Julaine LeDuc (BA: Psychology; MS: Speech Language Pathology) grew up on the west side of Michigan. Since completing her BA in 1980, however, she has never left Ann Arbor, and the Department of Psychology has remained a constant influence throughout her life. Currently the Director of Development for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor, LeDuc’s career has followed a somewhat circuitous path, albeit one with a consistent theme: helping others contend with tragedies and challenging times.  

The first major stop on LeDuc’s post-college journey was a job as a speech pathologist, where she drew heavily on her psychology degree to help patients and their families. After having children and taking some time off from the workforce, LeDuc then became increasingly involved in the Junior League of Ann Arbor (she eventually became president!), which helped her develop a new set of business skills and ignited her passion for nonprofit and charity work. 

“Through all of my following experiences,” she recalls, “I wanted to be involved in organizations that serve the community in some way. So I worked for a while at Make-A-Wish-Foundation as a Wish Manager. Very cool job! My daughter was devastated when I had to give back my magic wand! Then I worked with the U-M Musical Society, the U-M Cancer Center, and the SafeHouse Center, which is a shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Washtenaw County.” 

During a brief stint at Eastern Michigan University, LeDuc was presented with an opportunity that was simply too meaningful to refuse: serve as Director of Development for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor (RMHCAA). “I had not been at Eastern very long when it happened,” she says, “so I was not necessarily looking for a change. But the Ronald McDonald House Charities is a national partner of the sorority I joined while at U-M, and the Junior League was also involved with the initial founding and building of the Ann Arbor house. So I had been involved with RMHCAA previously, and the work they do is amazing. It kind of felt like fate that brought me here.”

Part of the international Ronald McDonald House Charities, the RMHCAA provides room and board for families of children seeking treatment in the U-M medical system. After working with social workers to determine which families are most in need, the house provides them with as much support as possible to ensure that they can devote their time and energy to their sick children. The Ann Arbor house was founded 36 years ago and currently provides 43 rooms across two locations, one directly across the street from the CS Mott Children’s Hospital and another inside of the hospital itself. 

As LeDuc explains, the families’ needs are often both financial and logistical in nature. “The majority of families we see are families of kids being treated by the pediatric cardiology program, which is a very strong program here,” she says. “In any case, they come from far away and need a place to stay, and many of the children need long-term treatment. We have had people stay for over a year. While hotels will mitigate some of the cost, it is still a significant cost. There are other issues too. Once football season hits, for example, the hotels are booked, and families have to leave. It’s terrible and expensive, and we are honored to be partnered with Mott to support families and take that off their plates.”

LeDuc continues: “The goal is that the families have a place to stay and don’t have to worry about food or other supplies. We have wonderful donors who provide support for meals and for snacks that families can take to the hospital. We also have things like blankets, socks, hair ties—the kinds of things people forget to pack. Many families have a child who suddenly exhibits a heart issue or another serious health condition. The child is med-flighted to Ann Arbor, and those families jump in the car and follow the helicopter, sometimes without even taking any clothes. We try to help them with all of those things so they can just focus on what they need to focus on and be present for their child. That is ultimately helpful for the medical team too because they need parents to be rested and healthy and eating nutritious food so they can be a part of that team. There is a very strong family-centered approach at the hospital, and parents are a big part of that.”

As Development Director, LeDuc leads the fundraising team. “My job is really to work with donors and the community to ensure that we have support—both now and in the future,” she says. “Based on the size of Michigan and what U-M anticipates doing in the future, we would like to grow and support even more families who need to access services at the university. So I am fundraising, working with the leadership team to see what our strategic direction will be, and continuing to move forward with donor support.”

Although the RMHCAA receives some assistance from the overall Ronald McDonald House Charities organization, LeDuc explains that the majority of funding comes from donors and the local community. People who would like to contribute can do so in a number of ways, including by donating directly through the charity’s website, by contributing items (such as towels, pillows, and toiletries), or by donating cash at jars present in many local restaurants. Volunteering opportunities—such as cooking dinners for families or organizing supplies—are also available and essential to keep the houses functioning smoothly.

In her role at RMHCAA, as in all of her previous jobs, LeDuc frequently draws on the knowledge and skills she gained from her U-M Psychology degree. “That fact is, we are dealing every day with families who are in crisis,” she observes. “And even though it’s a beautiful home and we are proud of our facilities, it is still somewhat of a shelter situation, and they are worried about their kids. So while the fundraising aspect may not seem overtly related to my degree, it is incredibly important to be empathetic to parents and listen to their needs—and the same is really true when communicating with donors. My favorite thing about my job is talking to people with a passion for families, for kids, and for the medical system here. And one of the key factors for me is being able to listen and help them give in a way that is meaningful and powerful for them. So I think my background as a psych major really comes in handy.” 

“And of course,” she adds, “every time I’m telling my friends or family how they should manage their lives, I also get to remind them that they should listen to me because I have a degree in psychology!”

For more information about how to donate or volunteer for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor, please visit their giving page here (link).