Sallie Brooks Found Refuge at RMHC

Thousands of families have walked through the doors of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga to stay while their child is in the hospital. Many of those families, after they have stayed at RMHC, have chosen to give back by becoming donors, volunteers, or even board members. For Sallie Brooks, a former RMHC resident, she has chosen to give back to the organization in each and every way she possibly can.

“I didn’t realize the scope of our mission at Ronald McDonald House until my daughter was in a car wreck and we had spent two nights in the waiting room,” said Sallie. “Finally someone said you can go over across the street and there’s a place for you.”

22 years ago, Sallie and her late husband Mark’s daughter endured a horrific, life-altering car accident. This car accident resulted in their daughter Kelly undergoing numerous emergency surgeries due to ruptured intestines from the impact, facial surgery from a cracked jaw and countless broken bones in her face and a severe spinal cord injury. Kelly was 16-years-old at the time.

All the while and for months after the accident, Sallie and Mark needed to process and plan their next steps of this life changing event that left their daughter with a long journey to recovery, all while discovering Kelly was now paralyzed from the waist down.

Throughout this entire process, Sallie and Mark never felt alone. However, having been given their own personal waiting room in Erlanger Hospital due to the volume of visitors, they became overwhelmed by the support.

“It was wonderful to have that support from family and friends, but also I had no time to process what was going on or figure out what we needed to do,” shared Sallie. “So, looking back, I always say when we came to RMHC it became our refuge.

For Sallie, the Ronald McDonald House was where she and her family could process and rest in the midst of something so horrible that their child was enduring. “It was a place Mark and I could get away from the crowd and we could even sleep a little,” said Sallie. “I will never forget the two weeks that you served me and I was in the worst state of my life I had no idea what I was doing half the time, but I didn’t have to because you all were just providing anything and everything.

With Kelly as the oldest of their three girls, Sallie and Mark needed RMHC not only to process and take care of one another, but they needed moments to feel like a family again.

“The girls would come after school and eat the RMHC meals with us and it would give us family time, said Sallie. “Food is necessary to nourish our bodies, but it is also a comfort and a place that people can gather to eat and reconnect.”

Throughout their two weeks at their home-away-from-home, they were able to witness not only how the organization helped them, but how RMHC helps other families going through the same experience.

“Where you see the most people in this house is about two in the morning in that big kitchen. You hadn’t eaten all day because you’re trying to process,” said Sallie. “Nobody is here that’s not going through something horrible and everybody was in the middle of the night trying to find something to eat. You’d be in your pajamas in the kitchen and you run into everybody raiding the refrigerator.”

During a time when they were at a loss at how each day would look let alone the next meal would be, RMHC created a space where Sallie and Mark could tuck each of those worries away and focus solely on Kelly’s recovery.

“I think everybody can relate to being fed and comforted in a difficult time in their lives,” said Sallie. “To this day, when I walk through that door my stomach flip flops. There is a smell in this house that brings all the memories back and that’s why I am so grateful for this house.

Now decades later, Sallie and her entire family understand the importance of Ronald McDonald House Charities and how it has shaped their lives.

During the House’s kitchen renovation in early 2022, Sallie and her family donated funds to create an ADA compliant portion of the RMHC kitchen, in honor of Mark and Kelly. Sallie continuously dedicates her time as a volunteer, board member and advocate for the continuation of keeping families close at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga.

“This place has my heart and I think it always will,” said Sallie.