GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It has been a difficult year for 18-year-old Eliana Starkey, her mother Ashley Starkey and the rest of the family.

Eliana Starkey fell ill in December and ended up in Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital’s pediatric unit. The family is from the Detroit suburb of Inkster, more than two hours away from the Grand Rapids rehab hospital.

Then another door opened up for the Starkey family: a door at the Ronald Mc Donald House.

“I would have never been able to be such a big part of her recovery here without Ronald McDonald House,” Ashley Starkey said. “Because it is two and a half hours from my home, so there’s no way I would be able to travel back and forth.”

As any parent knows, doctors, nurses and therapists are a big part of a sick child’s treatment — but nothing beats having mom there. The home away from home has allowed Ashley Starkey to help her daughter get better and help her continue her recovery when she’s sent home. Ronald McDonald House provided Ashley Starkey a room to stay, a kitchen to cook meals and rides to the hospital.

“I’m just blessed to be around people that can make me feel that comfortable. That encouraged me to make this place my home,” she said.

Ronald McDonald House Charities has been in Grand Rapids for three decades. In that time, 10,000 families from 16 counties have called the house home at various times.

Another 5,000 families have had to be turned away.

“It’s really hard to turn away a family that needs us, so growing now and into the future is absolutely part of our vision,” Ronald McDonald House Charities Executive Director Ellen Carpenter said.

The house is now reaching out to the community for help to reach the finish line in its $2.5 million expansion campaign. The plan is to add eight more apartments and other amenities at the house on Cedar Street NE, in the area of Fuller Avenue and Leonard Street.

“Our expansion will increase our capacity by 50%. And typically we are full with a waiting list, so our hope is we won’t have a waiting list for a while. And that makes us very happy,” Carpenter said.

  • A rendering of the Ronald McDonald House expansion. (March 2023)
  • A rendering of the Ronald McDonald House expansion. (March 2023)
  • A rendering of the Ronald McDonald House expansion. (March 2023)

Much of the need for expansion is being driven by pediatric medical treatment advances up and down the Medical Mile and at Mary Free Bed.

“We’ve needed this for a long time and now that we’re finally at a point where we can step this up is a big deal for us and the community,” Andrew Grashuis, who co-chairs the More Love, More Rooms Campaign, said.

For parents like Ashley Starkey, the house offers more than necessities of daily life. It provides support from Ronald McDonald house staff and shared comfort between parents getting their kids through difficult times.

“I know that the world is a good place and that there are good people out there,” Starkey said. “But to see things like that, I was like, ‘Wow.'”