Special Spaces St. Louis creates dream bedroom makeovers for children with cancer

By Charlotte Beard

Most would agree that people are most charitable during the holiday season. However, there are members of the community that make being charitable a year-round mission. GreatNonprofits, the leading platform for community-sourced stories about nonprofits, reported Special Spaces, a national nonprofit headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, as one of the top rated nonprofits in 2013 and it has had a presence in St. Louis since 2016 under the leadership of Co-Directors, Teresa Vannoy Hutton and Keelyn Schwegel.

Special Spaces St. Louis creates dream bedroom makeovers for dependent children ages two-through-19 with cancer who are within one year of treatment. The chapter has completed 50 makeovers. In cases where there is a question of the child’s stage of treatments, the organization works with parents. Hutton stated that initially the chapter was providing bedroom makeovers for children with any life-threatening illness. Starting in January 2020 their focus will solely be on children with cancer. She stated that 99 percent of the referrals they have received have been cancer patients.

The official Missouri chapter, currently referred to as the St. Louis chapter, has been functioning for nine years, originally under leadership in Troy, Missouri. Hutton, a St. Louis resident, started volunteering with the organization eight years ago and shares that she has been involved in every bedroom makeover since that time. Hutton and Keelyn Schwegel, who also started as a volunteer with Hutton, took over the chapter in October 2016 when the previous director had to give it up due to other commitments.

The Special Spaces St. Louis team also includes two designers, two contractors, one on-site bedroom assistant, and Hutton’s 18-year-old son, whom she shared has volunteered for every project since he was 13. 

“We are all volunteers – none of us are paid,” stated Hutton. “The money that we earn and the donations that we get stay with our (St. Louis) chapter. National is (available) to help us with any legal issues and advice but not financially.”

Often a challenge for nonprofits, Hutton reports that she is pleased the chapter has money in its savings account. In addition to funds from donors, Special Spaces conducts an annual fundraiser, Rolling for Rooms – a casino night. According to Hutton, the annual fundraiser is their largest source of income.

In the past, the chapter solely depended on corporate donations to determine the frequency of their bedroom makeovers. The fundraisers help Special Spaces to accomplish more.

“The Association of Legal Administrators (is) how we got started,” stated Hutton. “They sponsored a room. A company pays for the room and they bring volunteers on board to help us the day of the makeover.”

Hutton says this coming year they hope to increase attendance of Rolling for Rooms to 250. The event takes place yearly in April and is currently in the planning phase for April 4, 2020.

Special Spaces St. Louis, along with the other 12 chapters in the United States, focuses on two primary concerns when completing at-home bedroom makeovers to aid in the recovery of the children they serve – color and environment. The national nonprofit researched psychological studies on how certain colors affect the production of some hormones, which in turn affects various physiological processes. These changes are reported to have a direct correlation to a person’s thoughts, moods and behavior. Special Spaces believes in using the colors that make the benefactors of the bedrooms happy. For as their environment, the organization believes that when children return home from the hospital the one thing that can be changed is their bedroom. Because it is the primary place the child will spend their time before assimilating back into normal activities, the child can help create their “dream bedroom” or “special space” by sharing their imagination for what they envision.

Officially the chapter serves St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles, select areas of Washington, Franklin, Warren, Lincoln, Monroe (Illinois), and Saint Clair (Illinois). However, how far the nonprofit travels in Missouri for projects is done on a case by case basis. Hutton shared that they have travelled as far as Rolla. In the words of one of the chapter’s designers, “Cancer doesn’t have an address.”

Hutton stated that she works with child life specialists at Children’s Hospital and Cardinal Glennon who provide referrals to Special Spaces St. Louis. They also receive referrals via social media and other direct referrals, such as fellow parents of children with cancer. 

The application process for determining the qualifications for a bedroom makeover is available on the Special Spaces website. Parents can inquire about a makeover for their child at https://specialspaces.org/missouri-chapters. All requests are reviewed by the Child Sourcing Committee. The applications are subject to a family interview, a medical verification and volunteer/sponsorship availability. The approval process can take six to eight weeks. After Special Spaces St. Louis receives final approval from the headquarters in Tennessee, the designers visit the child and family for an interview to assess favorable colors, optional themes, get bedroom measurements, and other applicable needs. The next step is to shop for the makeover needs not limited to furniture, any wall décor, accessories and paint.

“Typically, we do floor to ceiling,” stated Hutton. “If the family wants new (bedroom) flooring, we’ll get them new flooring. If the family rents (their home) we (must) get the landlord’s approval to do the room.”

Hutton also shared that some projects have involved ceiling repairs. All bedroom projects and bedroom reveals are completed in one day after a date has been determined to complete the project. The Special Spaces team and outside volunteers typically arrive at the site at 8 a.m. Hutton stated that the earliest they have ever done a reveal was 5 p.m. On occasion the required work has delayed a reveal until 7 p.m.

“It makes for a great day, especially when companies come and work together all day and they are a team,” stated Hutton.  

When asked why she continues to champion the cause of Special Spaces, Hutton stated, “Once you go to a room it is sort of addicting just to see the smile on the child’s face and the smiles of the family.” 

For more information about Special Spaces St. Louis or to donate visit https://specialspaces.org/missouri-chapters. The chapter can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/specialspacesstl. To contact Teresa Vannoy Hutton directly, email Teresa@specialspaces.org.

CUTLINE: Submitted photo Special Spaces St. Louis client Harper Corley gets to see her bedroom makeover.