MORRIS – With a little inspiration and a lot of hard work and sweat, Team Make a Difference spent three days transforming the basement of Luchi Eberhard, who has leukemia, into a dream playroom for any child.
Eberhard, of Morris, was diagnosed last year with acute lymphocytic leukemia B cell, after he had unexplained fevers over a five-week period.
Team Make a Difference, a local nonprofit, is made up of five women: President Audra Crowther, Stephanie Paschke, Sandra Roechner, Marijo Persico and Margaret Loughran.
These women know first-hand how important it is for someone battling a life-threatening illness to have a special room.
“I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in October 2011. I had several surgeries, chemotherapy and lots of recovery time ahead of me. While I tried to stay strong, I felt the pressure,” Persico says in a statement on the organization’s website.
Crowther was friends with Persico and with the help of Persico’s three teenage children, she transformed her bedroom into a relaxing warm bedroom with photographs of her family surrounding her.
This act of kindness from one friend to another made them realize there are many touched by cancer and other life-threatening illnesses who could use a space to heal and regain strength and hope.
Crowther said they quickly sought out a local “hero” who could benefit from a room makeover, and they learned of Luchi and his family – parents Jeff and Jamie, siblings Makenzi, Geno, Gunnar, Sly and cousin Danielle Marshall, who live in Morris.
Rather than do a makeover in Luchi’s bedroom, where he does little more than sleep, the team decided to take on the basement where all the kids play together.
“I like to create something unique and personalized,” Crowther said. “When we heard Jeff say he always wished the kids could use the window in their hidden playroom as a drive-thru, we created one.”
The basement – which looked like a typical playroom – had a futon and an older television for the kids to watch, a small in-house trampoline and other items collected and placed around the room for the kids to use.
It was transformed into a space the whole family could enjoy.
The family returned after a weekend at Grand Bear Lodge in Utica, provided by Team Make a Difference so they could get the work done, and excitedly, the kids ran down the stairs and immediately began to play with the new basketball game in the corner. Their parents followed walking down slowly taking in every detail.
“This is crazy,” Jeff said upon seeing the basement. “Seeing them playing in here is freaking awesome.”
Attention to detail is something Crowther and her team of more than 20 people were big on. Inspired by Narnia, she had a “wardrobe” installed to the entryway of the kids’ secret playroom so they could step into their make-believe world, complete with personalized menus and food to serve out of their new drive-thru window.
A cushion sits in the cutout portion of the room and a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle graces the wall reading a book, personalized to look like a book about Luchi, and graced by a dragonfly on its shoulder.
The dragonfly means a lot to the Eberhard family – especially Jamie, who lost her sister, Sherri Marshall, in August 2011. Marshall loved dragonflies.
“I’m overwhelmed. It’s beyond what I expected,” Jamie said with tears in her eyes. “She cared enough to put a dragonfly on the turtle. My sister will always be with my kids now as they play.”
One corner of the basement was transformed into a sitting area with a television on the wall, a wish of Luchi who prefers the flat screen to his parents older television that took up too much space in the room. The wall behind the new couch was covered in photographs recently taken and donated by Photographic Designs by Jacquelyne Rochelle.
“This is exactly what I would have done if I had the time and the creativeness,” Jamie said. “Now I’ll never sell my house.”
Luchi and his brothers took turns shooting hoops, serving food from the drive-thru and playing checkers on the new table in the center of the room.
“I’m speechless. I can’t think of the words,” Geno said. “Too many great things, I can’t choose one.”
Awesome, was Luchi’s response every time he was shown a new thing.
“My favorite is the basketball hoop and the television, they are awesome,” Luchi said. “It’s so fun. We can watch weird stuff on TV now.”
The decals were created and donated by Erik Enervold, and painting was provided by Kevin Brown with Brown Bear Painting.
To learn more about Team Make a Difference and how to volunteer or make a donation, visit www.TMADifference.com. The team also is looking for nominations for more heroes to help.