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Positive Room Makeovers

An interior designer brings happiness to children with special needs.

By John Kaiser, Wilmington, North Carolina

As appeared in

I am a huge fan of the TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Partly because I’m a commercial interior designer.

The show, which provides remarkable free home renovations to families in need, tugs at my heart. Four years ago an episode did more than that. It gave me extreme inspiration. It featured a boy who used a wheelchair. His house, once a minefield of obstacles, was made safe and accessible, and his room was transformed into a fantasy land. “For me?” he squealed. My wife, Susan, and I got choked up. I wish this show had been around for Lauren and John, I thought.

Lauren and John, the children of two sets of our friends, were adults now. But as kids, Lauren battled kidney failure and John suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. They spent months stuck in their rooms, recovering. Rooms that felt like hospital wards.

I pictured a team of people from right here in town making over rooms for children like them, helping them feel less like patients and more like, well, kids! And we could redo their siblings’ rooms so they wouldn’t feel left out.

I didn’t tell anyone about my idea. I mean, it was pretty far-fetched. Sure, I’m an interior designer, but it’s not like I have the resources of a hit TV show — or its budget! Still, that night I prayed, Lord, show me what I need to do.

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A few months later Susan and I went to our church study group. “I have an idea that I’ve prayed about and I need your help,” I blurted out. What are you doing? I thought. You haven’t even told Susan yet. Before I knew it I’d told them the idea. I looked over at Susan and she smiled.

I called Lauren’s and John’s parents. They were delighted to advise us. I told everyone I knew about the idea. A few said they’d volunteer, but not enough to get things off the ground. One morning I said another prayer, Lord, thank you for clearing the way, but we’re going to need more help. Almost immediately my phone rang off the hook, as if everyone decided to help all at once: interior designers, architects, and social workers and pediatricians who would help us find the children most in need. In February 2008 we became a registered nonprofit called Welcome Home Angel, Inc. Of the 12 members of our church group, four joined the board of directors and the rest volunteered their help.

Since then we’ve redone 10 rooms for local kids. Kids like Gage, an 11-year-old with muscular dystrophy who loves motorcycles. “Holy Moly!” he shouted when he saw his Harley-Davidson-themed room.

His hospital bed had Harley logo sheets. Flames streaked across the walls. His bathroom had a wide space under the sink to fit his wheelchair, and grab bars so he could lower himself into a shower seat. On his nightstand stood a framed photo — Gage in the sidecar of a Harley taken during a ride we’d set up with a motorcycle club, the Carolina Coast Hogs. And for Gage’s younger brother, Drake, we made a football-themed room.

Gage spun his wheelchair around and grinned. “It’s awesome!” he said. I choked up again.

Even more awesome than on TV.

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