At age 7, Andrew had the misfortune of being stricken with childhood leukemia. A Cancer diagnosis can be one of the most daunting and intimidating events of one’s life, especially for a child. Add to that, with everything shut down in a Pandemic, not even the Make a Wish Foundation could send him to Disney World. One can only imagine the dismay Andrew and his family must have felt.
As luck would have it, Andrew is a child with uncommon imagination. So, when Make a Wish asked him, absent all the usual choices, what he wished for, he didn’t hesitate. “I would like a tree house,” Not just any tree house, but one with sweeping angles like the prow of a ship, fun-house windows and scales like a dragon! Moreover, it should have a secret entrance that only the worthy might enter just like in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Add a Zip line, a climbing wall and a sliding board for fast get-aways, and that might just do it.
Now, all Make a Wish had to do was find someone willing to build it.
They turned first to PRO Mid Atlantic, a trade association representing the most qualified and ethical professionals in the local remodeling industry. PRO (for Professional Remodeling Organization) was at the time undergoing its own upheaval, in the process of splitting from its former alliance with NARI, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. In its re-emergence, it retained its loyal following thanks to its strong commitment to making sure that homeowners who contract with its professionals are pleased with both process and results.
Community service is one of the values its members uphold, so you’ll understand why, when Daniel Steinkoler, owner of Superior Construction Services, LLC, saw the note in a PRO newsletter about Andrew’s wish, he couldn’t look away.
Of his own business, Daniel said only, “We do residential remodeling and we’re very, very good at it.” Given how many NARI awards his company has earned over the years, that amounts to modesty. Along his 30-year journey, he’s built a mobile art classroom for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and a community center through the Sasha Bruce Organization for homeless youth. But nothing – not even the flashy award winners – gave him as much joy as building Andrew’s tree house.
“I build these multimillion-dollar projects for clients, yet I feel more satisfaction from this tree house than anything I’ve ever done,” Daniel said. “It sounds corny, but I mean it.” The goal was to send a message about hope, strength, growth, perseverance and creation to a boy whose fight to survive was inspiring. As it turned out, the process of designing, fund-raising, obtaining supplies and then finally assembly served as a near parallel struggle to Andrew’s, as he battled towards remission.
Daniel explains, “This build took us for a ride through what felt like a mathematical maze of angles, complex corners, dipping and undulating roof lines, material shortages and more. We faced many hurdles, from supply chain disruptions to our lumber supplier’s multiple efforts to procure cedar shake siding.”
To begin, Michael Beidler with Trout Design Studio met with Andrew and learned that he had a pretty clear vision for what his tree house would look like. After a year's effort, the final version rises into the tree-tops like something from Bilbo Baggins' Shire: “There is a magic glass floor at the entry door where only the worthy may pass -- if you know the secret code. Wonky windows reinforce the spirit world, where nothing is quite as it seems, and the exterior shingles suggest dragon scales creating a sense of flight and loftiness,” Daniel says.
“Add a zip line, climbing wall, slide and skylight to the mix and this is an exceptional adventure!" Daniel says that in cedar siding alone, it probably cost $30,000, plus tens of thousands more in labor. Still, it was such fun, he plans on doing it all again for Kalli, another survivor of childhood leukemia this spring, hopefully with the reprised support of contributors Design for Change, Barron’s Lumber, Chad Hackman with Alair Homes, Gibbons Design Build Inc., ABW Appliances and Sherwin Williams Paint.
As for Andrew, “His is a great story,” says Daniel. “He’s cancer free, he’s got all his hair back and he’s a happy little kid. You know he’s the star of the neighborhood with that tree house!”
Contact Virginia’s Make-A-Wish Foundation at https://wish.org/va; Superior Construction Services, LLC, at https://buildwithsuperior.com/; or PRO Mid Atlantic at https://www.promidatlantic.org/ , which has a directory of PRO professionals on its website.