If teens already have a hard time with positive body image and self-esteem, imagine how they feel going through the drudgery of chemotherapy or a long hospital stay, possibly losing their hair or a limb, and always giving up their individual freedom. Hospitals have many volunteers and programs to amuse little children, but when it comes to teens, there is little to take their mind off the misery.
That’s when “Design My Room” makes them feel like a firework.
Working with 36 hospitals across the United States, the nonprofit redecorates sterile patient rooms to look “more like home” for teens whose spirits could use a lift.
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The formerly dreary atmosphere is transformed by new boldly-colored blankets, cozy rugs, movie posters, and sports memorabilia – each item geared to the patient’s interests. Once the teens are finished with their treatment, they can bring the new decor and gifts home with them.
The idea for Design My Room came from “Wish Upon A Teen” president Michelle Soto, who was inspired by working with older youth at a California children’s hospital.
“The sad truth is that most hospitals do not understand what teens want or need,” she says. “As a Child Life Specialist, I frequently had to tell 16-year-old cancer patients that, if you were not into balloon animals, toys for tots, or magicians, then we were pretty much fresh out of programming.”
A mother of three–two of which have special needs–Michelle understood the difficult trials that her patients were going through.
“On one especially bad day at work, when I had seen enough disappointed and lost faces of teens with cancer, I made a promise to myself,” says Soto on the Wish Upon a Teen website. “I would find a way to provide the resources that my teenagers needed and longed for.”
Since the Michigan-based program started in 2011, Design My Room has been averaging makeovers for 12 patient rooms a week, with remarkably positive results.
20-year-old Taylor Janssen was in the hospital for several weeks of therapy after becoming paralyzed in an accident. The sports fan was given a Detroit Tigers room makeover with game posters and fat-heads of his favorite players.
“What they came in and brought to my room is, you know, really special—to kind of make it a little more livable as I’m here going through rehab,” says Janssen. “It feels less like a hospital room and more like a place I can live and have friends come.”