Eleanor Brooks, 7, shows off her dream bedroom makeover courtesy of HBAR. (Photo by Jay Paul)
Eleanor Brooks, 7, always looks forward to returning home from the hospital where she has been receiving regular treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This November, her homecoming was made especially sweet thanks to a bedroom makeover orchestrated by the Home Builders Association of Richmond (HBAR).
“The painters came when I was in the hospital,” Eleanor explained while showing off her new bedroom with its pink-and-white floral print carpet and raspberry-pink walls. “When I came back I said, ‘Oh my God, I love it!' I screamed!”
HBAR partnered with ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation about a year and a half ago to develop the “Welcome Home” program to make homes safe and accessible for local childhood cancer patients. In addition to doing everything from fixing a mold problem, making general home repairs and supplying a new bed to a patient who was sleeping on the floor, HBAR also plans to do a complete dream bedroom makeover once a year.
Eleanor, who was first diagnosed with ALL at age 2 ½ and is currently experiencing a relapse, was the lucky recipient of their first bedroom makeover. “It was nice to have something happy to look forward to for a change,” says Eleanor’s mom Aronne Brooks. “[Eleanor] actually cried yesterday because I got to see [the room] and she hadn’t yet because she was still in the hospital.”
Amy Godkin, executive director of ASK, says Eleanor was recommended for a room makeover by the clinic staff at the ASK Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. “They decided Eleanor could use a pick-me-up after going back into treatment,” Godkin says. (Leukemia treatment can take two or more years and Eleanor has been battling cancer for much of her young life.) Judging from the smile on Eleanor’s face as she showed off her new room, it was just what the doctor ordered.
Tim Parent, immediate past president of HBAR, says the partnership with ASK came about because the organization wanted to get more involved in helping the community. An HBAR member was already involved with ASK, and once Parent and others learned more about how the 40-year-old nonprofit serves kids with cancer and their families, they realized they could help.
“A lot of families are doing well until they find out their kid has cancer,” Parent says. “They are spending a lot of time in the hospital and often go from a dual to a single income. The bills start stacking up. There may be repairs that need to be made, but the parents are concentrating on the hospital visits and child instead of keeping up with home repairs.”
Godkin says that up to half of the families ASK serves report severe financial hardship as a result of their child’s cancer treatment. “Statistically, we know that 30 to 50 percent of our families will have to declare bankruptcy,” she says. Once ASK and its clinic staff identifies a family who could use help with their house, they notify HBAR, which in turn puts the word out to its membership.
“As soon as an email is sent out to the association we have more than enough of what we need for each project every time,” Parent says. “Just about any time Amy has sent an email we’ve been able to help. … The gratitude from the ASK Foundation and seeing smiles from the kids has been unbelievable.”
In addition to providing its services to ASK families, HBAR also has raised about $25,000 for the organization, including $13,000 at 2015’s Homearama.
Interior designer Helen Reed, an ASK board member, took the lead on Eleanor’s dream bedroom makeover. Costen Floors donated the labor to install the new carpet tiles and Virginia Restoration Services painted the room. The Closet Factory provided a new built-in desk and storage units and closet storage.
Reed says she got involved with ASK specifically so that she could help with the room makeovers. “I knew I could make some of the dreams for these kids a reality,” she says.
Working with Eleanor, Reed says she interviewed her just as she could any other design client, asking about her favorite colors and themes, and even consulting a Pinterest board Eleanor and her mother had worked on while Eleanor was receiving treatment at the clinic.
“She told me that she liked flowers and that pink was her favorite color and she asked me if she could keep her unicorns,” Reed says. “She is the typical little girl who loves all the things little girls love.”
Eleanor chose the wall colors — Sherwin Williams “Angelic” and “Dynamo” — and requested that the ceiling be painted light blue to look like the sky. New bedding from Bed Bath & Beyond was added to Eleanor’s Cinderella carriage bed, a gift she received from her grandparents after completing treatment the first time she had leukemia.
“It was so much fun,” Reed says of the makeover. “It was a project filled with a lot of love from a lot of people. That’s what fueled it. … It is hard to put in words how grateful I am to have been a part of it. [Gratitude] seems like such a small word for how big the actual feeling is.”