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Building Sophia's Dream House

A young girl can’t play in the sun—so Consolidated Construction built her a playhouse. Thanks to their work, today she has it made in the shade.
By Ken Budd
January 25, 2024
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On a sunny May morning in 2023, 10-year-old Sophia dug a ceremonial shovel into the backyard soil of her Kaukauna, Wisconsin, home. The groundbreaking event was organized by Consolidated Construction Co., which was building a playhouse for Sophia, free of charge, for a simple reason:

She needed it.

When Sophia was three months old, she was diagnosed with liver disease. Six-and-a-half months later, she received a liver transplant. Today, she’s a healthy, happy young girl, but one of her medications causes photosensitivity, which increases her risk of skin cancer and makes it difficult for her to play outside. A playhouse would offer a shady space for her favorite outdoor activities, from drawing with chalk on concrete to zooming in circles on her rollerblades.

That’s when CCC got involved. In early 2023, the 120-employee, Appleton, Wisconsin–based company was contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which shared a computer image, created with Sophia’s input, of a possible playhouse design. For CCC—and Sophia—the timing was perfect. The company had just completed Consolidated for a Cause, a fundraiser that generated more than $8,000 for prostate- and breast-cancer research.

Employees had enjoyed the campaign, so when CCC received the Make-A-Wish request, staff members were excited to use their skills for another worthy cause.

ALL TOGETHER NOW

Project engineer Shelly Verhagen managed the playhouse project. After giving Sophia’s rendering to CCC’s architectural department, she contacted local suppliers and contractors about donations. Two different lumber suppliers—Drexel Building Supply and New London Building Supply—provided two-by-fours, four-by-fours and framing materials. ABC Construction donated the roofing, siding, soffit and fascia. Sherwin Williams furnished the paint, Murphy Concrete & Construction supplied the concrete, and M Schettl, a home-décor salvage company, contributed hardware materials. United Rentals provided free use of a mini backhoe, while Vande Hey Company, a local landscaping design and services firm, supplied everything from grass seed to plants—and even donated a gift card, so Sophia could shop.

“Everybody was super-excited to get involved,” Verhagen says. “I’m not a fundraiser, but I was surprised how easy it was to get buy-in for donating the supplies. They all just wanted to give back to somebody in their community.”

The donations significantly reduced CCC’s expenses. The total project cost around $18,000, not counting labor. Make-A-Wish had $7,000 to contribute to the project, and because of the donated materials, CCC only spent about $3,600 of it, mostly to buy the door and windows.

Labor was largely donated as well. CCC offers volunteer time off, and most of the 19 employees who participated used VTO hours. Only around 15 employee hours were charged to the payroll. Make-A-Wish provided volunteers, and Verhagen’s husband contributed as well. “My husband got very involved,” she says. “He got excited, I think, because I was so excited.”

SMILES AND TEARS

Crews started working on a Wednesday morning (Sophia was allowed to drive the backhoe). “We had the most amazing weather,” Verhagen says. “It was like God was watching over and giving us sunshine and melting snow from back in a corner and allowing us to get in there.”

For everyone involved, this wasn’t just another construction job. “There was a positive spirit—the guys were really into it,” Verhagen says. “The kids wanted to push wheelbarrows [Sophia has four siblings], so we put less dirt in and let them push it out. The involvement was so cool. Everyone was smiling. They just wanted to do good.”

Two days later, the 12-by-12-foot structure was completed—the playhouse is 14.5 feet high thanks to a rooftop steeple—and CCC hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Sophia had been kept away since the first day because they wanted a “big reveal” moment when she saw it for the first time, like on an HGTV show. The reaction—from Sophia, from workers, from family and friends—was emotional. “There were a lot of tears—tears of happiness,” Verhagen says.

Sophia gave each worker a thank-you gift and a note, but she also gave them something a little less tangible. Her gratitude and the project’s positive vibe boosted employees’ morale. “I was getting a little burned out with construction,” Verhagen says. “This brought some enthusiasm and excitement back into what I was doing. It really helped me—like, this is the reason we do this.”

Since building the playhouse, CCC employees have volunteered for a local Habitat for Humanity project and hosted another Consolidated for a Cause fundraiser, this time for the nonprofit Disabled Americans Veterans. And the playhouse project still provides an emotional lift. In October, Verhagen received an email from Sophia’s mom, saying that Sophia wanted to be a CCC employee for Halloween.

The reason: “Not only do they build really cool things,” Sophia told her mom, “but they make people’s dreams come true.”

by Ken Budd
Ken Budd is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of a memoir, “The Voluntourist.”

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