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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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Contact DAN SHINE at 313-223-4554.