LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Fashion and home makeovers have become a staple of reality TV, but they can also happen away from the cameras. In New York City, a group of volunteers has been redesigning the bedrooms of disabled young people.
Jon Kalish reports on the Blissful Bedrooms project.
KALISH: Almost all of the kids who get bedroom makeovers are in wheelchairs, and Blissful Bedrooms works hard to make the rooms more functional. But the project also celebrates the personalities and passions of these kids with creative interior decor and bright colors. The group has no office, no paid staff, no overhead. It consists of a bunch of volunteers who mostly got involved after stumbling upon a rather lengthy ad on Craigslist.
MS. CORY MAHLER: It wasn't just a one line or needing something. It was very much a plea to help with a cause.
KALISH: Cory Mahler designs bedding for kids' rooms at her job, and she likes being able to use her professional skills to help disabled teens. She sewed a bunch of Yankee T-shirts into a bedspread for a bedroom that was done with a New York Yankees theme. That bedroom, it turns out, is currently occupied by a disabled teenager named Jesus and, at times, his grandfather, who is a Mets fan.
(Soundbite of sewing machine)
KALISH: Last week, Mahler sewed a red satin pillow shaped like a pair of lips for a bedroom with a Times Square showbiz theme.
Ms. MAHLER: We try to make sure that each room is not just a purchased something. So we'll design, you know, what it should be, and I'll make something special for what they like.
KALISH: Previous bedrooms have been done with Hello Kitty and Hannah Montana themes. All one boy wanted was yellow sunshine.
But 20-year-old Keosha Stukes, who has a cerebral palsy, is into fashion and showbiz, so she's getting a Times Square theme. When I asked how she felt about her bedroom being redone, Keosha Stukes responded:
Ms. KEOSHA STUKES: Awesome. Awesome.
(Soundbite of hammering)
KALISH: Last weekend, the Blissful Bedrooms makeover crew descended on the Bronx public housing project where Keosha Stukes lives. Sometimes, as many as 20 people were jammed into her small bedroom. They painted; put down a laminate floor; and covered a wall with a gigantic photo of Times Square, and applied glitter and images of Keosha to it. They hung red-velvet stage curtains over a window with a view of the Manhattan skyline, and put Playbill covers across the wall above it.
Keosha's mom, Roxanne Williams, wasn't expecting so many people for this urban barn-raising.
Ms. ROXANNE WILLIAMS: Whatever they doing is fine with me. Make a mess, whatever - I'll clean it up.
(Soundbite of drilling)
KALISH: The Blissful Bedrooms volunteers not only swarmed all over the apartment, but also took over a good deal of the hallway outside - where sawdust covered the floor; a woman sat sewing; window blinds were cut with a jigsaw; and an electrical engineer was hard at work attaching a pointer to a cap that would enable Keosha to use an iPad with just her head.
Dave Goldstein, one of the original members of the group, sat on the floor, struggling with furniture assembly instructions.
Mr. DAVE GOLDSTEIN: Definitely got some animosity for Ikea at the moment.
KALISH: The makeover's project manager is Adam Seim, who used to work as a professional carpenter. His efforts this weekend were focused on making the bedroom functional for Keosha Stukes, who has limited use of her arms and legs. Seim attached an iPad holder to the arm of Keosha's wheelchair. He also built a dressing room vanity into the wall so that she can sit in her wheelchair in front of it.
Mr. ADAM SEIM (Project Manager): I grew up working in a shop, in a huge wood shop with big machines and dust-collection systems. And now, I'm just working on the ground in a small, little space. You have to consolidate your tools and just work with the bare minimum of tools. I've learned a lot as a carpenter because of this.
(Soundbite of people talking)
KALISH: In the middle of all this was a party attended by Keosha Stukes' friends from school. Some of them had already had their own bedroom makeovers. Keosha Stukes looked like a star. She was made up by a makeup artist, and was wearing a gold-sequined dress and jewelry.
Blissful Bedrooms founder Martha Gold-Dvoryadkin says these makeovers have a profound impact on the kids.
Ms. MARTHA GOLD-DVORYADKIN (Founder, Blissful Bedrooms): They don't get to have these moments, these big milestones. This is very intense, the fact that so many people cared about them, and made them the focus of attention for an entire weekend. I mean, that whole experience is incredible for them.
CROWD: (Chanting) Keosha, Keosha, Keosha.
KALISH: The big moment finally arrived at about 9 o'clock Sunday night, when Keosha's mom wheeled her into the renovated bedroom.
Unidentified Woman: Oh my God, look at this. Look at this.
KALISH: I asked Keosha Stukes what she liked best about her new room.
Ms. KEOSHA STUKES: The Wii.
KALISH: You got a Wii.
Ms. STUKES: And the iPad.
KALISH: You got an iPad. And your name is up in lights.
Ms. STUKES: It is?
KALISH: Yeah, your name is right here.
Ms. STUKES: Oh, my God.
KALISH: The volunteers, too, are exhilarated. They say all the stress and exhaustion seem to evaporate when the kids see their new rooms. Still, most of the volunteers have jobs to get to Monday morning. Adam Seim wheeled a large case of his tools out the door at 10 p.m.
Mr. SEIM: I got my tools packed up. I'm going to go home and go to sleep. Actually, I have to be to work at 5 in the morning.
KALISH: The Blissful Bedrooms gang will start its next makeover in about two months.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.
HANSEN: You can see before-and-after pictures of Keosha's room and other Blissful Bedroom projects at our website, NPR.org.
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