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Decorations to dream by: Group surrounds ailing children with creativity


Original URL: http://www.freep.com/news/locoak/dream10_20030110.htm
by Dan Shine, Detroit Free Press, January 10, 2003

While adults all around her cried, Clare Walsh smiled and cooed as she lay in her new crib, staring at the lights and toy hummingbirds dangling above her.

Since her chance encounter with a hummingbird in northern Michigan a couple of summers ago, the tiny bird that symbolizes the joy of the moment also has come to represent the many blessings the tiny, terminally ill 3-year-old has given family and friends.

It was only fitting, then, that when the Rochester-based Suite Dreams organization, which redecorates the bedrooms of sick children all around Michigan, came to make over Clare's room, hummingbirds was the chosen theme.

After having to leave their Grosse Pointe house for two nights while the decorators worked, Clare, parents Katy and Chris and big sister Molly got to see the finished product Wednesday evening.

"Oh my gosh, look at this, Peanut," Katy Walsh said through tears as she walked into the room cradling her daughter, nicknamed Peanut. "This is unbelievable. You guys are so nice."

In addition to the new crib, decorating sisters JoAnne Pintar and Julie Brewster -- who also own Home, a Royal Oak store -- provided a new indigo armoire with TV/VCR, white dresser, rocking chair, curtains, rug and matching beanbag chairs for Molly and Clare. The walls were repainted a pale yellow and an artist added hummingbirds and ivy on the walls.

And just so Molly didn't feel left out, butterfly stenciling was added to her bedroom walls and she was given new gowns and slippers for when she plays dress-up.

Pintar, Brewster and Suite Dreams cofounders Kris Appleby and Kay Ponicall also went a step further and put a few decorating touches on the Walshes' kitchen, den and family and living rooms.

"We were just so impressed with Katy and her love of Clare," Appleby said. "She was an inspiration to us."

So as Pintar and Brewster put the finishing touches on Clare's room, Appleby, Ponicall and a few volunteers hung a new clock, mirrors, family room curtains, wreath and newly reframed family pictures; sewed curtains for the kitchen window; plugged in new table lamps; arranged baskets and other trinkets on a kitchen shelf; lighted candles, and vacuumed.

Ponicall came up with the idea for Suite Dreams about two years ago after her artist brother painted murals for her two children's bedrooms.

"It was such a magical space, I felt I could be doing this elsewhere as well," Ponicall said.

She shared her idea with Appleby, who had been looking for a worthwhile cause to fund from her husband's foundation, and the two friends decided to start the project. In two years, Suite Dreams has redone more than 50 bedrooms.

The project works with Beaumont, Children's and C.S. Mott hospitals to find children. Those whose bedrooms are redone must have been a patient at one of the hospitals and get a doctor's recommendation. Social workers at the three hospitals select the children.

Suite Dreams works with area decorators who volunteer their time and local stores that either donate goods or offer them at a discount to the project. A fund-raising luncheon for the project is held annually, and the Michigan Design Center Designer Show House helps Suite Dreams as well.

Michele Blondin, Katy Walsh's sister, heard about Suite Dreams and nominated Clare last spring. Clare has a rare, severe form of dwarfism found in only about 60 people worldwide.

When the Walshes brought Clare home from the hospital, doctors said they didn't expect her to live three months. If she lives to age 5, she will be considered a long-term survivor of the genetic disorder, her mother said.

After notifying the Walshes at Thanksgiving that Clare was selected, the decorators, Appleby and Ponicall visited the family's home to look at the room and talk about themes. The Walshes told about a hummingbird landing on Clare's chest and nestling in her blanket while she slept in her stroller. Hummingbird experts told the Walshes that the bird's behavior was uncharacteristic.

"I thought they'd paint some hummingbird mural and that'd be it," Walsh said. "But then they said they were going to do something for Molly's room and said they were going to poke around the house a bit. Still, I just thought they'd paint a few hummingbirds up the stairway wall.

"I am overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity."

As the Walshes and relatives toured the house in amazement, teary-eyed sisters Pintar and Brewster hugged and Appleby and Ponicall high-fived each other.

"You ask why we do this, and there's your answer," Ponicall said, motioning to the Walshes in Clare's new room. "That makes it all worthwhile."

For more information, go to www.suitedreamsproject.org.

Contact DAN SHINE at 313-223-4554.




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