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Posted June 26, 2013
A Legacy of Love: Donna Young to Retire After 33 Years of Service to the Ronald McDonald House

Donna Young and Family
Donna and Rich Young with daughters Emily, Allie and Sarah
In 1979, when Rich Young saw an ad in the University of South Florida's school newspaper looking for a manager for a new project called the Ronald McDonald House on the All Children's Hospital campus, he thought it might be a good fit for his wife, Donna.

As a trained RN, with a young child at home, Donna knew she needed to find a new job that would not require her to work three different shifts. "I was working rotating shifts at the VA hospital in Tampa," she recalled. "It's tough to do that with a child. I needed to find job stability."

Since Rich was commuting from Tampa to his job at USF in St. Petersburg, he decided to stop by and see the Ronald McDonald House which was still under construction. The rest is history.

Now, after 33 years of service, Donna Young, the first employee and house director in the history of the Tampa Bay Ronald McDonald House, is retiring at the end of June.

"I applied for the job and went to an interview in then president Dennis Sexton's office with a group of people that included the ACH psychologist and director of nursing."

"There was no other Ronald McDonald House in Florida and I'd never heard of it before. I didn't really know what it was all about. I was just applying by the seat of my pants," Donna said.

"I got the job just in time to oversee the completion of the west house. I started work in December, 1979 and in March of 1980 we moved in. "I bartered for an 18-month position. They wanted me to stay for two years," said Donna. "But I was reluctant because I had no idea what this job would involve."

"I've watched this organization grow from an 11-bedroom house with two staff to four houses with 21 staff," she said reflecting on the beginning of the program many years ago.

"As the first house in the state of Florida and number 17 in the country, we were able to forge our own path as a nonprofit, while helping other houses that came later. My training as a registered nurse in pediatrics certainly was beneficial as we developed policies and learned how to work successfully with hospital staff."
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"We took in our first family a few months later in June," recalls Donna. "We started with five volunteers from the St. Petersburg Junior League, which also helped provide the funding we needed to get started."

"Today, we have more houses than any other Ronald McDonald House in the world. There are 80 bedrooms within the four houses." (Three of the houses are in St. Petersburg and one is in Tampa.)

"Donna has been a true rock for our organization," said Ed Ameen, Chairman of the Tampa Bay Ronald McDonald House Board of Trustees. "I don't think we would be where we are today without her. She is the longest serving employee of any Ronald McDonald House in the world. No one else will ever come close to what she has done for our organization. She will be missed by all of us. I am very happy for her and Rich and wish them all of the best."

"Our relationship with All Children's Hospital has been a great marriage." Donna says. "From the very beginning, we have been supported by the hospital staff from the top down. When that happens it makes everything easy. It's not just the patients were serving; we're taking care of the whole family. I think that's why we've all worked so well together."

"Under Donna's leadership and management, the House has been able to meet the many and varied needs of our families," said Rhonda Cofield, Director of Integrated Care Management at ACH. "When one of our families has a need that is a little out of the ordinary, we have always been able to call Donna and work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement. She has met many needs and challenges over the years with grace, fairness, and a sense of humor.  We will truly miss her as she transitions to this new phase of her life.  All of our best wishes go with her."

Donna admits that she's seen lots of changes over the years. "Family dynamics are much different today than when we welcomed our first families in 1980, and we encounter many new situations. We have now helped over 42,000 families, and no two families are alike."

"We have great staff and 200 house volunteers now. The budget was less than $100,000 when we opened and it's over $2 million today. I've been on call for all four houses 24/7 for a long time. Whether it's a family in crisis or a fire alarm going off, I always have my ear open moment by moment," she says.

"In addition to running the Ronald McDonald House, people may not realize that Donna has also done many things to get the community involved in the house," said Ronald McDonald, a friend of Donna's who visits patients and families at the house and the hospital on a regular basis. "She's helped coordinate community food drives and volunteer recruitment efforts for the house. She does a lot of work behind the scenes. That's one of the things that makes Donna such a special person and an important part of the mission of the Ronald McDonald House. She goes above and beyond what is required to run the houses."

The Youngs also raised three successful daughters while serving families at the house. "They have all earned their master's degrees. Allie is the mother of two children, Emily is now a physician and Sarah was just accepted into a Ph.D. program," Donna says. "The girls have certainly been impacted growing up and living at the Ronald McDonald House."

"It was an incredible and rare experience growing up at the Ronald McDonald House," said Allie (Young) Lyon, the eldest of the Young's three daughters.  "Most of my childhood playmates were the children staying as outpatients at the house while receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the cancer they battled. I learned at an early age never to take life for granted and how blessed I was to have been born healthy."

Allie says it's even more special that she has the opportunity to share this experience with her own two daughters. "I often bring them to see their Nana (Donna) at the East House to have lunch and play on the playground with the children currently staying at house, as I did when I was a child.

"My family is so grateful to have had this unique opportunity to be part of such a wonderful organization for more than three decades," says Allie. "We are so very proud of my mom, the impact she has made, and the lives she has touched. This chapter of our lives with the Ronald McDonald House is coming to a close, but the imprint that this experience has had on our story has changed us forever."

Donna says it will be hard to adjust to retirement. She and Rich are looking forward to traveling and spending time with their grandkids. Rich, a marine chemist with the U.S. Geological Survey, located across the street from the ACH campus, is also retiring. "We've been married 39 years and are looking forward to our new life."

"I never anticipated how this job would impact my life," says Donna. "I have enjoyed so much of what I have done. Being involved in a nonprofit from the ground up has been priceless.  Meeting thousands of people from all walks of life has been memorable. Even the tough times helping families deal with crises have educated me and helped me grow. In essence, I have been lucky to have had a career with the Ronald McDonald House."

Watch Donna's story on Fox 13's What's Right with Tampa Bay


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