How a Little Paint Can Change Lives

Cecily's Closet makes over dozens of rooms

It's amazing what a coat of paint can do. And in the case of Cecily's Closet, it's changing lives.

Rachel Ackerly's daughter Cecily was born with an undiagnosed chromosomal disorder. A few years ago, friends and family did a surprise makeover on Cecily's bedroom.

"It meant so much to us," Ackerly said. "We want to give this to other families. So, how can we go about doing it?"

That question is what prompted the Ackerly family to start a non-profit to make over rooms for families of children with special needs. Rachel said the initial goal was to do three to four rooms a year.  They're averaging triple that. The group just finished its 41st room.

It is entirely volunteer and donation-driven. Local artists, like Emily Dolton, have done more than a dozen rooms. Dolton is also the mother of a special needs child.

"It's really nice to know that you can come in and do what you would love to have done for yourself," she said.

This month, Cecily's Closet did something it has never done before: Completing 10 rooms in fewer than two weeks. It's part of the Mission of Giving campaign, which was funded by the UPS Foundation. 

One of those rooms belongs to 3-year-old Max Erth who was born with an extremely rare condition called Smith-Magenis syndrome.  Max was born two months early with a hole in his heart and weighing about three pounds.  Part of the condition is what's called "reverse melatonin."

"Which means at midnight, he's up wanting to play," Max's mom Diane Erth said. "We would come in in the morning and every piece of clothing was on the floor, every book was on the floor."

As part of Max's Disney room makeover, Cecily's Closet put in a locking wardrobe, and a opening in the door so Max's parents can check on him at night. 

"So, the room needs to look pretty," Rachel Ackerly said. "But we also want it to be functional for that family and solve whatever challenge they might have and just make their life a little easier."

Ackerly said one room makeover can take up to 120 hours. Cecily's Closet relies on donations and volunteers.  She said she's grateful to companies like Paint Green that paint almost every room before the artist comes in.  Other groups that have helped make the room makeovers possible include: Websense, the UPS Store, Qualcomm, HP, Maxim Healthcare, Children's Physicians Medical Group, Eventful, Inc., Dream Dinners and Bassett Furniture, SD Family Magazine, Mattress Company Direct and Dunn-Edwards.

"It's amazing that people who have never met Max would do this," Diane Erth said.

For more information about Cecily's Closet, visit

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