By Kathleen Swift

Photos by Artistic Expressions


Peaceful. Welcoming. Home. That is what we all need at times of extreme stress. But when a child is seriously ill in the hospital, being at home is often not an option. That is where the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States steps in to provide a home away from home for the families of seriously ill children ages newborn to 21, and ill, expectant mothers being treated at Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital. Children, whose families stay at Ronald McDonald House, tend to be the sickest, have traveled the furthest distances for care and spend the longest time in the hospital.

This year, the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States, located at 3402 South Jackson in Joplin, is celebrating 20 years of service to these families. Following the opening of the first Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia in 1974, Mickey Mantle approached McDonald’s owner, Bob Jennings, with the idea of building a house in Joplin. At that time, there were not sufficient children’s services offered by our two hospitals to warrant a Ronald McDonald House. That changed in 1993 when Freeman Health System opened a neonatal intensive care unit, and St. John’s Hospital began delivering babies. Bob Jennings and his son, Mike, resubmitted the request and received permission from global Ronald McDonald House Charities to begin construction of the facility.

Since opening July 27, 1998, families have found comfort, care and support.

“We try to anticipate what families need before they know what they need,” said charity executive director, Annette Thurston. “Our 14,000-square-foot facility provides 10 bedrooms each with a private bath, two large family rooms, kitchen and laundry facilities, an indoor playland and outdoor playground, a chapel and a garden patio. Guests have access to transportation, meals, computers and WIFI including Angel Eye technology so parents can see their child in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). Breast pumps are available. We bring in comfort dogs, professional counseling as well as therapeutic services and educational programs. We try to help families take care of themselves while they are here. We provide resources so that when they go back to their lives at home, they know where to go for help.”

Thurston emphasized Ronald McDonald House goes beyond the services they offer. The families that stay at the house support each other while they are in residence and form a community. Some, she said, stay in touch with each other and Ronald McDonald House for years.

Following the Joplin tornado in 2011, the proximity of the new Mercy Hospital to Ronald McDonald House changed. Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Four States asked to expand their reach. In November 2017, the Ronald McDonald Family Room was opened on the sixth floor of Mercy. 

“The 850-square-foot space offers a place to rest and regroup just steps away from their child’s room. It is a small oasis of calm and normalcy for families. There are shower and laundry facilities, a kitchen with snacks and beverages, computers with WIFI, a living room with TV, and a serenity room,” said Thurston.