Fighting leukemia is an endurance test no one wants any child to endure. A group of amazing Wilton teens have found a way to help provide an incredible emotional boost through a program called Art from the Heart, doing room makeovers to give some local children fighting cancer the bedroom of their dreams.
Last week they did just that for Anna Getner, a 10-year-old Wilton girl who is in the middle of her own fight against leukemia. A few dozen Wilton High School students took over her room for the weekend to transform it into the room she has always wanted.
Art from the Heart is part of the Wilton-based Circle of Care, a non-profit organization that offers support to families with children facing a cancer battle. The Art from the Heart program is based on the premise that a total room makeover will give children undergoing lengthy hospital treatments, which can last several weeks, something to look forward to during that time. The 35 or so Wilton High School students who are part the makeover teams work with volunteer designers to put the makeover together.
They typically take on one or two projects a year. While they’ve done room makeovers around Fairfield County and even further out in Litchfield County, but Anna’s project was the very first one the team has ever worked on in Wilton.
Debbie Lafond is one of the Art from the Heart parent advisors, as her daughter, Megan, was a project leader on Anna’s room makeover, along with Torie Baggio and Grace Kelleher. Lafond said the teens met with Anna a few weeks ago to talk about what she wanted for her room, and then planned out what they’d do.
“Her wish was to have a ‘big-girl bedroom.’ She wanted a bigger bed. We spent a large proportion of our budget on furniture for her–a new bed, dresser and bedside table,” Lafond explains.
As soon as school dismissed Friday, Jan. 30, the teens headed over to Anna’s house. Over the course of about 30 hours through the weekend, about two dozen teens painted, built, cleaned, organized, compiled, and redecorated. They brought in new bedding and area rugs, and repainted the walls and a bookshelf. In addition, the teens made some amazing, unique art pieces. One of those pieces was a large “A” that they recovered to match the decor and it became the centerpiece of the room. They also completely reorganized Anna’s closet and storage.
“She has a million art supplies and games, and we reorganized everything. All those buckets, the girls labeled everything with a label maker, it came out amazing,” says Lafond.
Another Wilton parent, Sarah Quantock, is an artist who volunteers with Art from the Heart. She also works at Cider Mill, where Anna is a 5th grader, and came up with a really unique way to incorporate Anna’s school friends in the room’s decor.
“She worked with Anna’s teacher to get a bunch of [paper] hearts made with messages from Anna’s classmates, and that’s hung in a big frame on the wall,” Lafond says. “I don’t know how they did that but it was a big surprise.”
To pay for all the supplies–even the furniture and bedding–the teen volunteers had to raise the money themselves. They do so through bake sales, and then Circle of Care matches whatever is raised by the teens.
They revealed the room to Anna at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. She was blown away.
“I was speechless! I had bunk beds, a rainbow on the wall, and before it was a mess, and now it’s not.” She also said that it was so special that the teens did this for her. “It’s more big kid and it’s cool!”
John Schiaroli, Anna’s stepdad, says, “She loves the room, she doesn’t want to leave it.”
The impact is huge for everyone, and Schiaroli and Anna’s mother, Heather, know how fortunate they are to have that support. “We thought it was amazing that there was an organization here in town, let alone anywhere, that did that,” he says.
They also are bowled over by the generosity that comes from teenagers, especially given the time commitment involved in not only the planning ahead of time but the hours it takes over a weekend. The students give of their time sandwiched in between SATs, The Counties and Red-and-White dances, midterms and other activities.
“There’s no two ways about it, these are special kids to want to do this. They were all happy, they were having fun. It takes a special kind of person–you’re in high school and you devote a whole weekend to do this for someone you don’t really even know. They’re definitely special kids,” Schiaroli says.
As the mother of one of the Art from the Heart teens, Lafond says she’s always so moved and impressed by how dedicated the teenagers are.
“They get so into it. If I had asked my daughter to stay in all Friday evening and paint her room, …” Lafond laughs and trails off, knowing how next-to-impossible that ask would be. “For the room makeovers, they are detail-oriented, they make sure everything is taped correctly, they were helping each other, they become transformed into young adults. They do it because it’s not for themselves, they do it because it’s for somebody else. The closer you get to Sunday, the more excited they get for Anna to see it.”
And judging by Anna’s reaction, it was clear Art from the Heart really does come from the heart.
“The look of joy on her face when she saw the room, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, let alone in the past year-plus that she’s had. It was pure joy, she couldn’t believe it,” Schiaroli adds.
To find out more about Art from the Heart and Circle of Care, visit the Circle of Care website. To donate, click here.