The house of hope

Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 8:11 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - You’ve probably passed the Ronald McDonald House in Downtown Peoria hundreds of times, but many of you may not know what’s happening inside.

You can tell from the outside that it is a special place, but that’s nothing compared to the inside.

That’s where you find laughter, encouragement, homemade food cooked with love, and hope, a lot of hope.

“It’s more than a place to stay, it truly is a home,” said Amber Kaylor, CEO of RMHC of Central Illinois.

There’s joy here, but make no mistake, there’s also sadness.

These are the families of teenagers and children facing serious-potentially deadly health problems.

“There’s been times where we didn’t think he was going to make it. At six weeks old, he went into cardiac arrest,” said Rebecca Gourdier.

At just five months old, Gourdier’s youngest son, Everett, is already living up to his name: Strong.

He has four different heart defects, and he had two open heart surgeries.

“He’s never left the hospital, so, we’ve been right there by his side the whole time,” Gourdier said.

When they aren’t at the hospital, Gourdier, her husband Jimmy, and two other kids, Theo and Taylee, spend a lot of time at the Ronald McDonald House.

They live in Bloomington.

While that may not seem that far, it is when you could get an important phone call at any time.

“I’ve gotten a few phone calls at the Ronald McDonald House here. I’m in the car. I’m up the street right away. It’s just that peace of mind knowing I’m right down the street,” Gourdier said.

This year alone, more than 300 families have stayed at the RMH in Peoria.

“For a lot of these families, it’s the bright spot in their day, and we take that very seriously,” said Kaylor.

It looks and feels just like a home.

There are 22 private rooms with bathrooms.

There are kitchens, laundry, toy, and game rooms.

That’s where we caught up with Chandler Pelka, 17, playing a video game.

“It takes my mind somewhere else, which I appreciate completely,” Pelka said.

Every night, there’s a home cooked meal, many times prepared by volunteers.

“I think food is a comfort for a lot of people. It’s an easy way to comfort people,” said Mary Stoller, a volunteer.

Pelka requested breakfast the night we stopped by.

The volunteers were hoping they would get his approval.

“Mmm, mmm. That’s like a McDonald’s hashbrown,” Pelka said.

“Just genuine love that we’ve gotten here,” said Gourdier.

It’s that constant love and support that’s helped Gourdier and her family, and knowing they weren’t alone.

“We’ll all get through this together. It wasn’t you guys, it was we’ll get through this together,” she said.

When Everett gets older, this is what Rebecca is going to tell Everett.

“I’m going to tell him he’s the strongest person that I’ve ever met, and he’s a fighter,” Gourdier said.

“His surgeon is calling him a miracle, a miracle baby,” said Jimmy Gourdier.

The RMH has big plans.

It hopes to expand to the 4th floor, where there are 11 additional rooms.

The budget: $1.1 million is what it takes to run the privately funded house each year.

Everything is free for families. They never get a bill.

If you would like more information on how to help or volunteer, visit: Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois (