The House That Love Built

(From left) Jerri Chong, president and executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i; Miles Ichinose, McDonald’s owner/operator; and Veronica Kaneko, president and managing director of McDonald’s Restaurants of Hawai‘i, are pictured in front of Ronald McDonald House at Judd Hillside.

For three decades, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i has been a place of comfort and healing for seriously ill keiki and their families. Love and support continue for the nonprofit at its annual fundraiser, set for Nov. 18, and the community is encouraged to attend.

For 30 years, Ronald McDonald House at Judd Hillside has been a safe haven for families of seriously ill keiki who receive treatment on O‘ahu.

The island touts some of the best medical care in the Pacific Basin area, which means many families have to travel from neighbor islands and outlying regions for care.

“People often think that a Ronald McDonald House must be a sad or at least a very somber place because of the gravity of the families’ situations,” says Jerri Chong, president and executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i. But that’s simply not the case.

The Dugay-Simon family is a beneficary of the work done by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i.

Ronald McDonald House is not a hospital, nor is it a clinic or medical facility. It’s the house that love built, a place of comfort for families who find themselves far from home.

That’s why joy fills the halls at Ronald McDonald House. Children chase each other from room to room; the comforting sounds of meals being prepared wafts from the kitchen; laughter abounds in the shared areas as families mingle with each other or just simply do laundry and clean. These common activities are a staple for families that stay at Ronald McDonald House, which provides a sense of normalcy and stability for seriously ill keiki and their caregivers.

It provides lodging for the whole family, including siblings and grandparents; beds, hot showers, laundry facilities, a fully stocked kitchen and pantry; shuttle services for appointments, shopping and errands; and phones, computers and internet service so families can stay in touch with loved ones.

While the basic necessities are essential, Ronald McDonald House also offers something priceless. Families who walk through the doors during one of the most difficult times of their lives are greeted with love and open arms by staff, volunteers and other families.

Charlene from Big Island (left) and Cora from Kaua‘i spend time together in the communal kitchen at the Judd Hillside Ronald McDonald House.

“That’s what makes a house a home, their home,” Chong adds. “It’s this spirit of sharing and caring that really reflects what the Ronald Mc-Donald House is all about.”

Chong has been with the house’s nonprofit arm — Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i — for 17 years and is more than grateful for the community support that has flowed in, as that kindheartedness has allowed Ronald McDonald House to provide lodging and services to hundreds of families each year.

“Collaboration, connecting and partnering has been the cornerstone for expanding our programs and providing services to meet the growing needs of our community,” Chong adds. “To be part of the reason a child is able to recover and flourish is priceless.”

Jovani and Ikaika of Maui wind down with video games

One such partner is McDonald’s Restaurants of Hawai‘i, which was instrumental in founding the first Ronald McDonald House in the state. And the Judd Hillside House is the fast-food chain’s charity of choice, as McDonald’s Restaurants and their owners/operators fund portions of the house’s annual operating costs.

“Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i is not a foundation of McDonald’s, as some might tend to believe,” explains Veronica Kane-ko, president and managing director for McDonald’s Restaurants of Hawai‘i.

Rather, the restaurants support the nonprofit financially through the donation box program and Raise-A-Hand, as well as through pledges on featured food products and promotions throughout the year. In addition, 5 cents from each Happy Meal purchase goes to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i — local restaurants add 4 cents to the 1 cent the global brand contributes per Happy Meal.

Brayden of the Big Island relaxes in

Kaneko has been with McDonald’s for 40 years and has seen firsthand how Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i has impacted local families.

“I have witnessed the evolution over decades and the current market environment today positions us for some exciting times ahead,” she says. “I have had the pleasure of working with the Ronald McDonald House Charities and meeting some of the families who have endured so much. I have witnessed the tremendous support from the staff, volunteers and other families and how they strive to make such a meaningful difference to the lives of those children in need.”

