Durham, N.C. — Brandy Cates and Adrian McMillan, along with their two oldest children, have a home in Selma, but they've called the Ronald McDonald House in Durham home for over a month.
Their twins, born 10 weeks premature, are in Duke Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.
"In the past three weeks, they've been getting progressively better," McMillan said.
But it will probably be a few more months before the family can take the newborns home. Though the experience has been difficult, the Ronald McDonald House has helped make it bearable.
"You read the slogan: 'Home away from home.' It's a home away from home. It is," McMillan said. "Everything that I would have in my home, in our home, is here."
After an expansion in October that nearly doubled their space, the Ronald McDonald House is able to help even more families and accommodate them for longer. They went from 29 to 55 rooms, and the new rooms are suites – better suited for long-term family stays.
"They have a bedroom and a sitting area, a small kitchenette, a bathroom and a laundry facility in the room," said Nancy Jones, spokeswoman for the house.
Volunteers keep the home functioning and community groups cook hot dinners. The game room is full of donated items, but of course, the home still needs money to keep things running.
"$10 dollars a night pays for a family to stay here," Jones said.
More than the facility, volunteers and donations, the families themselves offer each other the kind of support that really makes the Ronald McDonald House feel like home.
"You never know what the other person's situation is. It can always be worse or it can be better than yours is," Cates said. "There's just so much love. I never thought that you could come to another place and people would just be there for you."
There are Ronald McDonald Houses in Durham and Chapel Hill for children receiving outpatient treatments or intensive care at area hospitals. Guests must be referred by a medical professional familiar with the patient's case, they must live more than 50 miles from the house and the child receiving care must be 21 or younger.
The houses ask for $10 a night from the families who stay there, but they don't turn away families who are unable to pay. That's why they seek donations.
For information about donating or volunteering, visit www.ronaldhousedurham.org.