With an electric fireplace, day bed topped with fluffy pillows and cuddly blankets, a special reading space and her very own mini fridge, local cancer warrior Elsa Wiemerslage has the bedroom she’s always dreamed of thanks to an area nonprofit.
Through epic bedroom transformations, Special Spaces St. Louis ensures children ages 2-19 who are actively batting or are in recent remission from cancer have a space that’s all their own. All that goes into a renovation – including new flooring, paint, furniture, decorations and more – is all set up in just one day.
“The idea behind Special Spaces (is to create) a place for peace, hope and comfort because these kids are so sick and in and out of the hospital all of the time,” Special Spaces St. Louis co-director Keelyn Schwegel said. “This is supposed to be their safe place that they can come and just be a kid again.”
And with one look at Wiemerslage’s new room, it’s safe to say Special Spaces far surpassed this goal even though they had only met the 11-year-old once before. After Wiemerslage’s application was approved by Special Spaces National, the crew interviewed Wiemerslage about her dream room.
“We meet with them really one time to do all of the measurements and everything and interview the child. We find out their ideas but we don’t agree to anything or give them any ideas,” Schwegel said. “She told us she liked pastels, she wanted a refrigerator and somewhere comfy cozy. She did tell us she was cold all of the time.”
From that conversation, Special Spaces decided on a pastel pink, robin’s egg blue, dandelion yellow and gold color scheme. Everything in the room, from the closet hangers to the inspirational artwork reflected this. Even her mini fridge is robin’s egg blue.
Knowing Wiemerslage is often cold, the group included an electric fireplace in with the surprise.
Yet, Wiemerslage is most excited about her new double-sized day bed and reading nook, which has a soft chair, pillows and a canopy above it. She said she is looking forward to reading her favorite books, “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” series, in her new space.
All of this would not have been possible without the room’s sponsor The Dinner STL, a men’s entrepreneurship group. Matt Shucart, a board member for The Dinner STL, explained each year the group chooses a charity to focus on, and after Special Spaces did his niece’s room and another member said he had previously volunteered with Special Spaces, the decision was a no-brainer.
“Special Spaces is national in nature, however, the St. Louis Chapter is responsible for raising all of their own money and we do that through room sponsorships, fundraising and personal donations,” Special Spaces St. Louis co-director Teresa Hutton explained, stressing sponsors foot the cost of the entire renovation.
Schwegel said the cost of Special Spaces rooms on average total $4,000, but this was not the only thing The Dinner helped with. Over a dozen came out to help with the transformation, leading the entire transformation to last less than nine hours.
“We’ll have a sponsor but we normally don’t get this many volunteers. It’s usually the core group of us and our core group of contractors, so there are usually two guys here with drills and you can only get so much done,” Schwegel said. “We were really fortunate (with Wiemerlage’s room) because all of these (sponsor volunteers) were super handy and were hanging things. It just went really smoothly.”
Some members of The Dinner STL, including Shucart, made it a point to stay for the big reveal, which both directors agree is the best part.
“What we’re missing right now (is) the smiles and the tears because of the masks,” Hutton said.
Schwegel said even though the children’s faces may be par tially coveredand their reactions hidden, Special Spaces can still witness the excitement.
“(The most rewarding thing) is definitely when they come in and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!’ a hundred times as they start to see things throughout the room, because it’s such a surprise to them. They have no clue what’s going to happen and I think it’s always just really fun when we hear the (gasps),” Schwegel said.
Volunteers also were able to participate in a tradition unique to the STL chapter: the “inspiration box.”
“There’s always a box in the room that goes with the theme of the room, and the day of (the renovation) we have volunteers write inspirational quotes,” Schwegel explained. “The idea is if they’re in their room and they’re having a tough day or maybe they’re sick from their chemo and they’re just feeling down, they can go to that box for a little hope and inspiration.”
When asked what she wanted to say to Special Spaces and The Dinner STL, Wiemerslage answered without hesitation:
“Thank you so much,” she said.
To learn more about Special Spaces St. Louis, connect with them on Facebook or learn about the national organization at specialspaces.org.