McDonald’s owner/operator Miles Ichinose seconds that notion, and adds that the chance to play a small part in Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i’s success is invaluable. He and daughter Angela Ballard own and operate eight McDonald’s Restaurants in the state, and Ichinose was a co-signer for the note that secured financing for the Judd Hillside House in 1987.

“There have been so many great memories, but above all, it’s been so comforting to know that it has helped so many kids and families,” he says of the house. “As for the future, we are very committed to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i, and we know that they will have another 30 years of outstanding achievements.”

The Judd Hillside Ronald McDonald House truly is a gift from the community, and in its three decades of life has given innumerable hope to families in the state and across the Pacific Basin.

“It’s a perfect example of how caring individuals in a community can pull together and make such a powerful difference,” Chong adds. “It reflects the very best of who we are and what we have to share.”

Keiki Support Ronald’s House

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i is getting quite the 30th birthday present from hundreds of keiki from around the state through Kidz For A Cause.

Nicki Lee

And the undertaking has come full circle for founder Nicki Lee, who established Kidz For A Cause nearly a decade ago when she was only 8. It started when Lee’s elementary alma mater, Hanahau‘oli School, encouraged its students to do something good for the community. She utilized her love of performing to put on a concert and raised $1,100 for a charity of her choice. Mom Cathy gave her a list of three keiki-minded organizations to donate to — one of which was Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i.

“We take care of our sick children and their families while they receive medical care on O‘ahu,” says Jerri Chong, president and executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i. “What makes Kidz For A Cause so special is that it extends this circle of caring to a whole new generation — our youth. It’s all about kids helping kids.”

Admittedly, Lee initially picked Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i because she thought she would get to meet Ronald McDonald at his house. She laughs about it now, but is grateful for her choice, as she was able to learn more about the good work the nonprofit does for children.

“My mom took me to Ronald McDonald House, and I saw what the money I raised went to help,” she recalls. “That’s when I realized the difference I had made.

For his Kidz For A Cause FUNraiser, a boy named Owen held a NERF Wars event and raised $1,000 for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i. PHOTOS COURTESY KIDZ FOR A CAUSE

“Ever since that first event, I’ve always wanted to go back and raise more money for them.”

Lee is getting her wish this year, her last before she heads off to college, and the timing, she says, was perfect.

“This is my last year in high school, and we also found out it’s their 30th anniversary,” says the Punahou senior. “It felt like the perfect time to come back.”

So far, the campaign, which wraps up in March, already has raised approximately $70,000 for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i. The kids are well on their way to reaching the lofty goal of surpassing last year’s $300,000 total.

“It’s a testament to kids’ power,” Lee says. “It goes to show the strength of kids when they’re inspired to do something, when they work together to motivate each other.”

Coming up are an indoor soccer clinic, fashion show, craft fair and film festival — all organized and run by kids. Also planned is a Saturday concert (5-9:30 p.m. at Mid Pacific Country Club) with headliners like Miss Hawai‘i 2016 Allison Chu (opera), Malia Delapenia (belly dance) and Danny Kaleikini, as well as troupes of hula and Tahitian dancers. Individual seats are $50 and can be purchased by emailing or calling 728-2454.

“These aren’t just fundraisers where kids collect money,” Lee adds. “It’s about fun, as well, and I think that’s what draws kids in. They can combine philanthropy with fun, incorporate their passions into giving back.”

Visit for more information and a full list of upcoming community events. — Nicole Kato

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawai‘i holds its annual gala Nov. 18 at Sheraton Waikiki Resort, under the theme “Share a Night.” A silent auction and country store open at 5 p.m., and the dinner/ program follows from 6:30 to 9:30. Al Waterson will emcee, and guests can expect performances by Robert Cazimero, Augie T, Nā Leo, Taimane, Jordan Segundo and Kaylee Shimizu. Attendees should dress in cocktail garb or Hawaiian chic. For tickets or to make a donation, visit There also is an option to sponsor a table for Ronald McDonald House families.