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Plant City Observer Wednesday, Jun. 27, 2018 2 months ago

Fairytale makeover

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The owner of Willows & Rust renovated two local children’s room after their mother entered her contest detailing why her children were her hero.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

Sarah Opliger, owner of Willows & Rust, has always had a desire to reshape her community.

Using her skills as a interior stylist she reached out to the community and asked parents to send her stories on why their children were their heroes. From the submissions a panel chose one winner to have their child’s room redesigned.

“I just think it is something that doesn’t happen enough,” Opliger said. “I love anything to do with giving back. I absolutely love seeing the reaction from people, just that moment when you believe in human kindness, in the human heart again.”

The contest received many submissions and, though many had heartwarming tales, one family captured the heart of the panel. Jennifer Allen shared the inspiring story of her daughter, Demi Benzel, whose early arrival led to a series of health issues that changed her family’s life forever.

Allen found out she was pregnant with her fourth child on August 10, 2015. Unfortunately, the news came right after the family moved to Demi’s father Dean Benzel’s house, which was not large enough for the addition of another child. They began preparations to add on another room before Allen’s water broke unexpectedly on January 15. She was only at 28 weeks.

The doctors chose to keep Demi in the womb, but she developed a severe lung infection and was taken to

Courtesy of Jennifer Allen. Jennifer Allen and baby Demi Benzel.

the NICU immediately after she was delivered, separated from her mother for a full 24 hours.

The iron statue sitting on the girl's new shelves was passed down to Opliger by her mother.

In her letter, Allen wrote she fell to her knees in the hospital praying to God to either heal her child or to take Allen instead.

Demi was on a ventilator, covered in IVs and weighed a mere three pounds and 15.5 ounces. The doctors repeatedly told Allen and Dean Benzel their daughter would more than likely not survive. Then they found a grade four brain bleed and said she would never walk.

For three months Allen said she would return home crying anxious over the fate of her baby. But the strength and resilience of young Demi never abated and she continued to grow. Despite her cerebral palsy, two and a half years later she is walking thanks to intense physical therapy.

“There were days that I just wanted to give up,” Allen said. “But she just kept fighting. She taught me how to be strong. She is doing what she shouldn’t be able to do. She’s my hero.”

The family’s life is filled with doctor appointments but Demi, her sister Piper Patisaul and brother Kolby

Sarah Opliger renovated the room into an elegant paradise.

Benzel are three of the happiest children around. Demi shares a room with Piper and Opliger said she was thrilled to have the honor of designing a room that would be cherished by not one, but two children.

She spent time figuring out what the girls love, what their favorite colors were and what their personalities were like. Using Willows & Rust, the home decor company and donations, she was able to find adorable pieces for the room, transforming it into an elegant paradise.

The girls received new beds, a chandelier, decor, shelving units, tables and more. Opliger left a piece of her heart with the children as well.

Sitting on one of the new shelves is a black, iron statue of a girl’s dress that Opliger’s mother gave to her. For years she waited to see if fate would give her a baby girl of her own to pass the piece down to. She is about to have her fifth boy and said she knows she is “done having babies.”

“I passed that down to those girls,” Opliger said. “I didn’t have a place for it. I’ve been holding onto it forever. It had a real special place in my heart because I lost my mom a couple of years ago and I felt really good about putting that there in their house.”

Opliger said one of the best moments of the redesign was that Piper didn’t understand why her mother was redoing her room and kept saying she liked it “just the way it was.” After seeing her transformation she told Opliger her mom says one day they might get a new house, but if they did she wasn’t leaving because she wanted to stay in her new room.

Opliger said she plans to open up another giveaway opportunity toward the end of the summer, with plans to begin the renovation in the new year.

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