Rancho Santa Fe philanthropist celebrates birthday at Ronald McDonald House

Susan Hoehn didn’t ask for any birthday gifts this year. Instead, the Rancho Santa Fe philanthropist asked others to give to Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego.

“I’m using my birthday party as an excuse to get people to come to one of my favorite places: the Ronald McDonald House,” said Hoehn during her March 24 birthday party at San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House. “Everyone who gets involved in the House gets hooked on helping.”

Founded in 1980, Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego provides a home away from home to families with children being treated for serious and sometimes life-threatening conditions at local hospitals. Located across the street from Rady Children’s Hospital — the largest children’s hospital in California — the nonprofit organization provides overnight accommodations to thousands of families and day services to thousands more each year.

Veronica, a mother of three, briefly spoke at the occasion. She and her family have stayed at San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House while her daughter has received treatment for leukemia at Rady Children’s Hospital.

Her daughter was diagnosed in August 2015.

“That day my family’s life changed,” she said. “Our life stopped at that moment.”

It’s flu season, so her daughter can’t see her siblings. Her little girl’s hospital room faces the Ronald McDonald House, however.

“She’s able to see them through the window,” Veronica said through tears. “That, to us, is a blessing.”

While 1,400 families reside at Ronald McDonald House during their child’s hospitalization, 11,000 additional people use the organization’s Family Care Center for meals, computer access and other resources each year.

San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House features 47 guest suites equipped with private baths. The nonprofit offers three daily meals and access to individual cooking stations, an onsite school for siblings of hospitalized children operated in partnership with San Diego Unified School District, a computer resource center and free Wi-Fi throughout the House. The House also offers day resting rooms, a playroom and play yard with sports court, laundry facilities, workout room, salon with volunteer licensed stylists, interfaith reflection room, serenity garden and outdoor spaces, support groups and enrichment programs.

For one family, it costs $145 per night or $1,015 each week of lodging and care. Although donations are accepted from overnight guests, no one is turned away due to inability to pay.

Hoehn calls the House the “Happy Place.”

“It’s not because we serve happy meals,” said Hoehn, owner of Hoehn Motors.

She noted that San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House receives about 10 percent of its revenue from McDonald’s restaurants. Most of the nonprofit’s funding comes from donors.

“This is the ‘Happy Place’ because it is the only place where they can be happy right now,” she said. “They can have their gnawing hunger fed, they can get a moment’s relief by a nap or a shower, and they can be assured that the other children in their family are being cared for carefully. They can do all this knowing that they can run right back over to the hospital across the street. This, for that moment, is their happy place.”

Hoehn first heard about the organization through her son, Ted Hoehn, who had taken a tour of the facilities. When a friend invited her on a tour soon after, she took advantage of the opportunity.

“I was so impressed,” recalled Hoehn, whose family has lived in Rancho Santa Fe for 25 years and Southern California for 40 years. “This fits many of our family’s requirements for things we look for in a charity. This administers to children, families in crisis, an indigent population and involves health resources.”

Since then, Hoehn joined the organization’s board of trustees. She has served as a board member for three years.

Her family members, and even her employees, have also become involved with the organization through fundraisers and other functions. Hoehn Motors employees often serve meals at the Ronald McDonald House.

“The Hoehn family has been such a big part of our family for so long,” said Charles E. Day, president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. “We just truly appreciate this.”

Currently undergoing a major renovation, Hoehn’s guests toured the facilities to learn more about how they could help.

In 2015, the nonprofit remodeled 25 guest rooms. The South Courtyard and 10 additional guest rooms are currently being rejuvenated. With support from donors, the Ronald McDonald House hopes to complete the remaining 12 rooms and play deck in 2016. Furniture and a variety of other items are needed on the organization’s “wish list.”

“Our family loves supporting this House, this home away from home,” Hoehn said to her guests. “We hope that you’ll start to call it ‘home,’ too.”

For more information, or to donate or volunteer, call 858-467-4750 or visit rmhcsd.org.

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