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Detroit Ronald McDonald House raising funds to expand

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Detroit – — Ronald McDonald House supporters say they have a Black Friday deal for Metro Detroiters: Instead of blowing all the money on gifts, donate some to make a new, expanded house a reality.

During America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, the Ronald McDonald House will promote a Monday telethon on WDIV to raise money for a $3 million facility supporters hope to complete in February.

The broadcast will feature families who have stayed at the house.

The telethon will run from 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; it is hosted by former WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and WDIV-TV (Channel 4) meteorologist Kim Adams.

Ronald McDonald Houses provide a place for families to stay while their critically ill children are in the hospital, according to officials of the Ronald McDonald House of Southeastern Michigan, which oversees homes in Detroit and Ann Arbor. The Detroit house on Beaubien serves families with children in nearby hospitals at Mack and Interstate 75.

The Ronald McDonald House of Detroit was the 11th built by the foundation in November 1979.

Jennifer Litomisky, executive director of the Detroit house, said donations are key to making the project a success.

“So far we have raised almost $1 million, but we still need help from donors,” Litomisky said.

Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who will serve as the Thanksgiving parade’s grand marshals, are the House’s honorary campaign chairs.

“One of our key volunteers had a personal connection with Meryl and Charlie. They are both very family oriented and when they were asked to help us raise money, they were on board,” Litomisky said.

At the Hutzel Professional Building on the second floor, the new 10,000-square-foot house will have 28 private rooms, including five extended-stay rooms for families needing housing for more than a week. Amenities include private bathrooms, a teen room, serenity garden and a high-tech media room.

“Something we have never had before is a media room, where families can Skype other family members all over the world so they can stay connected and give updates on the child’s condition,” Litomisky said. “This house is going to be one of the nicest houses in Michigan, if not in the nation.”

Litomisky said the average stay for a family is five to seven days, but some remain longer.

Katrina and Jon Williams of Macomb Township have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House for more than three weeks.

Their youngest daughter, Ava, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and cancer of the spine.

For them, this is a home away from home.

“We were literally sleeping on the floor of (the intensive care unit),” Jon Williams said. “After the third night, people were telling us to look into the house. When we finally arrived on the door step, we had averaged three hours of sleep in the past two days … we looked like zombies. It was nice to come to a place that felt like home.”

Families pay $10 a night to stay in a Ronald home.

Katrina Williams gripped her husband’s hand tightly as his eyes began to fill with tears when asked about their experience at the house.

“It’s hard to put into words … our world was flipped upside down and will be forever changed. You see things in a different view,” Jon Williams said. “Simple generosity can easily be overlooked but the support that everyone in the house gives in literally the first five minutes that you are here is overwhelming.”

House manager Jackie Kennedy knows one kind gesture makes all the difference for families.

“We do our best at encouraging and motivating the families,” Kennedy said. “Each situation is different and even if it’s just a hug or someone to listen to them or hold a hand. We are there. … That’s what we do.”

The guests are not just local people.

“Sometimes when people find out that the house is in Detroit they are a little apprehensive,” Kennedy said. “The city gets a bad reputation. Once they come here, they see this is a comforting place away from home.”

Many who have stayed have built a community of trust and camaraderie.

“This experience will change us forever,” Jon Williams said. “The level of success should be measured by how much a person gives back. When Ava gets well we can’t wait to come back and support the other families as they did for us … throw a barbeque or cook for them.”

(313) 222-1855

How to help

■During Monday’s telethon, viewers can call (844) RMH-GIFT.

■Go on the WDIV website and donate from Thanksgiving Day until Dec. 31.