Union students will transform cancer patient’s room
AMSTERDAM Michael Rich wishes that he had a working set of police lights in his bedroom.
The 15-year-old brain cancer patient may get his wish, thanks to a New Jersey-based organization called Healing Spaces.
Rich’s small bedroom off the family’s kitchen includes one small window, a single bed, a small dresser with a small flat screen television, and a desk with a computer where he does his homework.
This weekend that could all change, after a team from a Union College chapter of Healing Spaces takes over the Rich house at 10 Sweeney St. and makes over Michael’s bedroom.
After suffering from severe headaches, Rich was diagnosed in September with juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer. He underwent an eight-hour surgery to remove a large brain tumor, but since the doctors couldn’t get it all, Rich travels to Albany Medical Center once a week for chemotherapy treatments.
After each treatment, Rich said, he comes home and sleeps. He spends a lot of time in his bedroom.
Healing Spaces, a nonprofit organization that creates a dream bedroom for children who are suffering from a life-threatening illness, started as a mitzvah project for Matthew Dumoff, of Wayne, N.J. His father, Mark Dumoff, who is currently president of the nonprofit, said he wanted his son to do a hands-on community service project.
The first bedroom renovation project was completed in June 2005, and since then Mark Dumoff said the organization has grown exponentially in New Jersey and New York City.
Healing Spaces has teams of volunteers, a dedicated group of designers, and contractors who complete at least one bedroom renovation project every three months.
The organization is now working with college students to lead teams of people to help members of their own community.
The students learn how to work with community members, hospital administrators and local businesses. They also learn project management and fundraising skills.
This year Dumoff commissioned the help of Stacey Burns, a Wayne, N.J., native who is finishing her sophomore year at Union College.
Burns and her roommate, Madison Lipton, have organized a Healing Spaces chapter at Union.
The college officially began recognizing the organization this winter, Lipton said.
There are about 15 active members of Healing Spaces at Union College, all working on different aspects of the project including a design and fundraising team.
“This is really a magical thing and there is no reason why it can’t be replicated in other areas of the country,” Dumoff said. “It transforms the students.”
Burns said she thinks there will be much more support for Healing Spaces locally once people see the work they intend to complete this weekend.
Three weeks ago, Burns and Lipton along with designer Amanda Keefe met with Rich at his home.
They found out that he likes airplanes and wants to be a state trooper.
“He’s so sweet and so smart and so determined,” Lipton said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
The group has organized a weekend of events for the Rich family so they can enjoy their time away from their home, while the team works to fix up Michael’s room.
They will be staying at the Desmond Hotel and will enjoy free lunches and dinners and receive a private, behind the scenes tour of the Albany International Airport.
Lipton said she loves the fact that the organization bridges the gap between the Union College campus and the rest of the community.
“It brings Union College together with the rest of the community to do something really nice,” she said.
The team is expected to compete Rich’s room Sunday morning.
Dumoff said there is no better feeling than seeing the child’s reaction when he first steps into his new bedroom. He calls it “the million-dollar moment.”
“It’s magic, they are overwhelmed,” he said. “Even when everyone leaves the room, you’re still on a high.”