Grace Rowe, 6, daughter of Jessica and Kenny Rowe, peeks through the window of her new playhouse, recently donated to her by Henson Mechanical. The custom built playhouse features Rowe’s favorite color, pink, along with princess and beach themes, as requested by Grace. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
Though Grace Rowe seemed a bit overwhelmed by the surprise of a playhouse delivered to her Newton County home Thursday morning, the 6-year-old already had ideas about how she’d like to furnish it.
“I can put my kitchen set in it,” she whispered in her mother’s ear amidst a flurry of activity by adults all around her.
Henson Mechanical, a Walton County-based heating and air conditioning company, donated the bright pink outdoor playhouse to Grace to help her cope with an autoimmune disorder. The disease, juvenile idiopathic systemic arthritis, causes severe arthritis in Grace’s joints, inflammation in her internal organs and a weak immune system leading to chronic bouts with infection.
Henson Mechanical held an essay contest on Facebook in which those interested could write a story about a child who was deserving of a playhouse donation. Tina Fuller, a family friend and special education teacher in Rockdale County, submitted a 300-word passage describing Grace’s medical condition to the company.
Fuller said in the essay that though Grace faces these challenges she doesn’t let them get in her way, and enjoys playing with her 4-year-old brother and cousins. The disease prevents her from riding a bike, playing on a trampoline or rollerskating, so the outdoor playhouse is the perfect low-impact activity, allowing her to participate in activities with other children.
“It’s kind of like her safe haven. Her home away from home,” said Fuller as she observed the new structure in Grace’s backyard.
Henson Mechanical Marketing Coordinator Ida Goddard said the company received about 75 essays and though the business had planned on choosing only one child as a recipient of the playhouse, four children seemed equally deserving. In addition to Newton County, company representatives delivered playhouses to children in Jasper County, Dacula and Winder over the past week.
“We just wanted to ‘give away this Christmas,’ as the song says,” said Goddard, referring to the Matthew West song which encourages expressing generosity and love at Christmastime.
Grace’s mother Jessica Rowe said there is no cure for her daughter’s condition, which requires her to stay at home most of the time. The kindergartner cannot attend school with other children and instead gets in-home educational services. She also avoids other public places, such as stores, and when she does go out, she wears a mask, said her mother.
Grace recently spent her 6th birthday in the hospital with a combination of flu, strep throat, ear infection and a respiratory infection.
Rowe said because of her daughter’s physical limitations, she cannot be involved in sports like her cousins. “It’s very hard for her,” she said.
The playhouse will allow her to get outside and provide her with an additional play area, said Rowe.
“It’s going to be amazing for her,” she said.
Scott Clack, a Henson Mechanical employee, has coordinated the building of about 20 playhouses since 2011, an effort he started after a friend, who also works at Henson Mechanical, lost her daughter in a car accident. Clack said he builds the houses in honor of the deceased young woman, Madison Young.
The playhouses cost about $2,000 in materials and take three men a day to build and paint. Some of the playhouses are sponsored by Clack’s church, New Life Apostolic Church in Watkinsville, and others are funded by businesses.
The playhouses have been donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and also to deserving families referred to the church.
“It’s just a good way to give back,” said Clack, who added that a website, myplayhouse.org, is currently under construction as the demand for the playhouses grows.