Tour de Force Goforth and Ronald McDonald
Janet Goforth is the kind of Southern bubbly blond that you’d want to hear laughing at every party. You’ll find her lighting up the main dining room at Galatoire’s, networking and clinking glasses at the Carousel Bar and trying to keep up with her 2 feisty, black and tan Yorkies, Max and Sam, on her way to Hemline in the French Quarter to buy a new dress for her next decadent soiree.
It came at no surprise to see her with a gaggle of girlfriends at the Key to the Cure Gala at Saks Fifth Avenue on Wednesday, Oct. 15, mingling among the Manolo’s and Malandrino’s, but I was surprised to hear of her new endeavor – taking over as executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater New Orleans
“I’m so excited to go to work every day,” she cooed. “Because of our fabulous mission, we really make an impact on all these families in a very meaningful and tangible way.”
Goforth explained when a sick child under 21 seeks treatment in the New Orleans area, their doctor can refer them to the RMHC, and she takes over from there. If the family lives more than 25 miles away, she can provide them clean and comfortable lodging and meals at 4403 Canal Street – a cheery, yellow house with 15 bedroom suites with a built in support system.
“Being away from home and taking care of a sick child in a strange city for 6 to 8 months can break a family no matter how wealthy or poor they are,” she said. “We offer them a place to stay and make it their home away from home.”
Whether inpatient or outpatient, being treated for a broken leg or going through chemotherapy, no matter what diagnosis they have or which pediatric facility they’re going to, all children and their families are welcome indefinitely at the RMHC House, as long as they are actively being treated medically in the New Orleans area, Goforth said.
The Philadelphia, Mississippi native first used her signature flourish to oversee a $100,000+ renovation, revamping the mattresses and bedding, returning the House from carpet to hard wood floors and overhauling the bathrooms. She then streamlined operations and staffed the House 24/7/365.
“Our guests’ comfort is always what we’re aiming for,” she said.
Since the RMHC House in New Orleans opened in 1983, more than 18,000 families have been served. Goforth said in 2013, she hosted 551 families, a total of almost 1,400 people, and they came from 63 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes and 5 different countries.
“They come to us from as far away as California, Pakistan and Singapore,” Goforth said. “New Orleans is a medical epicenter and we have a very vibrant pediatric medical community. It’s exciting to see all the patients they draw and to see how good our pediatric facilities really are. It makes me proud our pediatric facilities are so celebrated and that patients want to come here from all over the world.”
While families take their kids for treatment at places like Ochsner, Ochsner-Baptist, Children’s Hospital, Touro, Tulane Medical Center and Tulane Lakeside, Goforth juices up the local economic impact by arranging for families to take advantage of all New Orleans has to offer.
Coordinating free transportation and tickets from partner organizations, Goforth treats these families to trips to the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium and Insectarium, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Louisiana State Museum, etc.
“We try to make it possible for them to do as much as they can while they’re here,” Goforth said.
Now that Goforth’s “House” is in order, she is starting to channel her inner party girl to fundraise.
“We are McDonald’s’ charity of choice,” she said, “but they don’t totally fund us.”
McDonald’s donates supplies, food to events and volunteers from their restaurants, and a portion of every Happy Meal goes to all the RMHCs, but, with an 85% occupancy rate and at an average cost of $68 per family per night, Goforth needs to tap resources from private donations from individuals, groups and corporations, federal grants and special events to keep her New Orleans 501(c)(3) alive and well.
On Thursday, Oct. 23, the Red Shoe Society, a group of young professionals dedicated to supporting the RMHC of New Orleans, will be hosting a happy hour event from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., at Victory on 339 Baronne St., where $1 from every purchased cocktail will go towards the local RMHC, and in December they’ll “hop” down St. Charles Avenue for their annual pub crawl fundraiser, the “Red Shoe Society Holiday Hop.”
Proceeds from the Southern Living Christmas Cookbook sold in Dillard’s stores across south Louisiana benefit the RMHC, and in 2015, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater New Orleans Golf Classic will take place at the Tournament Players Club.
But Goforth is planning on a special 2-week online fund drive in April, and it involves men and kilts.
“It will be the first time this type of event will take place in New Orleans,” Goforth said with a giggle.
Goforth is in the process of asking several eligible men in New Orleans to participate. They’ll be photographed wearing the kilt of their choice, and when their photos hit the Internet they’ll be responsible for drumming up votes and donations.
After 2-weeks of online competition, Goforth is planning a big bash at The Irish House on Saturday, April 18, 2015 where the “King of the Kilt” will be crowned.
This event proved to be a big success for the RMHC of Western Washington and Alaska, so Goforth is trying to inject it with some Southern charm and make it work here in New Orleans.
In addition to the accommodations at the New Orleans House, the local RMHC has given more than 200,000 free immunizations in the last 2 years through their Care Mobile division, awarded scholarships to eligible high school seniors and made grants to children’s organizations.
There are 338 Ronald McDonald Houses worldwide.
“It’s really a happy house,” Goforth said of her Canal Street beacon. “Our patients come here for treatment like chemo and transplants, but the house is always full of kids laughing.”
“At our House, parents draw strength from each other,” Goforth said. “They all have sick kids, and while we don’t offer medical treatment, we do offer a clean place to stay with food and transportation to make their journey through their difficult time a little bit easier.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities
of Greater New Orleans
4403 Canal St.
New Orleans, LA 70119