When Rosie Gonzalez's son, Michael, was 3 weeks old, he was experiencing kidney problems, which was later diagnosed as urosepsis. It is a parent's worst nightmare to see their child in the hospital, but the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House was there to help.
For three weeks the family stayed there, and it became their home away from home.
"It was close to the hospital and we didn't have to leave him. We would stay here all day and night," Gonzalez said. "It was an outing for us as parents where we could shower and get juice and just hang out outside the hospital. It was a calmer experience."
Other than a place to call a temporary home, Gonzalez said the support her family received from community members was overwhelming.
"People from the community come and cook and provide meals for free for the people in the house," she said. "For some people, it's helpful if you can't afford the food. It's expensive eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hospital for weeks."
With all that the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House provided her family and about 5,000 other families, it was important for hundreds to attend the grand reopening of "the house that love built" Thursday on Memorial Hospital's campus.
The original Bakersfield location, built in 2009, had three bedrooms, making it one of the smallest in the world, according to its website. The renovated space now has six bedrooms with two beds in each one and a nap room with one bed. Bathrooms, a kitchen and living room are also available.
Funding for the facility was raised through private donations.
The mission of these houses is to be a place where the families of Kern County pediatric or NICU patients can go to take a break from the hospital environment, according to its website.
"The motto is keeping families close," said Ken Keller, president/CEO of Memorial Hospital. "When a child, a loved one, a young one needs to get to a hospital, many times (they have) a lengthy hospital stay for a complicated issue (and) having close access for the rest of the family to visit as wanted or as needed is extremely important."
Singer Merle Haggard was a spokesman for the Bakersfield house when it did not have a lot of recognition, explained Jim Darling, capital campaign chair of the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House.
"It put us on the map so we could raise money to build our first house," he added.
There is a photo of Haggard in the house with his quote, "Truly the house that love built, it belongs to the community," directly underneath it.
After the ceremony, the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House was presented with more than $40,000 in donations from the community, and guests got to take a tour inside the renovated house.
Emma Sandene, 9, claimed a room — the Emma room — for herself inside. Her mother, Kristina, and other family members stayed in the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House when Emma was 3 months old due to breathing and eye sight conditions.
"They thought it was a great experience and they had a lot of time to come and see me when I was a baby," Emma Sandene said. "It was really hard for my mom to stay away."
Years later, she started raising money for the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House Runnin' for the House program in 2017 to "pay it forward," her mother said. She raised $300 that first year, and with the help of the Women of the Moose, friends and family donations, she raised $2,147 this year.
"We're just giving back," Kristina Sandene said.
The families who came to the reopening agreed it is important for people to see who their donations are benefiting.
"You can hear it from other people, but to actually see the families and kids getting better and being able to say, 'You supported me, this was my home away from home and I'm better. Thank you for your donations,' is important," Gonzalez said.