|Cindy Itzep and her mother Glendi Sajqui get a first look at their new bedroom, which received a complete makeover from Pope John Paul II High School seniors as part of their senior service project. The students raised the money and did all the work to give Itzep, who has leukemia, a dream bedroom makeover.|
Glendi Sajqui and her daughter Cindy Itzep stepped into their newly decorated bedroom and could only cry.
“It’s beautiful,” said Cindy, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Wright Middle School in Nashville who has been diagnosed with nymphoblastic leukemia. “It’s better than before.”
A group of seniors from Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, working with the Special Spaces organization, had redecorated the bedroom for the mother and daughter as part of their senior service project.
“The experience was awesome,” said JPII senior Christina Yi, who lent her artistic talent to help decorate Cindy’s bedroom. “It’s awesome to know you can help others by doing something you love.”
Each year, the JPII seniors take on a service project, explained Jackie Beals, the former foreign languages department chair and senior service project coordinator who oversaw the work on Cindy’s bedroom before she moved out of state in December.
This year, senior Grace Wood suggested working with Special Spaces after helping her great-aunt, Anne Strunk, who is a coordinator for Special Spaces in Chattanooga.
Special Spaces is a non-profit organization that creates dream bedrooms for children with life-threatening illnesses. “Our premise is these children spend an enormous amount of time in their bedrooms” and they need a space of peace and comfort, said Strunk, who helped the group from JPII organize their project.
The JPII students asked Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital to refer a patient that they could help, Beals said. Cindy had first been diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. It had gone into remission, but returned last year, Beals said.
“We decided to go with the teenager,” she said, close in age to the JPII students.
The first step is the interview to find out what the child wants in their dream bedroom, Strunk said. “We’ve done Frozen. We’ve done a Dungeon and Dragons. We’ve done several Disney characters,” she said. Not all the children want a themed room, “some just want the cool teenager’s room,” Strunk said.
“We make that dream happen,” she said. “We give them a space that’s all their own and they can feel comfortable there.”
During the interview, Cindy, who had just gone through a tough session of chemotherapy, told Beals and Strunk she liked violets, pinks and purples and Hello Kitty. She and her mother also said they needed two beds and would like a desk, chair, a dresser and and a mirror.
The challenge was how to fit everything in the 11-foot-by13-foot bedroom mother and daughter shared, Beals said.
“I love to do redo old homes,” Beals said. “Together we started brainstorming. … We repurposed the room.”
The group decided to replace the bunk beds Cindy and her mother were using with an L-shaped platform bed, Beals said.
Mary Nell Veazey, the mother of senior Anna Veazey, found a desk online that the students sanded and repainted. “It turned out as an amazing find for $100 on craigslist List,” Beals said.
“There was no way a desk was going to fit in that room,” said Beals. She found a solution online with a desk that hangs on the wall. You fold it down when you need to use it and fold it back up when you are done, she explained.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, Sajqui and her daughter spent the day visiting friends while a group of about 20 JPII students and adults went to work remaking the bedroom, top to bottom.
|Pope John Paul II seniors, including Cathleen Humm and Alyssa Wyman, above, participated in a service project to make over the bedroom of a 13-year-old girl with leukemia. The seniors raised the money and donated their time and artistic talents to complete the project.|
Beals turned the responsibility for painting and decorating the room to some of JPII’s art students, including Yi, a parishioner at the Church of the Korean Martyrs in Donelson.
“We had agreed on doing a paisley design,” said Yi, which matched the blankets and comforters the group had purchased for the room. The students used a stencil to paint the paisley outlines and then painted by hand the designs inside, “so each one was different.”
Special Spaces requires that a licensed contractor be on hand during the project to oversee any construction work. John and Jeff Cook, employees of Botsko Builders, owned by Mark and Jennifer Botsko, parishioners at Our Lady of the Lake Church and the parents of a JPII senior served as coordinators for the project.
“The kids did the bulk of the work but (the Cooks) were great at mentoring and doing some of the more complicated work,” Beals said.
The project cost about $2,500 and the JPII students raised enough money to do two more bedrooms. They are planning to do them this spring, Beals said.
When Sajqui and Cindy returned to their apartment and got their first look at their new bedroom, they were speechless, Sajqui said. “It’s beautiful. We love the room.”
“Cindy immediately went to Anne and gave her a big hug and then came to me and gave me a big hug,” Beals said. “It was precious.”
Cindy “was super happy,” Yi said. “Everybody was tearing up and smiling. Her mom was really emotional.”
“The mother said, ‘We’ve never had a room like this before,’” Strunk said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. … You definitely could feel God’s touch there.”
“It made me feel very good about how I was able to use my artistic abilities to help someone else and help her face her illness in a comfortable space,” Yi added.
“My favorite part was spending my last few weeks with students who want to make a difference and give back,” Beals said. “It was a humbling experience. …
“Not once did the kids say, ‘Man this was hard work.’ Not once did they complain,” Beals said. “I think they represented our school extremely well,” she said of the students who worked on the project.
“It was the epitome of what service and giving back was really about,” Beals said.