Since 1998, Ronald McDonald House Charities have provided a caring, supportive sanctuary in Las Vegas for families of children undergoing critical medical treatment at local hospitals.
The cornerstone of that giving is the famous Ronald McDonald House, which provides temporary, comfortable housing for these families that enables parents and siblings to be together while a child is hospitalized far from home.
For Elizabeth Armitage of Reno, the RMH Charities of Greater Las Vegas have been like a supportive embrace for her and her three boys – Loot, 14; Kaylan, 13; and Toowano, 11 – while a fourth son, Anthony, 9, remains in intensive care at Summerlin Hospital.
On Thursday, UFC opened its arms to the family and others at Ronald McDonald House during an “Evening of Giving,” as flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez and women’s bantamweight contender Valentina Shevchenko stopped by to meet and greet families returning from visiting their hospitalized children.
After the families received gifts of UFC gear, there was something more to deliver. Alyson McCarthy, Executive Director of the RMHC of Greater Las Vegas, was presented with a holiday donation of $20,000 by Benavidez and Schevchenko on behalf of UFC.
The organization is the recipient of UFC’s 2016 holiday giving initiative, presented annually to a local charity to assist during the season.
“It’s overwhelming! This means so much to us,” said McCarthy, who was soon smothered with cheers and hugs inside the inviting 13,000-square foot family room at the main House. Since opening in 1998, the Las Vegas Ronald McDonald House has served more than 4,200 families, sheltering them for more than 50,000 nights away from home.
In 2015 alone, the House served 206 families – 443 adults and 232 children – for a total of 3,592 nights. With an average nightly lodging rate in Las Vegas of $120.99 in 2015, the House saved families almost $435,000 in lodging costs last year.
A second RMHC facility, a 1,300-square foot family room at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Children’s Hospital, serves those who cannot leave a child’s bedside.
The average stay, McCarthy said, is 14-17 days for families, most of them from Nevada but living more than 30 miles from Las Vegas hospitals, all confronted by the challenges of ensuring their child receives critical medical care.
“Visits like this, especially during this time of year, they mean a lot to me. I want to give back, and offer whatever I can.” -- Joseph Benavidez
Armitage and her family have been at Ronald McDonald House for more than four months, allowing them to remain with Anthony as he’s treated for congenital heart and brain illnesses.
“This has been our home away from home,” Armitage said, “and seeing the boys meeting these fighters tonight, I mean … it’s just amazing. This is something they will never forget.”
Benavidez and Shevchenko posed for photos, answered questions and provided plenty of hugs. Clearly, both were moved by the experience.
“Visits like this, especially during this time of year, they mean a lot to me,” Benavidez said. “I want to give back, and offer whatever I can.”
Said Shevchenko, “This is such a wonderful place, and a perfect time to give because we’re about to start a new year.”
Across town, another UFC group – led by Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and UFC Octagon Girl Arianny Celeste – visited Boys Town Nevada, meeting children who are members of the organization.
The group signed autographs, posed for photos and participated in a Q&A sessions.
UFC’s “Evening of Giving” truly proved an emotional and financial boost for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Las Vegas. The visit, McCarthy said, fulfilled a simple but powerful need.
“One of the things I wish we could do more of is getting local celebrities, anyone with a talent or a passion for families, to come in and take these families to another place,” she said, motioning to the residents gathered around her. “Being able to meet an athlete who has accomplished what these UFC fighter have accomplished … this is such a thrill for them. And for me!
“These athletes are fighters, and we’re fighting to keep families close together. That’s why it’s perfect that you guys are here.”
To learn more about RMHC of Greater Las Vegas, make a donation or volunteer, please call (702) 252-4663 or visit www.rmhlv.org
Nancy Gay is the Editor-in-Chief of UFC.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NancyGay