Since 2005, Binghamton-based nonprofit A Room to Heal has married the art of home decor with a uniquely compassionate goal. Founded by Vestal community member Laurie Abess and Binghamton University’s parent, family and events coordinator Linda Salomons, the organization strives to comfort children with severe illnesses by giving them their dream bedrooms.
Salomons’ son suffered from leukemia as a child, and once he recovered she gathered some friends with the intent of starting a group to support children with illnesses. The organization has since renovated over 110 rooms since its first project in 2006. Operations are run by a team of about 100 active members, some of whom are parents of former room recipients. One former room recipient, a young man who also suffered from leukemia as a child, now volunteers with the organization as a college student.
Linda Snyder, former president of A Room to Heal and a Binghamton community member, said the organization was founded on the belief that the right environment can offer not only comfort but also a faster recovery when possible.
“The idea is we all feel better when we’re in an environment that is comfortable, beautiful, fun, safe and clean, and there’s a therapeutic benefit from that,” Snyder said.
Qualifying families who live within an hour of Binghamton can apply for a room on the organization’s website. Volunteers base room designs around discussions with the family, gauging both the child’s interests and their medical needs. Snyder said the organization sometimes makes modifications for the child’s health and well-being — air purification systems, for example, or wood floors for children with wheelchairs or walkers.
“It’s all about giving them that healing space and giving them the best chance they can,” Snyder said.
Volunteers try to finish each renovation in just a few days, paying for the families to stay in a hotel or sending them to live with relatives. Renovations are sometimes done while a child is in the hospital so they can come home and be surprised with a brand-new room.
In addition to the bedrooms, A Room to Heal has done projects at several community organizations, including the Parents As Leaders (PAL) Family Resource Center, Family Enrichment Network, and Lourdes Center for Mental Health children’s clinic. Snyder said these projects reach a greater number of children, which maximizes the group’s impact and helps fundraising efforts.
“A lot of the time we get grant opportunities from companies that say ‘We’d love to help you, but you’re only helping 15 kids in a year’,” she said. “Now we can tell them we’re impacting a lot of kids and families.”
A Room to Heal’s office space is donated and there are no paid positions, so all money raised goes into funding projects, each of which is allotted about $5,000. The group has found support in the Binghamton community, with local companies offering free services, donating raffle baskets and holding their own fundraisers.
The nonprofit’s third annual “Hearts for Hope” event, which features a live auction, appetizer stations and over 100 raffle baskets, will be held at the Holiday Inn Binghamton on Feb. 8. Raffle baskets and prizes were sent in by donors including SeaWorld and Binghamton native Mercedes Brunelli, a high-profile handbag designer.
“The more we’re out in the community and the more rooms we do, the more people find out about us, so that exposure just travels,” she said. “We have such a great community, people have been so good to us.”
Amber Chowdhury and David Feldfogel, both seniors majoring in business administration, are currently working with A Room to Heal to strengthen the organization’s volunteer database. Feldfogel said the pair was interested and moved by the organization’s story.
“We were impressed that they help with the healing process in a unique way,” Feldfogel said. “It’s not something you would normally think about.”
Although volunteers have been pushed to their limits in the past two years, Snyder said they have never turned away a child due to lack of funding. She said that while the process can be hectic, the final result is well worth the chaos.
“It’s a life-changing thing when you work on a room or go to a room reveal — you get goosebumps,” she said. “When they see that room, all the hard work and craziness is worth it.”