Ronald McDonald House expansion feted

By: Katie Jansen The Herald Sun Jan. 15, 2015

CHAPEL HILL — Supporters of the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the new expansion of the house set to open this summer.

Shelley Day, executive director of the house, stood at the back window overlooking the six new buildings in the process of being built. She gestured to the center of the buildings, telling visitors of the house’s plans.

Although the area now looks like a giant mud pit, Day said that the house is planning a courtyard area where families can relax — including a one-acre garden, a playground and a gazebo.

Not only will the expansion add storage space and four additional suites to the existing building, but it will more than double the square footage, almost double the capacity and allow the house to serve more families, Day said.

Because of current space limitations, Day said, the house is forced to turn away about 800 families per year.

But beginning this summer, families will be able to stay in the new units as part of a soft opening, said Chris Woodfin, president of the board of Ronald McDonald House. An official grand opening will be held sometime in September.

Day said the existing building will be returned to its original purpose, which is offering families a place to stay short term if they need to be in town a few days for a doctor’s appointment. But the new rooms, which are bigger, will be used for families who need to stay for a longer period. For example, families with infants in the NICU make up about half the families who stay in the Ronald McDonald House.

Groundbreaking for the project was completed last April, and the house has raised about $6.4 million so far through donations. They need another $1 million to completely fund the project.

To celebrate the project, the house invited Ronald McDonald House supporters, including U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., to sign a beam that will go into the structure of the new buildings.

There was more cause for celebration than just the additional space. Kim Lovrich, family support services coordinator for the house, introduced the Loving Hands program, a hospice care program for children.

No other Ronald McDonald House has the program, Lovrich said, and its function is also unique to the Triangle. Before, parents with terminally ill children were forced to keep their children in the hospital or return home to care for them alone. Now, they can come to the Ronald McDonald House to receive the support they need.

“They will be able to function as a family. Mom will be able to be Mom. Dad will be able to be Dad,” Lovrich said. “If it wasn’t for your support, they’d be going through something really, really difficult alone.”

Price said that he was happy to see the expansion moving along and that he looked forward to an opening ceremony in the near future.

He said that the donations raised show that the community pulls together in order to help others.

“This is a heartwarming place,” Price said of the Ronald McDonald House. “I’ve always felt that when I walk in here.”

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