Lou Ann DeVoogd Makes Each Ronald McDonald House a Home.
A lot of very successful people begin their working lives at McDonald’s. America’s best first job, it’s been called. For Heathrow resident Lou Ann DeVoogd, however, working under the watchful eye of the iconic yellow-and-red clown wasn’t where she got her start. It’s where she’s found her highest professional calling working for the brand’s most heartwarming division.
Lou Ann is president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida, overseeing operations at the three Orlando-area houses where families can reside while their children endure long stays at the hospital. The first Ronald McDonald House, which opened in downtown Orlando at Florida Hospital for Children in 1996, was followed by one at Arnold Palmer Medical Center in 2003 and a third at Nemours Children’s Hospital in 2016.
Hailing from Detroit, Lou Ann started her career in the advertising/marketing arena. McDonald’s (the restaurant chain itself) was one of her first clients. At the time, Ronald McDonald House Charities was just being introduced in the Detroit area, and Lou Ann became involved with the founding board.
“I remember the first video I ever saw about the Ronald McDonald House mission,” she says. “It grabbed my heart.”
Lou Ann eventually relocated to Heathrow and continued working with the charity. Her day job, though, kept her constantly on the road. After the birth of her two sons, Lou Ann was given the chance to leave the marketing industry and take over as executive director of one of the Orlando-area Ronald McDonald Houses. She jumped at the chance. It spoke to her heart and fit perfectly into her life.
“I was traveling all the time,” Lou Ann says, “I didn’t have children to not ever see them. I was missing that. I wanted to see my children on the baseball field and playing flag football and doing all the things that kids like to do.
“And, as a mother, I cannot even fathom the heartache of having a very ill child,” Lou Ann continues. “Then, on top of that, I can’t even imagine the struggle of not being next to them when they need me the most. I’m just passionate about the mission.”
Lou Ann has now been the CEO in the Central Florida region for 18 years.
“I think I was supposed to be interim, and they forgot,” laughs Lou Ann.
All joking aside, overseeing three Ronald McDonald Houses is no simple task. The houses are capable of welcoming about 75 families in all and do so 365 days a year.
“We are one of only a few cities that has three houses,”Lou Ann explains.
“I meet people from all different industries, and each one brings a gift,” says Lou Ann. “I so enjoy the people and the donors who we work with. They are creative, interesting, and passionate. Those are wonderful qualities in today’s times, and we get to meet the best of the best. It’s quiet here during the day, which is a good thing, because that means the families are spending time with their child. We’re just here when they need us.”
And they do. Each year, about 2,500 families stay at area Ronald McDonald Houses, and surprisingly, about half those families are local. In the last two years, the three houses have hosted 143 families for 1,400 nights, just from Seminole County alone.
Besides extended stays, the Ronald McDonald Houses offer a day pass for families who might be visiting the hospital again for follow-up appointments and need a respite from a long day.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida receives no government funding. Fifteen percent of the expense budget is covered by its parent company. The rest is supplied by the community in the way of sponsorships, in-kind donations, and monies raised through the 10 fundraisers held each year.
Lou Ann is particularly proud of The Key Initiative Group, a committee comprised of young local professionals that supports Ronald McDonald House Charities. From bowling events to trivia nights and a casino night, the group’s members raised $100,000 over the past year.
“This young professional group is fantastic,” says Lou Ann. “We love meeting new friends, specially when they bring their talents.”
Lou Ann clearly cherishes her role.
The community of Lake Mary is precious to Lou Ann, as well. She and her family have enjoyed their time in Lake Mary/Heathrow for almost two decades, watching her sons participate in sports and activities all the way through Seminole High School.
“We love Lake Mary,” says Lou Ann. “It’s a beautiful place to live with a diverse population and lots to do. We love the lifestyle!”
“I become very humbled when I meet our families and hear their stories,” she says. “I have been so fortunate that I had two very healthy children, so my heart truly does bleed when I hear what people go through and I see how truly strong they are.
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