PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Every Young Person Deserves A 'Blissful Bedroom'

Makeovers -- for the body and the home -- have become a staple of reality television shows. And now, for a handful of young adults in New York, they are becoming an actual reality. Blissful Bedrooms is a nonprofit organization committed to transforming the bedrooms of young people living with disabilities. They don't have an office, or paid staff, but they do have a website, a Facebook page, and a lengthy ad on Craigslist soliciting volunteers to help with bedroom makeovers.

"It was very much a plea to help with a cause," says Cory Mahler, who responded to that Craigslist ad.

Mahler, who makes a living designing bedding for kids rooms, liked the idea of being able to use her professional skills to help disabled teens. She signed on to help design and sew a bedspread for Jesus German, an 18-year-old Yankees fan who shares a bedroom with his grandfather (a Mets fan). German wanted his redesigned room to be a shrine to his favorite baseball team, so Mahler constructed a bedspread out of Yankee T-shirts.

"We try to make sure that each room is not just a purchased something," Mahler says. "We'll design what it should be, and I'll make something special for what they like."

Previous bedrooms have been decorated with Hello Kitty and Hannah Montana themes. One boy wanted nothing but yellow sunshine. Most recently, Mahler sewed a red, satin pillow-shaped like a pair of lips for a bedroom with a Times Square/show biz theme.

Keosha Stukes, 20, is the proud owner of that newly redesigned bedroom. She has cerebral palsy and has very limited movement of her arms and legs. When asked how she felt about her bedroom being redone, she responded: "Awesome. Awesome."

Dozens of energetic volunteers descend on the South Bronx public housing project where Stukes lives. They paint, put down a laminate floor, cover a wall with a giant photo of Times Square, and apply lots of glitter.They install red velvet stage curtains, and post Playbill covers and photos of Stukes throughout the room.

The army of Blissful Bedrooms volunteers not only swarms all over the apartment -- but also spills out into the hallway, where sawdust covers the floor. An electrical engineer rigs up a pointer that will enable Stukes to use an iPad by just moving her head. Meanwhile, volunteers sat on the floor, trying to decipher furniture assembly instructions.

"I definitely have some animosity for IKEA at the moment," admits Dave Goldstein, one of the original members of the Blissful Bedroom group.

Adam Seim, the makeover's project manager, builds a dressing room vanity into the wall so that Stukes can sit in her wheelchair in front of it. Seim used to work as a professional carpenter.

"I grew up working in a shop," Seim says, "in a huge shop with big machines and a dust collection system, and now I'm just working on the ground in a small little space. You have to consolidate your tools and just work with the bare minimum of tools. I've learned a lot as a carpenter because of this."

Adding to the construction commotion in the apartment is a party of teens from Stukes' school -- some of them have also had bedroom makeovers. Stukes has been made up by a professional makeup artist and is wearing a new gold-sequined dress, black glitter tights and lots of gold jewelry. Blissful Bedrooms founder Martha Gold-Dvoryadkin says these makeovers have a profound impact on the young men and women.

"They don't get to have these moments, these big milestones," Gold-Dvoryadkin explains. "This is very intense. The fact that so many cared about them and made them the focus of attention for an entire weekend. I mean, that whole experience is incredible for them."

At 9 p.m. on Sunday night, the big moment arrives, and Stukes' mom wheels her into her newly renovated bedroom. (See a photo taken the moment they entered the room.) Plenty of the teens cry when they see their new rooms for the first time, and Stukes expected to be one of them. Turns out she doesn't cry, but she loves it -- especially the new Wii and the iPad -- and her name in lights up on the wall. (You can see the before and after photos for yourself in the photo gallery at the top of the page.)

The recipients of these makeovers aren't the only ones who are exhilarated when the bedroom is unveiled. The volunteers say all the stress and exhaustion that has built up over the weekend evaporates when the kids see their new rooms.

But it's late, and most of the volunteers have jobs to get to Monday morning. Seim wheels a large case of his tools out the door at 10 p.m. "I'm going to go home and go to sleep," he says. "Actually, I have to be at work at 5 in the morning."

Their work here is done, and the gang of happy but tired Blissful Bedrooms volunteers will start in on their next makeover project in two months.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jon Kalish