Ronald McDonald House adding guest suites

Published 2:31 am Saturday, January 28, 2017

Christy Sasser and her family know first-hand what the Ronald McDonald House can mean to a family.

The Sassers used the Birmingham Ronald McDonald House when their son, Cooper, was battling leukemia.

“We love the Ronald McDonald House,” she said. “My daughter, Kennedy, was only 6 when Cooper was diagnosed, and the Ronald McDonald House was so wonderful and accommodating to our family that she stayed there with family members, and when Cooper would get a break in chemo or infusions, I would be able to go there and spend some time with her. We had too much going on for her to be with us at the hospital. She called it the condo. She loved it there and all the people were super nice and welcoming.”

That service for families is about to get even better. The Birmingham facility, which accommodates families when their children must stay for treatment or procedures at Children’s of Alabama, the University of Alabama Hospital or UAB Medicine, is expanding.

The 41-guest suite is located one block from Children’s of Alabama and UAB, but there are plans to add a new 28,543 square foot wing that will nearly double the occupancy and reduce the number of families on the waiting list.

Ronald McDonald House officials say that currently on average they have 12 families waiting each night for one of the rooms, and the list high 55 families in summer of 2015.

They have raised money to add 33 guest suites with laundries and family living rooms on the second and third floors, a new family center with a game room and family living rooms for more intimate family time.

A volunteer kitchen is planned for volunteers to prepare meals and a larger dining room and more food lockers will accommodate increased occupancy.

Ronald McDonald House CEO Katherine Estes Billmeier said they have met their fundraising goal of $7.5 million.

“We have met our goal of $7.5 million, but as is inevitable in a capital project of this scope, further opportunities to better serve our families come to light that exceed the initial budget,” she said. “We continue to raise funds to support opportunities like a new and improve playground, an expanded interior playground and furnishings for the guest rooms. We know there are several donors who have yet to make a pledge that want to be a part of keeping families close at the Ronald McDonald House.”

Ronald McDonald House Marketing and Communications Director Stephanie Langford said that the ground breaking is set for March.

“We had a family from Mobile who spoke at our board meeting (Thursday),” Langford said. “They told us that they sleep in their car if they don’t have a room at the Ronald McDonald House. That’s kind of how Ronald McDonald House got its start. People saw that families didn’t have a place to go.”

Langford said she personally has spoken with several families from Andalusia.

“We service families who live 50 miles or more from Birmingham,” she said.

Tee Terry, president of the local fundraising group Caitie’s Army, said they were not able to use the Ronald McDonald House for her niece, Caitie Rhodes. However, she used it when her daughter, Nikki, was involved in a wreck.

It’s a place that is near and dear to her heart.

Recently Caitie’s Army donated $600 in home supplies to the Birmingham Ronald McDonald House. They also donated 100 gallons of pop tops from soda cans, as well.