Press Release: New Online Family Support Services Mobile App

April 16, 2020
Contact: Nicole Williams, Associate Director, Communications

Family Support Services team (FSS)

Dr. Martha Hernández (far left) and her team of Family Support Services graduate students. Together, they provide free psychosocial support to Ronald McDonald House families.

New technology and community donations help Ronald McDonald programs serve families of the sickest children during COVID-19

Palo Alto, Calif. – Ronald McDonald House Charities Bay Area continues to house, feed, and support families with critically ill children through the Covid-19 pandemic.

RMHC Bay Area is working closely with its hospital partners, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, to continue serving families of children who are the “sickest of sick,” said Laura Boudreau, chief executive officer of the charity, which operates several Ronald McDonald programs across the Bay Area, including the 123-bedroom House at Stanford.

“Our mission to provide communities of support, access to medical care, and the healing power of family to critically ill children has never felt more urgent,” said Boudreau, as her team is working with a skeleton staff — and without the volunteer resources they typically rely on — to provide safe housing and meals while Covid-19 restrictions are in place.

New Online Family Support Services mobile app

Now, a new customizable mobile app is empowering one of the charity’s most distinctive programs – Family Support Services – to go virtual and continue providing individual and group support and therapeutic programming to families during this scary and challenging time.

“When you add something as chaotic as a pandemic, to an already trying time, it can become even more anxiety provoking and overwhelming for an individual or family,” said Martha Hernández, Ph.D., associate director of Family Support Services at RMHC Bay Area.

Prior to Covid-19, Family Support Services offered psychosocial support for Ronald McDonald House families in the Bay Area and Southern California, including individual and family sessions, parent workshops, therapeutic Fun Clubs, 24/7 crisis response, and activities to build families’ peer support network.

As Hernández pilots Online Family Support Services with her counterparts in Southern California, the doctoral- and master-level students are offering free online services to Ronald McDonald House families, including:

  • Confidential face-to-face emotional health support meetings for families, couples and individuals
  • Adult support groups
  • Therapeutic Fun Clubs for children, caregivers and families

“Given the current pandemic, we know support and human connection is needed more than ever,” Hernández said.

Fun Clubs aim to create a sense of normalcy, routine, and bring fun to every household, she said, while Parent Workshops are offered on various topics, including managing financial stressors, anxieties and worries, as well as how to navigate living in a communal space away from home.

“We are able to provide an empathic and warm space where individuals, couples and families can meet and discuss their stressors,” Hernández said.

Additionally, Family Support Services is implementing wellness and support programming for RMHC Bay Area staff, as essential workers face additional stressors and responsibilities during Covid-19.

“Our frontline staff members have stepped up to support families 24/7,” Boudreau said. “And we firmly believe at RMHC Bay Area that you have to care for those who care for others.”

App inspired by Ronald McDonald House families

Support Community, the customizable app enabling virtual Family Support Services, was developed by Pat Morrison, Ph.D., a former Family Support Services practicum student with Hernández.

“Everything in the app has been built based on our experiences with families,” Morrison said. “I got to hear a lot of issues that families face during my time working with Family Support Services and Ronald McDonald House. The mobile app is an extension of the Ronald McDonald House and families can take it anywhere they go and be able to find help, support and resources.”

Shelter-in-place and social distancing protocols have had a direct impact on our Ronald McDonald programs, said Boudreau, explaining that visitor restrictions were put in well ahead of stay-at-home orders to limit the risk of exposure to patients and families.

“But families still need us,” she said.

Raymond Torres has been at the House for more than 180 days, as his 7-year-old son Race receives hematology/oncology treatments.

“It would be hard (without the Ronald McDonald House),” Torres said. “It’s a big change, especially for my son because he’s a little risky. He is immunocompromised. We have to be very protective when it comes to taking care of him.”

From virtual to on-the-ground support — donations are needed to help families

Boudreau says, with the suspension of meal groups and major fundraising events that RMHC Bay Area relies on to house, feed, and support thousands of caregivers and children each year, the best way people can help families right now is to make a donation at

“We are prepared and able to support families as we weather this storm because of the support our community has provided for 40 years,” she said. “And with emergency donations, we will be here for families and for our hospital partners after the crisis subsides.”

Online Family Support Services is one example of how Boudreau sees RMHC Bay Area emerging stronger than ever — with new tools to support families with sick children beyond bricks and mortar locations.

“Innovation is in the Bay Area’s DNA – it’s what we do,” she said. “Imagine all the creative ways we can support families if we tap the collective genius of this region.”


About Ronald McDonald House Charities® Bay Area:

Ronald McDonald House Charities Bay Area (RMHC Bay Area) provides communities of support, access to medical care, and the healing power of family and home for critically ill children receiving essential pediatric health care at local partner hospitals. Our Bay Area regional chapter provides comprehensive programming and services for more families and improves access to care through Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, San Francisco Ronald McDonald House, and two Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles. To learn more, visit