Dawson Cutler, Alexis Henson

During their stays at the Park Avenue Ronald McDonald House, Alexis Henson and Dawson Cutler often would text each other from their rooms and make plans to walk together to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center for treatment. Although they both were facing difficult paths in their fights against cancer, their fast friendship made a huge difference. “Alexis was a blessing to Dawson,” says Rachael Cutler Jones, Dawson’s mother. “She helped him open up and want to fight.”

While Alexis, 10, and Dawson, 13, since have returned to their respective homes in small Missouri towns, the bond they formed remains strong. It is just one of the many examples of the community atmosphere that Ronald McDonald House Charities of Metro St. Louis (RMHC St. Louis) provides families facing tough circumstances. “Families in similar situations are able to talk to and relate with each other, which is really important,” says RMHC St. Louis spokesperson Katie Underhill.

Ronald McDonald Houses provide lodging, meals and the comforts of home to as many as 59 families who have traveled to the metro area from at least 50 miles away for their children’s critical medical treatment. Along with the Park Avenue house by Cardinal Glennon, RMHC St. Louis has locations on the campus of Mercy Children’s Hospital and on West Pine near St. Louis Children’s Hospital, which also has eight extended-stay apartments used primarily for transplant patients. In addition, three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms at the aforementioned hospitals offer an oasis for local and out-of-town families, another way the organization provides a ‘home away from home.’ “We want to give families a comfortable place where they can stay so their main focus is on making sure their children heal as quickly as possible,” Underhill explains.

Families are only asked to contribute $5 a night, but are never turned away due to inability to pay; therefore, the organization relies on donations for 97 percent of its operating budget. “The financial burden of having a seriously ill child is significant, especially when you have to move to another city to seek treatment, so the money we raise helps offset those costs,” Underhill says.

To help meet those needs, RMHC St. Louis will hold its 27th annual Cassidy Turley/Ronald McDonald House Golf Tournament, featuring 240 golfers, next month at Meadowbrook Country Club. With a dinner auction on June 3 and the golf tournament on June 4, the event, led by committee co-chairs Scott Bazoian of Cassidy Turley and Steve Fahrig of Schnucks, is the charity’s largest fundraiser, raising more than $650,000 last year. “The golf tournament wouldn’t be a success without the number of volunteers, committee members, sponsors and donors who participate,” Underhill notes.

One hundred percent of the funds raised from the golf tournament and the variety of other Ronald McDonald House events held throughout the year remain in the St. Louis area, allowing the organization to help more than 2,000 families a year. The anticipated fall launch of the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile will assist even more families on a different level. In partnership with Clarkson Eyecare Foundation, the mobile vision clinic will visit area schools to provide eye care to underserved children.

While Alexis and Dawson continue their fights against their illnesses, their families have the reassurance that Ronald McDonald House will be there for them if they have to return to St. Louis for treatment—a comfort that doesn’t go unnoticed, says Alexis’ mom, Denise Henson. “It’s a wonderful place, and I don’t know where we would be without it.”