The Ronald McDonald House of Durham celebrated its completed expansion with a special ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday.

Volunteers and staff celebrated a 25,000 sq-ft. addition to the Ronald McDonald House—a long-term residence for families of critically ill children during their treatment in the Duke Children’s Hospital. Started in 2011, the $6.8 million project has increased the amount of bedrooms from 29 to 55. The expansion is intended to accommodate more families who must travel great lengths to get treatment for their children.

Ric Richards, president of the house’s board of trustees and owner of the Bryan Center McDonald’s restaurant, spoke to a crowd of about 275 people about the expansion and what it would mean to the community.

“We believe that when you change a child’s life, you change a family’s, which can change a community and ultimately the world,” he said.

Distinguished guests at the ceremony included North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, Duke University Hospital representatives, community leaders and members of the Ronald McDonald House board.

The Durham House opened in 1980 and was the first of its kind in North Carolina. Although the name Ronald McDonald is typically associated with fast food, critically ill children and their families associate the name with a place that fosters solace and support during treatment, Richards said. The celebration acknowledged all the hard work and fundraising that went into making the renovation possible.

With tears in his eyes, Richards thanked those who pitched in and made the expansion possible.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the guidance and steadfast love of my family,” he said. “You know how much this house means to me and I thank you for this gift… I love you all.”

The expansion increased space at the house from 16,000 square feet to 41,000 square feet and included upgrades, such as the addition of a chapel, learning center, computer room, reading nook, play area and community boardroom. Although it cost $6.8 million to make the renovations, more work is to be done. The house hopes to raise another $750,000 in order to continue renovating the kitchen, living room and main entrance.

Perdue noted the importance of the house for the families of children receiving long-term care.

“To have a place like this instead of having to stay in a hotel is really, really special,” she said.

After opening remarks, Angel Angelina, a former patient whose family stayed the house, cut the ribbon. Guests were then invited inside for refreshments and a tour of the house.

House staff member Nancy Jones, who helped run the ribbon cutting ceremony, noted that this is one of the most meaningful jobs she has ever had.

“Seeing the difference this house and the volunteers make for the families during this difficult time is so special,” she said.

The Clarks, a family whose prematurely born daughter had to stay at Duke Hospital to receive treatment, said the house helped them get through a difficult time.

Zandra Clark noted the support the house offered her family amid the challenges presented by her daughter’s health issues.

“We would not have maintained our home, sanity or the parental care our daughter needed [without the house],” she noted.