Home Work Biz Scoop Imagination beyond walls: Mesa organization designs custom bedrooms for ill children

Imagination beyond walls: Mesa organization designs custom bedrooms for ill children

Charity Manegold, 6, in her “Finding Nemo”-themed bedroom made possible by Mesa-based Room for Joy. (Ted Wendel/MyNewsMesa.com)

There they go again, but let them be. Let them laugh, play, rest and find cheer in a space they call their own. Here, a child can let their imagination run away with them in their creative bedroom that lets them simply be a child.

From left: Tory Smock, founder and CEO of Room for Joy of Mesa, and Janet Manegold at the Manegold home in Tempe. (Ted Wendel/MyNewsMesa.com)

Room for Joy, a non-profit organization based in Mesa has been imagining, creating and delivering unique bedroom designs for chronically ill children since 2005.

CEO and founder Tory Smock began Room for Joy as a way to combine her love of design and create rooms to give children a fun-filled and positive environment of their own.

Tempe resident Janet Manegold was nominated to have a room designed for her 6-year-old daughter Charity in fall 2016. The room theme? A few iconic under the sea Disney films featuring a clownfish and his lovable blue-colored friend.

Manegold said Charity was a patient in summer 2016 at Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH). They had heard about Room for Joy and a child care specialist wanted to see if she was OK with PCH nominating Charity to possibly have her bedroom designed— Manegold said yes.

Charity Manegold, 6, in her “Finding Nemo”-themed bedroom made possible by Mesa-based Room for Joy. (Ted Wendel/MyNewsMesa.com)

The nomination process begins at hospitals Room for Joy partners with, where a child life specialist has a list of criteria for families who are eligible to have a room designed. The criteria are the family has to own their own home and the family has to be willing to be out of the home the weekend during the room construction. After the patients are nominated by the child life specialists, they vote to determine which child will have a room designed for them.

Once Smock has sponsorship for the room, she contacts the hospital on the waiting list and receives the name of the nominated child and calls the family to inform them they have been selected.

“It was just really special to feel that someone wants to do something like that for your family,” said Manegold of her reaction when she received Smock’s phone call.

After the family accepts the nomination, Smock makes an appointment to meet with the child and family to get to know them. They do this by talking with the child about what they like to do, their favorite movies, what they like to play with, etc., to begin drafting ideas for the room theme.

“They give us the suggestions and ideas and we don’t tell them what we’re going to do, but by the time we leave that interview, I know pretty much what I’m going to do,” Smock said.

Once she has the initial idea figured out, Smock has a design meeting with her carpenters and artists to brainstorm. From there, they look for inspiration and begin the lengthy process of bringing the child’s room to reality.

Smock said Charity’s favorite ride at Disneyland was “Finding Nemo,” and she kept bringing up under the sea when asked about her favorite things, the result? Her “Finding Nemo”-themed room.

In the initial interview, Smock asks the family if there are items that need to stay in the room or if there are things they don’t want. She said if she’s going to do something kind of over the top, she will call the family to ensure it’s OK.

For example, Smock said she called the Manegolds about changing the floor in Charity’s room—which is now decorated blue with coral and fish resembling an ocean reef.

Room for Joy also ensures the medical equipment needed remains in the room and is incorporated into the design so it becomes a part of the room and is accessible to the family and child when needed.

Manegold said Smock had spoken to them about a light in Charity’s room that allows Manegold to administer IV meds at night for Charity more easily than before since Manegold said she used to have to use her flashlight on her phone.

“So, little touches like that, they consider the child and the needs they have and how they can incorporate everything,” Manegold said. “It was something that was really touching to us that that much thought went into it and made our life a little bit easier in the end.”

From inception to completion, designing a bedroom takes about six to eight weeks, Smock said. The construction of the room is completed in one weekend—the team comes to the home on Friday morning, they send the family off for a staycation and the family returns on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. for the reveal of the room. Food is catered in and the volunteers and sponsors are invited as well as any friends and additional family of the child around 3:30 p.m. A photographer captures the child and family’s reaction to the room and occasionally a videographer is invited.

Room for Joy has evolved since designing their first room in December 2005. Smock said they learn with each room and through the years, she said the reveal of the room is the most rewarding part of Room for Joy.

“That’s our motivation, is to make a difference in the life of a child who’s chronically ill and has to deal with so much. Even if it’s a small thing to make things a little better, that’s reward enough,” Smock said. “We all feel that way on our team, when they come home for that reveal and to see the look on that child’s face when they walk in that room for the first time, that’s it. That’s the reward.”

Since her room has been transformed, Manegold said Charity’s new space has brought the whole family more fun. Manegold said the room has helped Charity be more imaginative and is something she looks forward to when they return home.

“Because we go in that room on a daily basis, we always think about it, we know where that room came from, and it’s very special,” Manegold said. “Seeing the amount of joy it has brought Charity and seeing her more interested in doing a little bit more playing by herself and imagination. All those things for a mom, especially a mom of a medically complex kiddo, is so awesome to see, so it brings her joy, it brings us joy.”

Smock said she hopes to be able to design more rooms for kids in the future to give them the chance to have a custom bedroom and a place of their own.

To learn more about Room for Joy, to donate or volunteer, visit: RoomforJoy.org.

– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.

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