Girl gets ‘Special Space’
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
May 19, 2014 | 2437 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leukemia patient loves her ‘Frozen’ room
EVA TOWNSEND, a 4-year-old from Cleveland who has been battling cancer, happily surveys the bedroom that was renovated for her by volunteers with Special Spaces of Chattanooga. Banner photo, 
CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
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Eva Townsend surveyed the room with wide eyes and a jaw dropping ever closer to the floor at the sight of glitter and lace and the color blue.

It was late Saturday afternoon, and the 4-year-old Cleveland girl was seeing her bedroom for the first time after volunteers from a nonprofit called Special Spaces of Chattanooga transformed it.

Special Spaces is an organization that helps children with serious illnesses by making their bedroom spaces more “special” for them when they have to spend a lot of time there because they are not feeling well.

Eva was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Aug. 20, and she has since begun what her parents were told would be 2 1/2 years worth of cancer treatment.

However, thoughts of cancer were temporarily trumped by the excitement of a renovated room inspired by her favorite movie, the animated Disney film “Frozen,” as she explored it for the first time.

“It’s a blessing,” her mother, Krista Sluder-Townsend, said as she discovered all the details. “It just blows my mind. They did such a great job.”

After the family left for the day just before 9 a.m., volunteers got to work creating a winter wonderland inspired by the icy spaces “Frozen” character Queen Elsa creates in the film.

In what Special Spaces area director Anne Strunk described as “organized chaos,” volunteers crowded into the small bedroom to paint, arrange furniture and do other things to make it a “special space.” 

The organization finds out which children are in need through referrals from doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga. As part of the process, the children and their families meet for interviews with the organization.

Strunk said Eva told them that she loved Disney princess movies — especially “Frozen” and princess-turned-queen Elsa. Inspired by the character’s sparkly, light blue dress and penchant to make everything like winter, volunteers set out to transform Eva’s room.

Volunteers worked furiously to create individual pieces of the room that transported those within it to a cool, peaceful place.

Light blue walls were the backdrop for furniture that had been painted white. To make the most of a small room, skilled volunteers built an elaborate custom loft bed that allowed room for a table and chairs underneath.

Touches like a hand-painted mural of the movie’s two main characters and a silver snowflake painted on the ceiling that marked the place for a fancy chandelier added to the wintry feel. Shelving units with drawers for things like clothing lined one wall and flanked the brand-new flat screen TV the organization decided to donate. Finishing touches like lacy curtains with faux icicles were also added.

Eva’s 7-year-old brother Jeremiah was also given a mini room makeover. The volunteers installed a new TV, dart board and a cork-board wall that allowed him to play with the darts without fear of damaging the wall.

“This has probably been one of our more ambitious builds,” Strunk said while working to turn lacy fabric into curtains meant to evoke visions of snowflakes. “But we’ve had no disasters. It’s a lot of fun.” 

While a team of five or six people had worked to finalize the design after Eva’s interview six weeks ago, much of the work was done Saturday. Around 4:30 the same day, the family arrived back home, and Eva and her family saw the room for the first time.

She explored the new room with wide-eyed wonder, and it wasn’t long before she eagerly climbed up onto her bed to see the view and tried out the chairs underneath it.

Volunteers were there to see Eva’s reactions, and she rewarded them for their work with her rendition of the movie’s Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” while sitting in the new chair beneath her lofted bed.

“Let it go, let it go … You’ll never see me cry,” she sang. “Here I stand, and here I’ll stay. Let the storm rage on …”

While Eva sang about not crying, a couple of the volunteers wiped away tears.

The “storm” she has been facing is not over yet, but her parents are hopeful.

Her father, Nicholas Townsend, described the family as a normal one that went about its business until “tragedy struck.” 

Both he and Sluder-Townsend said they were grateful for what Special Spaces did to give their daughter a place to play and to rest.

“It’s phenomenal,” Nicholas said. “It’s just unreal what they can do for these children. It lets her know that people outside her family care for her.”

He added that he could not believe they were able to accomplish all they did in just one day.

While Eva played in her new room, her parents shared what she had been through. Though only 4 years of age, she is no stranger to what it is like to go to the hospital and undergo treatments for a serious illness. Sluder-Townsend described the treatments and medications as being “pretty rough.” 

Still, they remain optimistic. Nicholas said the type of cancer Eva has is not as hard to treat as it once was, and boasts a survival rate of around 90 percent.

Now, she has a bedroom filled with her favorite things where she can focus on getting well.

Strunk said Eva’s room was the third room Special Spaces has done in Bradley County. Including an additional one in Polk County, the organization has renovated 16 bedrooms since the Chattanooga chapter began in the summer of 2011.

Each Special Spaces room has at least one sponsor to help cover the costs of the build and often provides volunteers. Eva’s room was sponsored by the Gunbarrel Road location of Lowe’s Home Improvement in Chattanooga and the Bowater Employees Credit Union.

Sponsors and volunteers are needed for future rooms, Strunk said. Both companies and institutions like churches can help bring a sick child’s dream room to life.

For more information about the area Special Spaces chapter, visit www.specialspaceschattanooga.org.