Charity Spotlight: Special Spaces

Ely Factor (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

A Boca Raton nonprofit creates tailored bedroom makeovers for critically ill children

After a weekend away in Miami Beach, 14-year-old Ely Factor came home to a surprise: a completely made-over bedroom. Inside were bunk beds for him and his twin sister, a Miami Dolphins locker, an oversized bean-bag chair, a graffiti wall, a mini fridge and sports memorabilia.

“Oh my god! Oh my god!” he yelled out. “It’s like a man cave!”

The room was made over by Special Spaces Boca Raton, a nonprofit that transforms the bedrooms of children with life-threatening cancer, heart conditions, brain tumors and organ transplants. Ely had been battling bone cancer for two years, and as things are looking up, the new room has been the icing on the cake.

“Where does a child go after all the hospital visits and after the doctors’ visits? They go to their bedrooms. So we try to give them the bedroom of their dreams,” says Peggy Peterson, director of Special Spaces’ Boca Raton chapter.

Since the national nonprofit launched in 2004, chapters across the country have transformed more than 1,000 bedrooms. It was just days after Peterson formed the Boca Raton chapter that it received its first makeover request: a teenage girl named Marissa with Rett Syndrome, a genetic neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak, walk, eat and even breathe.

Peterson collaborated with her friends from St. Jude Catholic Church to raise $6,000. Marissa used her eyes to communicate through an iPad, helping the team create an inviting, brightly colored bedroom and therapy room—complete with framed Justin Bieber poster. When it was revealed, Marissa immediately lay in her new bed.

“Her mother said that [means] she loved her room,” Peterson says. “That touched our hearts. We were all crying.”

Since then, the Boca Raton chapter has completed makeovers for 11 more children—filled with princesses, superheroes, anime characters and more. In November 2018, Ely and his family were treated to VIP tickets to a Dolphins game, and when he returned home, his room was one fit for a sports fan.

“It was beyond incredible, just to see all these selfless people come together,” Nancy Factor, his mother, says. “He wakes up with a smile, and he goes to bed with a smile.”

Ely was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was 12. His football and basketball playing came to a screeching halt as he underwent chemotherapy and six surgeries. Today, he’s cancer-free.

“We’ve just had a long couple years,” Nancy says. “His only wish or goal was to be a kid again. So I think this was the essence.”

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This story is from the May/June 2019 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.