What once housed the creators of weapons of mass destruction now serves as a sanctuary for those struck by tragedy.

The Ronald McDonald House, a rose-colored Victorian house on West Clinch Avenue, was built upon the former grounds of Fort Sanders in 1903. After serving as college apartments and a nursing home before finding its current purpose, the house has seen its fair share of history.

During its 28 years of service to the Knoxville community, the House has been home to more than 45,000 people, acting as a temporary place of solitude for any family with a child younger than 21 undergoing treatment at a regional hospital.

"We can house up to 65 people," said Carolyn Broscious, House manager. "They can stay as long as their child is receiving treatment. We have a few families that have been staying with us for almost two years."

With a medical referral and a donation of $5 a night, each family gains access to a bedroom, showers, free laundry and, occasionally, a free meal.

After daughter of Philadelphia Eagles football player, Fred Hill, was diagnosed with leukemia, Hill raised $150,000 to purchase equipment for the Children's Hospital. Inspired by Hill's contribution, Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the Oncology Department, joined forces with the local McDonald's and Eagles General manager to found the Ronald McDonald House in 1969.

As a not-for-profit organization, the Ronald McDonald House relies heavily on donations from outside sources.

"We use everything a typical household uses, times 16," Broscious said, "We don't get to go shopping. Everything is donated, from the light bulbs to the laundry detergent. It's things you never even think about, like umbrellas or phone cards or even personal items."

Volunteerism is the cornerstone of the Ronald McDonald House, with groups from Girl Scouts of America, local high schools, sororities and fraternities lending a hand. Volunteers may help with a variety of tasks including raking leaves, household chores and planning fundraisers.

For two years, Kenan Smith, a sophomore in human resource management, has been volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House with her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi.

"We started volunteering every Tuesday by bringing them food and cleaning," Smith said. "We are making the house feel comfortable without making the families staying there have to worry about it."

This comfort, in fact, is goal of the Ronald McDonald House staff: to create a "home-away-from-home" for every person who walks through their doors.

"Every Christmas, we give every person a gift," Broscious said. "From the grandparents to the infants, Santa always delivers."

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