Sharing a Passion for Children & Families

By April Bourie – 

It’s funny how the smallest things can change life so quickly.

Kate Maguire Jensen, the new president and CEO at Tucson’s Ronald McDonald House, was working at Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital when she went into the physicians lounge to get a cookie. There she heard about the job posting from a cardiologist whose wife volunteers at the welcoming house for families of children receiving medical care in Tucson.

“Once I learned more about the position, I realized it was my dream job,” Jensen said.

It was a perfect fit for her professional experience and personal passions.

“The mission of the house calls to me,” she said. “No one can keep kids from getting sick – that’s why it is so very important to support the families during these difficult times.” The house is a place where families can share a home-cooked meal, catch up on laundry or spend time together in a warm and friendly place away from the hospital.

Though Jensen wasn’t looking for a new job, she realized that her career path had prepared her for precisely this position. She grew up in Tucson, went to college, worked in public relations and marketing in San Francisco, then returned after marrying another Tucson native. She worked in advertising and public relations before moving to an in-house marketing position with the HMO Intergroup of Arizona.

She loved the healthcare industry and went from there to marketing at Steele Children’s Research Center at the University of Arizona. “That was my second-favorite job – after my current position,” she said. “It allowed me to make life better for families, and I was able to spearhead many of my own programs.”

Ever upbeat and energetic, while working and raising four children, she completed a master’s degree in public health at the UA. After 11 years at Steele, Jensen moved up to assistant VP of marketing for the entire university. That’s when she had the opportunity to participate in a yearlong leadership academy, which helped shape her ideas on leadership and motivation.

“This exposed me to many styles of leadership and made me create my own leadership mantra,” she said. “Mine is: I use my optimism and enthusiasm to inspire and connect people so they use their talents well for the greater good.”

Jensen also discovered the writings of Daniel Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” His premise is that employees are motivated by three things – autonomy, mastery and purpose. “I have absolutely seen how powerful and joyful it is for people to have purpose in their work,” Jensen said.

After the UA, she became director of business development at St. Mary’s – which led her to that fateful cookie break and ultimately to Ronald McDonald Charities of Southern Arizona.

It may be surprising to some that Ronald McDonald Houses do not screen families based on economic need. The only requirements are that the family must live more than 30 miles from the house – and the child must be receiving care at a medical clinic or hospital in Tucson. The child can be up to 22 years old.

“Even middle-class families can be pushed into bankruptcy by a major illness,” Jensen said. “But it’s not just the economic impact that the house is focused on. During this difficult time, guests need the compassion and sympathy that our amazing staff provides. It is so nice to work with people who share a passion for children and families.  We all have a common goal – and it is incredible to see how the staff pulls together.”

The nonprofit operates with eight full-time and nine part-time staff, plus some 80 regular volunteers. Art Lindberg, a retired physician who is over 90 years old, volunteers at the front desk. “He tells me it’s his antidepressant,” Jensen said.

The centrally located 24,000-square-foot house serves nearly 600 families each year. They stay anywhere from one night for a checkup or outpatient procedure, to six or nine months for organ and bone marrow transplants. The nonprofit benefits from generous ongoing community support.

Nationwide, the Alpha Delta Pi sorority has chosen the Ronald McDonald Houses as their charity of choice, and each year the local chapter raises from $20,000 to $25,000  for the Tucson house through special events.

Of course, local McDonald’s restaurants are major supporters of their namesake charity. Local employees volunteer in the house kitchen once a week and McDonald’s managers hold meetings at the house. A portion of daily sales from each restaurant is allocated to the house, and the restaurant owners donate on top of that. They also sponsor fundraising events and offer special donation programs in their restaurants.

So the next time you eat at McDonald’s, think about how you are a part of the Ronald McDonald House success – and how the small purchase of a cookie (or any menu item) could make a big difference in the life of the family of a sick child.


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