The Ronald McDonald House (RMH), also known as “the house that love built” and a “home away from home” for families of seriously ill or injured children is celebrating 25 years of service. Recently, RMH invited the first family that stayed at the Chattanooga House back for a visit.
“I can’t believe it’s been 25 years. It feels like it was lifetime ago,” Renee Bailer, the facility’s first resident says.
The Chattanooga House officially opened on November 18, 1990. A week prior to its opening one Dalton mom in particular, was so desperate for rest that the staff and nurses checked her into the House early. After attempting to sleep in a chair at Erlanger Hospital for 53 nights to be close to her son, Renee Bailer had reached her limit. The boy had severe pneumonia and fought respiratory infections while connected to the respirator, so she was the first official resident to stay at the Ronald McDonald House.
“I was beyond stressed and exhausted. Daniel was in the hospital long-term and I would see parents and patients come-and-go,” says Renee. “I kept an eye on the building process of the Ronald McDonald House. Then I found out I could stay there earlier than presumed, I was so welcomed by the nurses and Jane Kaylor,” says Renee.
“It was our delight to be able to kick-off our mission early and start serving the community,” says Kaylor, Chattanooga President and CEO. “I wanted the House to be warm and welcoming, clean and safe, and that every family would feel the love that so many had put into making our house their “home” for a while. It’s truly the house that love built.”
It is first nature for any parent to want to be by their child’s bedside when he or she is fighting for their life. A mom like Renee will not hesitate to factor out personal necessities like eating or sleeping if that would mean more time with her child. During their child’s struggle, it is only a matter of time until moms and dads realize just how important it is to take care of themselves. Thus, the Ronald McDonald House has continued to play an instrumental role in helping parents grow stronger so they can be strong for their sick child.
“Being able to take a shower and having a phone in my room meant a lot during my stay. My outlook changed. As he got better, I got better,” says Renee.
The impact of the Ronald McDonald House was seen from a multigenerational viewpoint, too. When Renee needed to rest and her husband, Phillip, was at work, Renee’s mother, Marie Economy, was able to be by Daniel’s side. Witnessing her daughter and grandchild go through troubling times weighed heavy on Marie’s heart.
“It was hard for me to see my daughter’s exhaustion and [Daniel] being deathly sick.
Renee was able to rest and was less overwhelmed. Knowing my daughter was being taken care of meant the world to me,” says Marie.
Being the first temporary resident, Renee had the then-14-bedroom facility all to herself. She treasured being able to have close-knit relationships with Jane and the Erlanger nurses that were involved with the House. “The nurses even pulled their own money together and gave her a dozen red roses,” says Marie. Renee was overwhelmed by their kindness.
Families who have the ability to stay near their seriously ill or injured child at a Ronald McDonald House believe it helps significantly with the healing process. The children feel more secure, as well. “It made me feel better. Not having my mom and dad with me made me feel scared,” Daniel says.
From the opening in 1990 until now, the House has grown into a 26-bedroom facility with private bathrooms, a “Help Yourself” kitchen where dinner is prepared by volunteers for families every night, Mary’s pantry (food pantry), playroom, teen lounge, library, workout facility, laundry facilities and private kitchens on every floor.
The Chattanooga House serves 550 to 600 families per year. The average stay is 15 nights, although the house has hosted families for as long as two years and from as far away as Honduras. Families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House must have a child 21 years of age or younger and live outside of a 15 mile radius. Families are requested to pay a $10 a night donation, but are never turned away. Families who opt not to pay may do a simple chore.
Starting with the Bailer family in 1990, the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House has been temporary residents for 25 years. They stay strong for one another and overcome adversities together. Keeping families close is the Ronald McDonald House mission that will always be led by hearts first. “There are a lot of people out there who care. They will go out of their way to help people with love and compassion,” Renee says.
Today, Daniel is a talented 29-year-old artist who specifically is focused on clay figurines and cartooning. His girlfriend, Mary Rice, says, “There is one main reason why I love him, he never complains and appreciates his life.”
To find out more about Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Greater Chattanooga or to get involved, visit www.rmhchattanooga.com. Article by Victoria Tropiano, Photography courtesy of RMHC.