The Heart of an Organization

It takes the heart of a leader to provide the motivation, empowerment and direction to win. 

by Don Forrest, Farnsworth Group
The First Responders Room
The First Responders Room is part of the Dax Wing dedicated to pediatric cancer patients.

“Keeping Families Close” is one of the primary goals of the world-renowned Ronald McDonald House Charities—and Peoria will soon be part of fulfilling that commitment. The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois (RMHCCI) will open its new Peoria Ronald McDonald House this month. Located at the corner of Monroe and Spalding Avenue in the heart of Peoria’s medical district, the Peoria House will annually serve 700 families of children through their 22nd birthday at no cost to them. It has been designed to provide a home-like environment for families with children receiving care at any area medical facility in central Illinois, including OSF HealthCare, Children’s Hospital of Illinois and UnityPoint Health.

Kelly Thompson
Kelly Thompson

From Vision to Reality
Bringing a Ronald McDonald House to Peoria has been several years in the making, and leading that charge has been Kelly Thompson, RMHCCI’s chief executive officer. Thompson joined the organization as its CEO in 2010 with responsibilities for the Ronald McDonald House in Springfield—the only Ronald McDonald House in downstate Illinois. She and the RMHCCI Board of Directors’ vision was to expand the reach of Ronald McDonald House throughout central Illinois to allow more families to have access to its services. After a feasibility study validated the need in Peoria, Thompson went to work. 

Recognizing that the whole of Peoria’s prosperity is greater than the sum of its parts, Thompson has pursued an integration into all aspects of the central Illinois community. Her tireless efforts to build collaborative relationships and strategic partnerships with individuals and organizations throughout central Illinois have been paramount to the project’s success. Since the day she set foot in town, Thompson has connected with the healthcare industry, the business community, economic and community development organizations, government, education institutions (K-12 and higher ed), the arts community and virtually every other sector.

To turn the project from vision to reality, Thompson has spearheaded a nearly $9 million capital campaign to help fund the project. The House will be a four-story home containing 22 mini-suites and nearly 40,000 square feet that includes dining facilities, play areas, community space, an art and education studio, hearing garden and an outdoor playground. The second floor will be home to “The Dax Wing”—sponsored by the Dax Foundation—and dedicated to pediatric cancer patients. This wing includes five mini-suites, a sitting area, laundry room and playroom that is separate from the rest of the facility to allow immunocompromised visitors of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital a place of their own.

Arabella's Toy Store
Arabella's Toy Store is a playroom within the new Peoria Ronald McDonald House.

The Law of Victory
Of course, there is far more to Thompson’s success than simply engaging leaders. Her easy exercise of the tenets of great leadership has expedited the establishment of a Peoria Ronald McDonald House with considerable vigor and excitement—while avoiding many of the challenges and problems often associated with such an endeavor. Her influence with community leaders, her board, staff, volunteers and partners is manifested by the quick respect she attains from others. She possesses an innate ability to maintain or accelerate momentum, consistently exhibits eager dedication (and sacrifice), commits to a total buy-in to the project and her collaborators, and expertly navigates the ship even as she shares its steering with her team. 

To be sure, Thompson relies on collaborators with great minds: in business, finance, law, human resources, construction and design. And she shares the load of handiwork with individuals who are experts at the various tasks and activities required to build and run a Ronald McDonald House. Likewise, the soul of the RMHCCI is the empathy shared among everyone committed to the mission of the organization, and indeed those who are served. But as CEO—as the leader—of RMHCCI, Thompson is the heart of the organization. 

Ultimately, it is the heart of an organization that ensures what leadership author John Maxwell referred to as the “Law of Victory.” Winning is achieved first by unity of vision, and then by engaging a team with a diversity of skills. But the vision isn’t created spontaneously, and diversity doesn’t happen on its own. It takes the heart of a leader to make those things happen: to provide the motivation, empowerment and direction to win. 

This month, we will celebrate the opening of Peoria’s Ronald McDonald House, which will provide much-needed assistance and support to families in need. It will keep families close. And thanks to Kelly Thompson’s leadership, we will all win. PM

Don Forrest is business development manager at Farnsworth Group and vice chairman of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois Board of Directors.

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