Jake Puciato's bedroom has always been his haven. "Once I got diagnosed, this was my place to come and just unwind and be alone for awhile," says the 12-year-old, who is battling lymphocytic leukemia.
But he couldn't stand the disorganization and salmon-colored walls. So volunteers are now putting the finishing touches on his new-and-improved room in Madison, complete with fresh furniture and a "World of Warcraft" theme, Jake's favorite video game. This is the seventh Dream Room Makeover for kids battling cancer in New Haven County, done by a trio of moms, co-chairs of Art from the Heart, who love to help these kids smile.
"They do spend a lot of time in their bedroom when they're ill, and it's just a fresh start," says Carol Newton of Madison. Newton, Tina Garrity and Abigail Sperry were inspired to start this chapter after they learned about the group that was founded by several Wilton mothers of children with cancer struggling to make phone calls, entertain other kids and figure out parking issues during appointments.
"They were in the hospital and realized there really wasn't anything to help them when they first got there," says Newton. They formed Circle of Care (www.thecircleofcare.org) to provide resources for families, and Art from the Heart grew out of this effort.
After the name of a child between the ages of 4 and 17 who is being treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital is drawn from a hat, volunteers get to work with a $2,000 budget, raised through small events, such as sales of gently used prom dresses and baked goods. To complete the desired theme, whether it's dinosaurs or princesses, Newton, a former interior decorator, enlists the help of local high school students to paint trim and sew curtains. They earn school credit and work experience, as well as learning a life lesson.
"They put together design boards and we choose different ideas. It's a very collaborative effort and that's what makes it fun," says this mom of three, pointing out hand-made bookcases in the reading nook and new display shelves under the television, which was mounted on the wall, to help Jake relax during tough times.
"We covered his eyes and brought him in the room and told him when he could open his eyes. It was a great moment," says Jake's mom, Christine Puciato, who says finding out her son had cancer was the worst day of her life.
But Jake has returned to the pitcher's mound at Little League and hopes to be finished with treatment in August. And Jake couldn't be more grateful.
" "From what my room was before, this is a huge, massive improvement. And to know that people are doing this for me because they care about me and what I'm going through, it's a great feeling."