|Volunteers, donors create dream room for Delavan girl|
|Written by Dan Plutchak|
|Tuesday, 25 October 2011 12:52|
Lily Nunez is all smiles in the basement rec room of her family’s Delavan home. The basement makeover was accomplished through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with the help of many local volunteers and donors. Terry Mayer/staff photo.
(Read the full story in the e-edition HERE.)
DELAVAN — Your child has a critical illness. Days blur into each other as you visit the doctor, hospital or clinic for treatment. Each morning you awake, wondering if today will be better, only to be met with another setback. Friends and family try to help, but sometimes fear, loneliness and frustration are too much to bear while caring for your child.
One day someone suggests contacting the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization dedicated to granting wishes for children who are very sick. For Suzette and Antonio Nunez of Delavan, the suggestion seemed incredible. Their daughter, Lily, did not suffer from a terminal illness, but a severe chronic disease that struck at age 2.
What the Nunezes didn’t know was that a small army of volunteers and donors would soon be mobilized to grant a wish especially for their 10-year-old daughter.
“I would say that everybody that I talk with believes that we grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses,” said Jennifer Starin, a volunteer wish granter and Delavan Township resident. “We don’t use the T-word. In fact, the major percentage of the wishes I’ve granted, the children have gone on to live healthy lives.”
Like Santa’s Christmas list, the wishes vary from child to child. The most common request is a trip to Disney, said Starin, who has been granting wishes for almost 12 years.
Other requests are not so easy. Sometimes families are mired in other issues that complicate fulfilling the wish request. Starin also is leery of requests to meet celebrities.
“Kids have a real high expectation of celebrities,” Starin said, and celebrities don’t always meet those expectations.
But Lily didn’t want to meet anyone famous — not even Mickey Mouse. She just wanted a recreation room in her basement.
“I don’t like to go anywhere. I like to stay home,” Lily said while clutching her soft elephant toy.
A student at Turtle Creek Elementary School in Delavan, Lily likes reading, crafting, games and Nintendo, activities she could share with her two brothers and parents in a rec room.
Once Lily’s request was made, Starin and her assistant, Renee Weiss of Fontana, set to work. The basement held a lot of potential, thought Starin, but it was going to require a lot of planning and work.
“We tried to keep things a secret from Lily. She knew she was getting the rec room,” Starin said, but Lily didn’t know what the finished product would look like. They asked Lily what she liked to do, and based on her answers, tried to tailor the room to her favorite activities.
Starin contacted businesses, and started working in the Nunezes’ basement — painting and prepping for the incoming furniture and cabinets. Wish granters like Starin usually do most of the leg work contacting donors, but Starin said she received a little help from Chris Stebnitz, from Stebnitz Builders of Delavan.
In addition to providing free labor to the project, Stebnitz Builders secured the donation of $12,000 in custom cabinets from Geneva Cabinet Company of Lake Geneva and a refurbished computer from DP Electronic Recycling of Elkhorn. Many other donors also stepped up to help with Lily’s Room, as it’s now known.
“They (the Nunez family) had outgrown what they had,” Stebnitz said of the Nunez family’s basement. “If we are going to do this, why don’t we do it right?” he asked himself. “We could do more with more people. We reached out to some of our vendors.”
Once the cabinets were delivered, it took about a week to finish the room. They celebrated its completion last month with a pizza party.
Visitors to the room are greeted by an imposing elephant painted within a mural, and large African plush animals scattered throughout the room. Elephants are Lily’s favorite animals, thus the African grassland theme. Lily’s crafts and toys are hidden in the spacious cabinets. It’s a place in which she feels safe and comfortable.
“It gives them several areas to play and not be on top of each other,” said Stebnitz, a father of three boys.
A typical wish costs $9,000, said Starin; with $3,000 coming from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the rest coming from in-kind donations. Lily’s Room, however, exceeded that by about another $9,000. Make-A-Wish still contributed the $3,000, which meant the rest had to come from donors.
To answer requests from children like Lily, Make-A-Wish needs more wish granters, especially for the Rock County area, said Starin, who gets at least 12 requests per year. At times she could be trying to fulfill four wishes simultaneously. But volunteer wish granters can be as busy as they choose. They don’t have to take on all the cases.
Starin said Make-A-Wish appeals to her because the largest percentage of the donations goes back to the children.
She is constantly reminded how Make-A-Wish helps families ease the hardship of having a sick child.
“You don’t get to be a family,” Starin said of families who have a sick child. “(Make-A-Wish is) about bringing the family together. The family can completely enjoy it.”
For Lily and her family, that is exactly what they plan to do in Lily’s Room.