Sweet Dreams Foundation
Sep 01, 2011 06:39AM
● By Wendy Sipple
Photos by Dante Fontana
When Jennifer Richards was just 11 years old, she lived with her grandfather who was battling cancer during the last month of his life. “What I remember was how white his walls were. It was just boring,” she explains. “His room should have been a more relaxing and peaceful place.” With those memories still fresh in her mind and her philanthropic spirit in place, Richards founded Sweet Dreams Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on changing the quality of life for children who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease by creating their dream bedroom.
Richards had the idea two years prior when she was just 19 years old and in design school, while trying to figure out a way to combine her two passions for interior design and helping kids. “I was thinking how awful it must be for children to not live like children – going through multiple surgeries, and possibly not being able to leave their house because of germs. And if they do get sick, it’s not just about a child missing school. It’s more serious with life-threatening diseases. A kid just can’t be a kid,” she shares.
Since its start in 2007, Sweet Dreams has created magical bedrooms for four children, about one per year. Richards says, “These rooms become a healing place for them…a safe haven where there’s no talk of doctors or medicine. And the atmosphere uplifts their spirits and changes their moods, bettering their strength to fight,” she says.
The first room Sweet Dreams designed in 2007 was for a then four-year-old Braycen Godfrey, who had been diagnosed with a genetic disease called Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. Richards spent about a month getting to know Braycen and his family, which helped them decide on a car-themed room. Then, Richards turned her focus to raising funds to pay for the materials and construction, which she says can take the most time since Sweet Dreams is a young nonprofit, although the process is speeding up now. The length of time to put the whole room together varies based on the amount of construction needed. However, the rooms are usually built when the child is not at home to avoid any sneak peeks!
Once completed, Richards plans a reveal party for the child. “First, I love seeing the kids’ reactions and how happy they are. But seeing the parents’ faces has actually become the most rewarding part for me. The parents are able to smile after seeing their child so happy. The difference it makes in these families’ lives is what pushes me forward.”
Donations to this noble nonprofit can come in multiple ways besides just giving money; the organization is always looking for those who can volunteer their professional services such as mural painting, construction/contractor help, and marketing/fundraising assistance. •
For more information, visit sweet-dreams.org.