AUSTIN (KXAN) - The ever-growing Central Texas region means community charities like Ronald McDonald House are having to get creative to serve their clients.
Instead of building a new facility for parents and family of sick kids, a new home-style "family room" is set to open inside one local medical center.
Inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NIC-U, at St. David's Medical Center in Austin, little Elijah is under the constant gaze of his mother Charisa and father Zar Mauricio.
It's been an anxious time for them. After Elijah was born two months early, he had to undergo surgeries to help his tiny body get through his early start in life.
"It's a scary situation to be in," Zar Mauricio said. "It's not too bad for an adult, but for a little baby you know, hanging on by a thread at first, it's scary."
Often parents like these have no place to go and get away from that stress. But several floors below St. David's NIC-U, the sound of drills and saws fill the dusty air in an out-of-the-way room.
Workers are putting the final touches on what will be the new Ronald McDonald Family Room. The 1,300-square-foot space will boast a kitchen area with snacks to be provided by the hospital, an office, a living area with a flat screen TV and four bedrooms.
Elijah's mom and dad realize their little son has a long road ahead of him. That will mean weeks, likely months, basically living at the medical center.
But they're excited about the Family Room when it opens in late June, since it will save them time and energy driving back and forth from their home in Hutto.
"I just really appreciate having that available to us and people there to understand," Charisa Mauricio said.
Typically, a Ronald McDonald House will be located near a hospital, and Austin's facility near Dell Children Medical Center is no exception.
But in this growing region, there's often little or no room. Especially during the busy summer season, occupancy can exceed 80 percent, said Derrick Lesnau, director of programs at the charity's Austin facility. So transforming the unused space at St. David's eases that strain.
"[Parents] have the ability to take a shower, if they don't even want to sleep here, they just want to come down and take a break, watch TV, have their siblings play games, or just talk to the volunteers," said Lesnau.
Once the latest Family Room opens, it will need 30 volunteers to staff it daily. The charity is looking for a six-month commitment from each.
It will be the largest of three Family Rooms at area hospitals, with other local medical centers interested in joining the program.
Parents like Zar and Charisa acknowledge they can't put a price on being able to stay comfortably so much closer to their son as he gets stronger and healthier in the hands of the staff at St. David's Medical Center.
Anyone interested in volunteering for Ronald McDonald House can check out the information online.
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