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Girl with spina bifida gets new playroom

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Updated: August 20, 2013 6:42AM



It was hard to tell Thursday who was more excited about the new playroom: 9-year-old Ellie Fontanetta or her parents.

Ellie’s eyes were as big as saucers as she checked out all the new items in the room.

“This is awesome,” she repeated as she moved from one side of the room to the other.

“Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh,” her mom, Nikki Fontanetta, said over and over. “All of it is perfect.”

She cried as she hugged the members of Ace Hardware Foundation who executed the makeover in the family’s Lockport home.

“It’s more than I could have ever been able to do,” said Ellie’s dad, Mark Fontanetta.

The makeover was a total surprise to Ellie, who had spent the previous three days on a prearranged staycation at the DoubleTree By Hilton Chicago — Oak Brook Hotel.

When the family returned home Thursday afternoon, the Ace Hardware crew and other workers were there to greet the Fontanettas.

Ellie, who has had spina bifida since birth, was selected by the Ace Foundation as its first-ever All-Star in its ongoing Ace Cares for Kids Campaign.

She was chosen in January — in another surprise announcement at William J. Butler School — to be the face of Ace’s fundraising campaign for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“She’s a great advocate for kids everywhere,” foundation manager Jody Phillips said.

When Ellie was born, Lurie Children’s Hospital — part of the Children’s Miracle Network — “took such good care of her and us,” Nikki Fontanetta said. The family decided to give back to the hospital.

“It started small, then it skyrocketed,” she said. “This is our calling as a family. We choose joy and hope over everything else.”

They started their own charity — Hot Dogs for Hope — and host an annual hot dog sale to raise funds for Lurie Children’s Hospital. The Ace Foundation found the Fontanettas through the hospital, she said, and they began a partnership.

“They spend a lot of their time giving back to Lurie. This is one way we can give back to them,” said Chris Doucet, the Ace Foundation program specialist.

“Ellie truly embodies what it means to be an Ace All-Star,” said Jimmy Alexander, Ace Hardware Foundation president. “Despite her health challenges, Ellie perseveres and brings strength to those around her. The entire Fontanetta family brings life to Ace’s mission to be helpful. Their commitment to Lurie Children’s and passion in sharing their story with other families and patients is extraordinary.”

July is Ace Cares for Kids Month, and Ellie’s face is in retail stores during the fundraising campaign. Even during her staycation at the DoubleTree, she spent the day Thursday selling cookie-grams to Ace corporate employees to raise money for Lurie.

“It’s a terrific family,” said Lou Manfredini, Ace’s home expert. “When you look at the struggles she has gone through and what she has ahead of her, anything we do is not enough.”

Manfredini organized the makeover effort, which was accomplished in three days with 20 volunteers working 25 hours. Several local businesses donated to the cause, including Will-Cook Ace Hardware and Concrete Creations Plus, both of Homer Glen, and Ozinga of Joliet.

Other contributors were Next Door and Window, of Burr Ridge; Preferred Electric, of Roselle; Precision Painting and Decorating Corporation, of Elmhurst; and Carroll Distributing and Construction Supply, of Ottumwa, Iowa.

The makeover also will be featured this fall on an upcoming episode of “HouseSmarts,” the nationally syndicated home improvement show hosted by Manfredini.

“Everyone stepped up and everyone feels good about it,” Manfredini said.

The biggest issue was providing access to the back yard. The crew removed two windows and replaced them with sliding patio doors. The dirt under the windows is now a stamped concrete ramp. The pink and brown room now has gentle aqua tones with accents of pink and green.

The walls were adorned with homemade artwork and family photos.

There’s new furniture, a new TV, a desk and a small stage in the corner, equipped with a karaoke microphone.

“She loves to sing,” Ellie’s mom said.

“This is a room she and her sister can grow up in,” said Ace’s designer, Katie Reynolds.

“It’s totally unbelievable. It’s exactly what I would have wanted for my kids. I want to play in this room, too,” Nikki Fontanetta said.

Ellie’s parents knew the room was having a floor-to-ceiling makeover but did not know the specifics.

Ellie said “everything” was her favorite. Moving as quickly as she could on her crutches, she eagerly checked out details all over the room.

“Is this a decoration?” she said.

“How do I turn the lights off?”

“What’s this?”

“I want to know how the TV works.”

She and her family will be treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ annual celebration at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in October, and she will make special appearances and be treated to surprises from Ace throughout the year, Phillips said.



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