NORRIDGE, Ill. - Noah Padilla is grinning wide - and for a good reason. The 12-year-old has a new desk and a new bunk bed to share with his younger brother Jaiden.
But the tears streaking down his mom's face tell us this is no ordinary bedroom makeover. Noah suffers from Loeys Dietz syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder.
"This kid's gone through eight surgeries. He still has a smile on his face. But it's nice to give back to somebody who truly deserves a happy space," said Special Spaces Illinois Director Kelly Knox.
Knox aims to do that every day. She works year round to identify children facing life-threatening illnesses and pairs them up with project donors. Chicago design firm Fjord took on this challenge.
Knox said most donors don't visit the site until makeover day, but the Fjord team spent two months meeting with the Padillas, getting hands-on with the planning. They looked at all the rooms and thought they could do more than just the Special Spaces makeover.
Project leader Daniella Pena's group of more than 20 volunteers decided Noah's siblings needed spaces reflecting their personalities, too.
"When one person in the family is sick the entire family is sick. So we really wanted to just blow it out of the park and get way more money," Pena said.
They raised nearly double the $4,000 Special Spaces requested.
Fast forward eight weeks. The Padillas walked out of the house just after 7 a.m. Friday morning without a clue as to how their home would look by dinner.
Special Spaces - along with Fjord's army of volunteers - took over. Fresh paint, new furniture and a complete makeover in the three boys' bedrooms with bells and whistles added.
The team worked for 10 hours, right up until the minute the Padillas came home. Even before seeing the transformation, Heidi Padilla expressed gratitude in ways unimaginable. Handmade signs from her classroom brought Kelly Knox to tears even before the reveal.
"It's knowing that it's not just the people here who care about Noah. It's knowing that there's people in the community who care about Noah. We've touched not just the Padilla family, not just the Fjord team, but we've touched a community of people who hopefully will remember Noah and his struggles and his positive outlook and remember that there's really great things happening in this world," Knox said.
When volunteers arrived Friday morning, they discovered snacks, inspirational messages and gifts. The Padillas even wrote notes on fruit to say "thank you."
It was more appreciation than would ever be expected, especially from a family burdened by illness. Needless to say, this mother deserves a thank you, too.
"The only light switch for down here was actually upstairs in the hallway," said Nick Lo Bue, a Fjord volunteer.
Heidi Padilla does laundry for the entire house: 4 growing boys and her husband, too. Until now, she's been doing it by the light of a single bulb... practically in the dark.
But now, she has new shelving and hampers - a complete surprise. There's more light, too - reminding us of the warmth surrounding everyone in the Padillas' home.