HUNTINGTON — She didn’t plan on having her baby in Huntington, but when McDowell County native Brittany Mitchell was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy that threatened her unborn daughter’s life, she said it was a blessing to come to the Ronald McDonald House.

“The doctors back home sent me here to Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, and I have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House since I was 8-and-a-half weeks pregnant,” said Mitchell, who is 22 years old and now 6 months pregnant. “With three other children, I wouldn’t have been able to travel back and forth from McDowell County to here. My unborn daughter probably wouldn’t be alive now, if it wasn’t for the Ronald McDonald House in Huntington.”

On Sunday, Mitchell joined several other families and guests for the annual Light the House that Love Built. The event is an open house for the public to come, tour the building and see who the house helps. Many former residents returned for the fun.

“It feels like having Christmas at home with your family,” Mitchell said.

The event also included kid-friendly refreshments, caroling and all the children channeled their magic to help illuminate the holiday lights on the house.

“This event is held annually as a way to raise visibility of the need to keep families together while a child is receiving treatment in the hospital,” said Jaye Toler, director of development at the house.

Toler says it’s a wonderful time to spend Christmas with families staying at the house and also for those that have stayed in the past.

“So many families will spend Christmas with us,” Toler said. “We have one family here tonight that has come back every year for the past 15 years. Their children are teenagers now. For the staff, this is just such a heart-warming time of the year.”

The event featured Santa, who took several requests from children for presents on Christmas.

Toler said the Ronald McDonald House is for families with a sick child, as well as for high-risk pregnancy patients like Mitchell.

“Cancer used to be treated inpatient, but now chemotherapy is outpatient, so the doctor may say you can’t go home because home is 45 minutes or longer away, but you can stay at the Ronald McDonald House,” Toler said. “We provide them with a hotel-style bedroom that has its own bathroom. We have four kitchens, a media room, a library, a playroom, a playground and more.”

Since it first opened its doors just behind Cabell Huntington Hospital in September 1987, its mission has been to serve as a home away from home for families suffering through the midst of some of the toughest trials of their lives, many traveling hours away for treatment, as the child remains hospitalized just next door.

“This place is open every day of the year, every hour of the day,” she said. “It’s all about the children and families.”

The Huntington house is the largest Ronald McDonald House in West Virginia and can sleep up to 20 families a night.

While McDonald’s funds approximately 38 percent of the Huntington house’s $650,000 annual operation budget, the house must rely on grants, donations and fundraisers for the remaining 62 percent — or just more than $400,000 each year.

“We have a volunteer coordinator, so you can come in and cook a meal for a family, or you can come in and help us clean. You can donate food and other stuff that would help our families and children,” she said. “And of course we need monetary donations as well. We are not federally funded or United Way funded, so without the support of the community, we would not be able to make it.”

The Huntington Ronald McDonald House is located at 1500 17th St. in Huntington, just behind Cabell Huntington Hospital. For more information on how to donate or get involved, visit rmhchuntington.org or call 304-529-1122.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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