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The Suite Dreams Project

The Suite Dreams Project
By Stephanie Zombo

"Creativity is a gift and using it to heal is an amazing feeling and a great accomplishment. Healing others keeps us grounded and in touch with what it's all really about making other people smile." -Stephanie Zombo

Based in Rochester, Michigan, The Suite Dreams Project was founded to bring comfort and joy to children affected by serious medical conditions by creating healing environments in their homes, in hospitals, and in their communities that improve their quality of life and speed recovery. In Autumn 2004 Danny Hobson, Director of the Arts and Healing Network, interviewed Stephanie Zombo about this inspirational healing arts project.

Danny Hobson: What inspired the creation of the Suite Dreams Project?

Stephanie Zombo: The Suite Dreams Project was co-founded by Kris Appleby and Kay Ponicall. Kay's artist brother, Bill Bradley, had done such a fabulous job decorating Kay's children's rooms that she began to dream about creating fairy tale bedrooms for kids that needed them more than her own. By spinning a little magic around seriously ill children, she hoped to minimize the stress of hospitalization and give them the space they need to rest and recover.

The dream took a step into reality in the most unlikely surroundings. A group of seventeen girlfriends were on a junket to a spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. Kay found herself sitting next to Kris Appleby at dinner. She poured her ideas into Kris' receptive ears. Kris had been looking for a worthwhile project to fund from the General Sports Foundation, a charity recently set up by her husband's company. They had kicked around a couple sports related themes, but nothing pulled at her heartstrings. When Kay came along, the connection was made. The friends from the spa became the core group of volunteers. They set their goals high and never looked back.

Danny: How do you find the children who would benefit most from your project?

Stephanie: The Suite Dreams Project only receives child referrals through participating healthcare institutions. Once the child's hospital social worker refers the child to us, we send the family evaluations and applications to fill out. We help the children in the most need first, but we have never turned anyone away. We are thankful that the sponsors and volunteers always seem to be just enough to fit the demand.

Danny: Please tell me about one of the children's rooms you have transformed.

Stephanie: One of the most recent rooms we've done was for 18-year-old Lennon Evola. He has Leukemia. Lennon has missed a whole year of school due to his disease. He is a very smart boy and has become increasingly interested in Japanese language and culture. The Suite Dreams Project created a healing space for Lennon with soothing shades of green and exotic Asian-inspired plants and furniture. We created something that is simple, sophisticated, and can help him heal by reducing stress and giving him a place to call his own.
Danny: What has been the reaction of some of the kids to their new rooms?

Stephanie: Most kids get that beautiful look on their face that has been hidden for so long because of the stress and pain of their illness. Those first seconds when we unveil a room to the child for the first time are the most valuable. During those moments, it was all worth it.

Danny: Has having an imaginative environment helped in their healing process?

Stephanie: The environment we can create for a child always helps. The letters we get from the kids and their families and friends are amazing...we can truly change their lives just by giving them something in their life to have control over. It's also a reminder that someone loves them and that the world really isn't such a bad place. Everyone goes through hard times, and there are people out there willing to volunteer their time to help you through yours.

Danny: What has been one of the biggest challenges for the Suite Dreams Project? And what has been one of the most exciting aspects of this project?

Stephanie: Our biggest challenge for the project right now is to expand on a national level. There is so much interest to start chapters nationally, but with such a small project run by two busy moms and managed by one administrative assistant, it is so difficult to develop a plan that can move this in the right direction. We have to be so careful that basic concepts and ideas are not lost by expanding too quickly, for the wrong reasons, or in the wrong areas.

The most exciting aspects are realizing on a daily basis what we are doing for our community! Hundreds of children's lives have been dramatically changed and more children every day get a taste of the beautiful healing environments we've created in hospitals and in the community.

Danny: How do you sustain your work creatively, financially, emotionally?

Stephanie: All of the creativity that goes into our project comes from our volunteers. We are so blessed to have hundreds of talented people in the community that paint murals, donate flooring, refinish furniture, and help in countless ways.

The finances come from fundraisers and sponsors for the children's rooms. Emotionally we are a team. There is a lot of sadness when you see the pain and suffering some of these children and their families deal with but the reward is always greater. To take the sadness, and work as a group to overcome it, is a victory for everyone.

Danny: What are you looking forward to in the future for the Suite Dreams Project?

Stephanie: National chapters...but we've got to do it right!

Danny: What advice do you have for others wishing to use creativity as a force for healing in the world?

Stephanie: Follow your dreams! Creativity is a gift and using it to heal is an amazing feeling and a great accomplishment. Healing others keeps us grounded and in touch with what it's all really about: making other people smile.

This interview has been used with kind permission of the Arts and Healing Network and you can visit their web site at www.artheals.org and Stephanie Zombo.For more information about the Suite Dreams Project, please visit www.suitedreamsproject.org