New CEO, Charles Day, plans to expand San Diego Ronald McDonald House profile

By Catherine Kolonko

To begin his new position at McDonald House Charities of San Diego, Charles Day walked across the street and closed the final chapter on a 15-year-stint at Children’s Hospital but kept a professional commitment to help sick children and their families. “Every family deserves a home away from home,” said Day, 53, explaining the mission of the Ronald McDonald House.

A place to rest that feels more like home than a hospital room or corridor means a great deal to mothers, fathers and siblings who want to spend as much time as possible with a seriously ill child. Around the world, Ronald McDonald Houses offer a respite to families during the sad, as well as the joyous times, in a sick child’s life.

“We see both sides of that spectrum,” Day said during a recent tour of the 65,000-square-foot Ronald McDonald House in San Diego. New to the job as its president and CEO (he took the helm in December) Day said he wants to elevate the profile of the place he calls “the best kept secret in the community.”

The facility, formerly located a few blocks from Rady Children’s Hospital, expanded less than two years ago to accommodate the growing needs of families who come from far reaches of the county and beyond to be by the bedside of their ill or injured children.

The family-care center offers 47 rooms for overnight stays and is often at 95 to 98 percent capacity, Day said. A typical stay for any family is about 10 days. Families who can afford to are asked to pay $10 a day, but none are turned away because they cannot pay. While staying at Ronald McDonald House, families are close to the hospital and have access to laundry facilities, a dining area and kitchen with individual refrigerators, a play room, computer room, hair salon, a room for contemplation or prayer, and an outdoor amphitheater for activities such as puppet shows and barbecues.

“Giving a tour here is one of my favorite things to do,“ said Day, extolling the virtues of the facility and the hundreds of volunteers who keep it operating on a daily schedule.

Day said his biggest challenge is securing the future of the Ronald McDonald House. To meet that goal, he frequently attends and promotes fundraising events, large and small, including two recent gatherings — a Mardi-Gras-themed cocktail party and cake-decorating extravaganza.

One of his most pressing goals is to find endowments for the facility that can reduce the $15 million construction debt incurred to open the present location. He said he also looks forward to the day when he can plan for the next house in San Diego County.

Speaking of fundraising, Day reached for a stack of brochures on a table in his office and touted the dream house raffle. Proceeds go to the facility and whoever gets the winning ticket gets to choose from the $1.8 million house featured on the brochure cover or $1.5 million in cash.

The non-profit executive has a background in public relations and fundraising. To take his new position at the Ronald McDonald House, Day left a post at Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation where he worked various positions since 1995 on fundraising campaigns, including the final four years as vice president and senior director of philanthropy. Early in his career, he worked for the Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders training and supervised a full-time staff and 50 volunteers.

What may surprise many is that the Ronald McDonald House is not funded by Rady or McDonald’s. Though it does get a small part of its budget from local franchise fundraising, the charity is mostly financed through donations. The facility relies greatly on in-kind donations from some 45 corporations and local businesses, as well as a large contention of volunteers who help with food service, cleaning, laundry and administrative tasks.

On the Web

Ronald McDonald House:

Dream House Raffle:



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