. The Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House is located on the property of Bakersfield Memorial Hospital; however, they accommodate families who have children in any hospital in Bakersfield. It provides a comfortable alternative to sleeping in a chair or incurring added cost for a hotel stay for families who live more than 25 miles away. For families who are not staying overnight, the Ronald McDonald House provides a place where families can relax, have a meal, do laundry,or take a shower, all while staying close to their critically ill child. Over 40% of the families who use the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House come from the Tehachapi area.

The first Ronald McDonald House was opened 50 years ago, in Philadelphia, in 1974. It began with a partnership between Dr. Audrey Evans of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Eagles player Fred Hill, whose daughter had leukemia, Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose, and McDonalds. The owner operators of the McDonalds restaurants in the Philadelphia area made the first house possible by donating the proceeds from the sale of shamrock shakes. Today, there are 387 Houses in 42 countries around the world.

At the time they opened in Bakersfield, they were the world's smallest Ronald McDonald house, but Scarlett said, "We were small, but mighty!" They began with a vision, a 3-bedroom donated house and a $25,000 donation. In 2019, they were able to expand their capacity by acquiring the adjacent property. Their expansion was necessary because the local hospitals were expanding the capacity of their pediatric units, burn units and pediatric ICUs, in addition to Valley Children's Hospital opening a specialty care center in Bakersfield. Scarlett stressed that pediatric healthcare in Bakersfield has changed a lot in the past 15 years, so the Ronald McDonald House needed to move with the times.

After building a new facility on the site of their original house, they reopened on July 11, 2019. The new facility offers seven bedrooms, and the house is divided into two sides: one side for people who are just staying overnight, and the other side for people who need to stay for two weeks or more. The new facility has been furnished and decorated to provide a serene and peaceful place for the families to stay while they cope with the challenges of having an ill child.

The Ronald McDonald House faced challenges during COVID, much like many other sectors of society. At the time COVID started in March 2020, they had three families using the House. They were globally notified that they could not take any more families. However, they are very proud that they were the 4th house in the world to get reinstated and start taking families, again. Scarlett credited the community at large for helping to make sure that their doors opened again.

About 90% of the funding for the Ronald McDonald House comes from the local community. Each year, they hold a Walk for Kids on the first Saturday after Memorial Day. This is their biggest fundraiser, and all money raised through the walk stays with the local Ronald McDonald House. Their other big fundraiser is the annual Galactic Gala, which began as a way of having an outdoor event to address the challenge of holding fundraisers during COVID. The Galactic Gala will be held on Oct. 2 at the Bakersfield Country Club.

Scarlett highlighted a few of their other supports that make the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House special. They purchased a "Hospitality Cart," a cute cart on wheels that they roll through the hospital to spread joy to the patients. It carries snacks, books, puzzles and games, as well as necessities like socks, combs and brushes. They also have their "Happy Meals" and "Baking Group" programs, which allows volunteers to come in and prepare a meal for the families. The volunteers bring the ingredients and cook meals in their fully stocked kitchen at the house. In addition, their "Running for Ronald" jog-a-thon started about 15 years ago in Wasco Elementary, is now is a student fundraiser in 40 elementary schools across Kern County.

The Tehachapi Rotary Club meets at noon every Thursday at Kelcy's. Rotary is committed to "Service Above Self," and devotes time and resources to projects in the local community, scholarships for college-bound high school seniors, and supporting global efforts for polio eradication. For more information about the Rotary Club, you can visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/RotaryClubofTehachapi/.