Thanks to one Virginia couple, children receiving treatment at the National Institutes of Health soon will be playing on a one-of-a-kind, custom-built playhouse.
On their way to a charity auction May 31, Sonya and Tom Ricketts of Alexandria, Va., discussed buying a children’s playhouse to donate to a worthy cause. As part of the charity fundraiser to which the Ricketts were heading — Rebuilding Hope: The RTMC Playhouse Project — local contractors built custom playhouses for auction.
After Anthony Wilder, whose company built a $17,000 playhouse in the form of a fire truck, mentioned that the Bethesda nonprofit, which serves seriously ill children, was renovating its playground, the Ricketts could not pass up the opportunity to contribute.
The fire truck will be unveiled in the fall at The Children’s Inn at NIH, which provides free housing to families with children who are being treated at the National Institutes of Health.
"We are thrilled to have this cool fire truck at The Children's Inn at NIH," said Children's Inn CEO Kathy L. Russell. "The Inn is all about giving kids a chance to be kids, to play and climb and have fun, away from the treatments at [the National Institutes of Health].”
Rebuilding Together Montgomery County, a Kensington nonprofit that helps low-income homeowners keep up with household repairs, raised approximately $114,000 during the fundraiser. It borrowed the idea from a California chapter of Rebuilding Together, though the event marked the first time the idea was tried in Montgomery County.
"We were very fortunate," said Susan Hawfield, executive director of Rebuilding Together. "We had great builders who donated the playhouses. We had great sponsors. It was just really great community support."
Rebuilding Hope organizers also donated a $15,000 playhouse, dubbed the Walter Reed General Store, to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The playhouse is open at the back to allow parents in wheelchairs to enter.
Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin purchased a lighthouse by Sandy Spring Builders and Studio Z Design Concepts on behalf of the Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation, which he heads. It will be donated to a Montgomery County nonprofit which has not yet been selected.
As master of ceremonies for Rebuilding Hope, Slavin challenged the audience to bid on the playhouses.
"Of course, I had to set an example," he said. "And then I got competitive, because all those things were bidded up from the initial bid amount. It was very exciting and fun."
Although there was competition for the fire truck, a kind word from Tom Ricketts persuaded his opponent to give up his bid for the playhouse.
"In the end, as we were bidding and competing for it, we knew that we wanted it to go to a good place and a good cause," Sonia Ricketts said.