By: Madeline Reich The Daily Tar Heel Feb. 13, 2015
It’s been more than eight years since talk about expanding the Chapel Hill Ronald McDonald House began.
Shelley Day, the executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, hopes the expansion — which will double the square footage — will finally be finished and open for guests by September 2015.
“It’s something that’s been the focus of a lot of planning, talking, and discussion,” Day said. “I think the board is incredibly excited to see the goal within reach.”
The house offers housing and creature comforts to families of children being treated at area hospitals or clinics.
The current facilities, which total 20,000 square feet, include 29 short-term stay suites, family activity rooms, outdoor gardens and play areas.
Day said the expansion will include 20 new long-term stay suites, four short-term guest rooms and a “hearth room” which will include a dining room, kitchen, small child playroom, chapel and game room. The expansion will total 20,000 square feet.
The entire facility will total 40,000 square feet and will have 53 rooms for guests.
“The facility that we have designed is for families that will stay here for the long-term,” Day said. “When the house first opened, the average stay was three nights and only three people could stay in the rooms. Now, the average length of stay is over 11 nights and we’ve had people stay for over 14 months.”
Day said the increasing lengths of stay are due to advances in medicine and that the expansion will allow the Ronald McDonald House to help many more families.
“We anticipate that we will be ready and able to serve every family at UNC Hospitals that needs us, at least for the foreseeable future,” Day said.
One of the families that is currently being helped by the Ronald McDonald House is the Whitted-Council family.
“It’s a very nice place to call home because when you’re gone so much it becomes home. The people there are real friendly. It’s a home away from home,” said Ashley Whitted-Council, who has stayed at the house for about five months.
Whitted-Council, whose infant son is a patient at UNC Hospitals, said the expansion will help her family because they will be staying there long-term.
“Not only will it benefit me but other families who have to stay a long time like two or three years sometimes,” Whitted-Council said.
“The Ronald McDonald House is just a blessing because without them it will all be lost. You don’t have to worry about where your next meal will come from and how you’ll get from there to the hospital. It will help more and more families.”
The Ronald McDonald House also makes things better for Whitted-Counci’s son.
“Even though he’s in the hospital, they still take the time out to send him things and make different things for our son,” Whitted-Council said.
“Even though he hasn’t gotten a chance to stay there, they still care about him. He’s not left out. Every other week the ladies from the Ronald McDonald House go to meet and see the kids.”
Day said the house is close to meeting its goal of $7.6 million to fund the expansion. They currently have approximately $6.3 million.
Day said the money has been raised in a variety of ways including grants and donations.
“We hope that by continuing to tell our story that people realize that this will be a legacy gift and that it will continue to help families,” Day said.
One of the grants the Ronald McDonald House received to fund its expansion was from UNC’s Carolina for the Kids.
“We agreed to a five year deal and each year we would give $50,000,” said Brendan Leonard, a spokesman for Carolina for the Kids. “This last year was the third year and we decided to pay off the remainder of the deal so we donated $150,000.”
Leonard said the Carolina of the Kids team was excited about the expansion project.
“It’s really great because I think our mission aligns very well with them. They provide housing to families to minimize costs for families to be with their children. We work to help families during what can be the worst time of their lives,” Leonard said.
“We really do believe in their mission and think it’s critical to ours as well.”