Mitchellville teenager Jennifer Boateng didn’t wish for a trip to Walt Disney World or to meet a celebrity. She simply wanted a room makeover.
The 14-year-old, who was born with sickle cell disease, was recently granted her wish by Kids Wish Network, a Florida-based nonprofit organization that offers programs to children across the country with life-threatening illnesses and conditions and their families.
In May, Kids Wish Network made over Jennifer’s bedroom with the help of a University of Maryland, College Park, professor and student and about $5,000 in donated furniture and supplies from area stores.
Jennifer said her new room has helped to change her attitude about her disease.
“It’s made me not completely hate my disease,” Jennifer said. “If I’m sick or something for a week or if I have to spend more time in my room or have to miss school, it won’t make me feel too bad because my room’s nice now.”
Jennifer was born with sickle cell disease, which causes her cells to sickle and stick together, blocking blood flow and causing pain throughout her body. Her disease frequently puts her in the hospital.
After learning about the Kids Wish Network, Jennifer submitted the application in the early spring 2009. She learned last fall that her room would be made over.
To qualify for a wish, children must have a doctor-verified life-threatening illnesses or condition.
“If the child qualifies for a wish, we grant their wish,” said Jennifer Gasparovic, a Kids Wish Network coordinator.
Jennifer said she selected her wish after moving from Hyattsville to Mitchellville in July 2009.
“I thought it would be nice if I could have a new room when we moved to our new house,” said Jennifer, a rising freshman at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale.
From January to May, Ruth Lozner, an associate professor of design at the University of Maryland, College Park, worked with student Meryam Bouadjemi, 21, of Pasadena, who graduated in May, on making over Jennifer’s room. The duo volunteered their time to complete the makeover.
This was the first wish Lozner and Bouadjemi have worked on. Both women said they would volunteer to work on another wish.
“It’s a way to use our creativity and talents for a good cause, and it would come easily to us even though we’d never done that,” Lozner said. “This was a unique wish. It spoke to both of us. I think we were very fortunate to have found such a wonderful young girl.”
Bouadjemi estimated she and Lozner spent at least 60 hours working on the room.
“It was incredibly rewarding,” Bouadjemi said. “You’re helping someone else, but what ends up happening is that they end up filling you with so much joy.”
The end result is a white room with red and zebra print accents throughout. Area stores donated furniture and supplies, including a new desk, bookshelf, nightstand, dresser, bed frame, mattress and accessories.
“[Jennifer] is a future poet, she loves art, she reads, she loves Maya Angelou, she is a very creative individual,” Bouadjemi said. “The space is surrounded by inspiration.”
Jennifer’s mother, Edna Boateng, 52, said she is thrilled her daughter is happy in her new room.
“It means a lot that there are people out there who are willing to do that for somebody. It makes her happy, which makes me happy,” Edna Boateng said. “We are just very grateful to the people, especially the designer and the student. It’s a very nice gesture, and we are grateful.”
Jennifer said the end result surpassed her expectations.
“I had all of these ideas of how my room would look when it was finished. It makes me want to be in my room a lot more, I can do everything there — write poetry, do my homework, look out my window,” Jennifer said. “It’s the best place in the whole house now. That’s my place now.”
Prince George’s County Gazette