Local companies create dream room for teen leukemia survivor

Thirteen-year-old leukemia survivor Megan Vess poses with her mother Amber in her future "dream room," being constructed by Keller Williams and Showhomes WNC. All photos courtesy of Keller Williams Asheville

Local Keller Williams realtor Nona Armour first met Megan Vess about 4-6 weeks back, she estimates.

Right away, Armour says, she noticed the 13-year-old girl is “just a really strong kid.”

In early 2013, Megan, her mother Amber, her father and three siblings moved from Johnson City, Tenn., to Marion, N.C., into a two-story modular home. The upper floor was unfinished when the family moved in, though they expected to fix it up over time, giving the oldest two girls a space of their own.

“But then Megan got sick, and with the hospital bills and trips to [St. Jude’s in] Memphis,” Armour explains, the home-improvement project took a backseat to other priorities.

After battling leukemia for more than two years, Megan received her final chemotherapy treatment in March — a huge victory for the family.20150413_112120

But as they recovered from a constant state of worry, it became clear that the four Vess children, still sharing a single room, were growing out of their space.

Meanwhile, in Asheville, Armour’s team at Keller Williams was looking for a charitable project for the company’s “RED Day,” a company holiday that encourages all employees, nationally, to “put down their cell phones, take a couple of hours off and go help somebody in need,” says Armour.

And as local employees were sifting through volunteer opportunities, Armour received a call from Special Spaces, a nonprofit dedicated to giving children with life-threatening illnesses their own “dream bedroom,” where they can escape to find peace and comfort.

Special Spaces, however, does not have a Western North Carolina chapter — the call was coming from the nonprofit’s Tennessee Tri-Cities branch, near the family’s hometown.

20150413_112112“They contacted our office because Megan goes to the Johnson City pediatric hospital,” Armour explains. “They said, ‘We don’t have anybody [in WNC]” to take on this project. “Is this something you’d be interested in doing for RED Day?'”

Armour called the family and found out they live in Marion. “That’s a little out of our district, but I said, ‘Let’s see what we can do.'”

Together with Cindy Stringer and Sharon Duncan at Showhomes, a local home-staging company, Armour formed a team of about 15 to give Megan the room of her dreams.

“We’ve gotten contributions from all over Marion and Asheville to make the room for her,” Stringer says. “[Megan] made an account on Pinterest, and pinned ideas [for the room] that she likes. And we’ve followed through with that.”2015050795094315

Getting to know Megan a bit more, Armour says, “She’s such a cool kid. She owns her own miniature horse. She’s quiet, and she likes to read. And she wears this pair of boots everywhere. They nicknamed her ‘Boots’ at the hospital.”

Because of her treatment, the young teen has been having problems in her joints, especially in her feet. But “she told them she wasn’t going to quit wearing her boots,” Armour explained.

For her room, Megan’s pins reflected preference for a simple, rustic, country bedroom. Though at first, Stringer explains, “she wanted both rustic and nautical themes. I said, ‘You know, no matter how good we are, those two themes are a tough combination for any designer.'” Stringer laughs.

The 13-year-old’s list includes rustic barnwood furniture, red paisley bandanna-patterned pillows, denim upholstery and country-style DIY picture frames and collages.

One addition that Armour says Megan was most excited for, though, is “a hanging chair in her window, so she can read and look out to see her miniature horse.”

Megan s Dream Haven-page-001And the team isn’t just building and designing one room. They’re designing four: Megan’s “haven,” a room for her older sister, a bathroom and a communal room “where the family can gather or do their homeschooling,” Armour says.

After one month of planning, painting and perfecting — and one final day of last-minute hustle, Megan and her family will get to see the room on Thursday, May 14, in “a big, HGTV-style reveal,” says Stringer.

“Everything’s been very simple,” Armour explains. “Barnwood and blue jeans and denim and bandanas — just a simple, rustic look. We have had a few donations, money-wise, and we’re using that to help furnish her room and pull everything together.”

The volunteers created a GiveFoward page, setting the bar high for donations — at $10,000, “because we’re hoping to have some left over to help the family,” she continues.Megan s Dream Haven-page-002

And though they’ve had generous donations from both businesses and individuals, Stringer says the project still needs help in a few key areas. “It’s pretty amazing how the community has come together for this,” she continues. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish the drywall in the common room.” Paying per sheet, plus labor, “it was just really expensive, and we didn’t have the money to do it.” So they’re hoping to find someone willing to help, either through volunteering (especially for hanging drywall) or donations, she says.

Both Stringer and Armour say they’re excited for the big reveal. “What better a reason to volunteer?” Armour asks.

“Megan is very bright, smart, positive girl,” Stringer adds. “She loves to read; she loves her horse. The whole family is really just delightful.”

For more information, visit Megan’s GiveForward page.


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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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