For 20 years, the Ronald McDonald House of Greater Chattanooga has offered a home away from home to families with critically ill children in the hospital.
On Saturday, the doors to the house on Central Avenue near Erlanger hospital were opened to the public during an open house to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Tim and Tiffany Brown have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House for three weeks since their son, Caleb, was struck by a falling rock at Fall Creek Falls.
"This place gives you a peace of mind," Tiffany Brown said. "They (volunteers and staff) talk to you and care about you."
The Browns, who live in Nashville, said they couldn't imagine how they would have made it through the past weeks without the help of volunteers at the house.
Tiffany Brown said the staff has "lifted a weight" off of the family and given them time to focus on Caleb.
The Browns said Caleb will be discharged from Erlanger this week and then will go to Atlanta to undergo physical therapy.
"We can't thank them enough," Tim Brown said. "There is no way we could have made it without them."
Sherry Sorkness, a weekend manager, has volunteered at the Ronald McDonald house since it opened.
She said she wanted to get involved in something that her sons could do with her. As weekend manager, she was able to bring them along.
"They loved their weekends at Ronald McDonald House," Sorkness said.
Director of Operations Joshua Dempsey said an average stay for a family is about 15 days. There's no charge to families.
He said families are referred by hospital case managers and must have a child in one of the local hospitals with a critical illness or injury.
The facility averages 550 to 600 families each year in their 26-bedroom facility. Each room has two full-size beds and bathroom. Families share other areas such as a kitchen, laundry room and family area.
Funding comes from donations at McDonald's restaurants and local fundraising.
Tim Brown said after the kindness the staff and volunteers of Ronald McDonald House has shown his family, it is his new favorite charity.
HOW TO HELP
For more information about Ronald McDonald House of Greater Chattanooga call 423-778-4300 or go to www.rmhchattanooga.com