The UT chapter of Special Spaces is changing the lives of sick children, one room at a time.
The student organization transforms the bedrooms of children with life-challenging illnesses into spaces for dreaming, playing, and healing—and it’s just what the doctor ordered.
“We call ourselves the ‘happy people’ because regardless of what the family is going through, we get to see them smiling, happy, and excited,” says Kelly Bekele, director of Special Spaces UT and a senior in accounting. “For a few moments, we’ve taken their minds off of their battle.”
The new rooms come at no cost to families. Supplies are funded by contributions of individuals, corporations, foundations, and grants. Volunteers give of their time and elbow grease to undertake the renovations.
The national organization began transforming bedrooms in 2004 and has expanded to more than thirty-five chapters around the country. In February, UT became the first university to establish a chapter. Members of Special Spaces UT hope to set an example for other universities, ensuring that a chapter will exist wherever a child may need it.
“A child should have their own special place to go and find peace of mind while going through a serious illness,” Bekele says. “I want to make Special Spaces a national student organization and spread it to other colleges and universities.”
During its short time as a student organization, Special Spaces UT has managed to touch the lives of a few local families in ways both big and small.
“One applicant was very adamant about having a ‘big girl’ bed,” Bekele says. “The day after the room makeover, I was talking to the child’s mom. She told me her daughter usually wakes up in the middle of the night and ends up getting in bed with her and her husband. The day after the room makeover, her daughter spent the whole night in her ‘big girl’ bed.”
“It made me smile to know that she was enjoying her room and that her parents were getting a full night of rest,” she says.
The applicants and their families aren’t the only ones whose lives change; the volunteers also learn a great deal from the experience. For Bekele, Special Spaces UT has taught her to cherish every moment.
“Appreciate the people you love,” she says. “You never know what tomorrow may hold.”
For more information about the national organization, visit specialspaces.org. Family, friends, or medical staff can nominate a child for a room makeover by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about the UT chapter of Special Spaces can be found at facebook.com/SpecialSpacesUTK.