There’s a new nonprofit organization at work in the region, fulfilling dreams and creating “special spaces” for kids with life-threatening illnesses.
Special Spaces Tri-Cities, a chapter of the national Special Spaces organization based in Knoxville, received its nonprofit certification in October and last weekend completed the second of its first two dream bedroom makeovers for children receiving care at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
Provided entirely by donations, in-kind gifts and volunteer labor, the chapter’s inaugural makeover project was a spy-themed bedroom built and furnished in a single Saturday in early December for 9-year-old Jacob Buckner, a blood cancer patient from Cocke County who made the news earlier this year by raising $2,600 for a new blanket warmer for the hospital by charging friends and family member 25 cents to rub his bald head.
This past Saturday, the chapter followed up with its second dream room makeover, a rock ’n’ roll bedroom for 17-year-old guitar buff Joseph Keen of Raven, Va., made possible by a second generous outpouring of support for the new Special Spaces chapter.
“With the children’s hospital here, we knew it would be a great thing for this area and it was something we felt we should do,” said Krista Wharton, who cofounded the chapter with her friend, Tamara Marshall.
Wharton said she had recently moved to the Jonesborough area from Knoxville and was interested in doing some type of service work in the community when she saw Special Spaces founder Jennifer Swain, who is also from Knoxville, and the work of her national nonprofit organization featured on the ABC network reality series “Secret Millionaire.”
Struck by Special Spaces mission of “making a difference in the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses, one bedroom at a time,” Wharton and Marshall contacted Swain, and by early fall were well on their way to establishing Special Spaces’ 16th chapter nationwide and its fourth in Tennessee.
With the children’s hospital providing patient referrals to the chapter and the abundance of local support for the projects Wharton and Marshall discovered, the chapter has enjoyed early success and is already laying groundwork for its third dream room for a child in the Bristol area tentatively planned for spring.
“The support we have received really has been tremendous,” Wharton said, offering special thanks to Ashley Furniture for donating furniture for the chapter’s first two projects, to VIP Seen magazine of Kingsport for serving as Keen’s room sponsor and for raising more than $1,000 for the chapter at its New Year’s Eve party, and to no less than four friends of the chapter who requested donations to Special Spaces in lieu of gifts at their recent birthday parties.
“Word is getting out and everybody has been very supportive,” Wharton said. “Our goal was do to four to six rooms a year and we’ve already done two.”
With the referrals available from the children’s hospital, Wharton said, “we could do one a week but we are a donation-based organization and we can’t do a room until we have the donations and volunteers.”
For those who would like to learn more, the web site is www.specialspaces.org and includes a link to the Tri-Cities chapter’s Facebook page with before and after photos of Jacob’s and Joseph’s dream rooms.
More information may also be obtained by contacting the chapter founders and co-directors Wharton at (865) 748-3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Tamara Marshall at 483-8344 or email@example.com.
The First Tennessee Human Resource Agency Nutrition Program is in need of volunteers to deliver meals to the elderly and homebound on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The meals can be picked up between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at the Johnson City Seniors Center. The Wednesday route is in the Keystone community and the Thursday route is in the West Holston and Unaka avenues neighborhood. Both routes take about an hour to deliver.
For information, call Cindy at 483-8409.
If there is a need or a project in your neighborhood the Good Neighbor column can assist with, contact Sue Guinn Legg at firstname.lastname@example.org, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605 1717 or 929-3111, ext. 335.