By Emily Williams
Birmingham’s Smile-A-Mile is entering 2017 with a new home and new branding to match.
Formerly known as Camp Smile-A-Mile, the organization that began 32 years ago by providing a summer camp for children battling pediatric cancer, survivors and their families has grown to serve its participants year-round through support programs and activities.
“Our greatest need was a space to be able to have all of our participants and families together,” said Smile-A-Mile Development Director Savannah Lanier.
A project in progress since the end of 2015, Smile-A-Mile Place, at 1600 Second Avenue South, is the first property that the organization has had that is all its own.
The building opened first to Smile-A-Mile participants Feb. 6, giving them the first look at the space that will serve as their home away from home during their cancer treatment and beyond recovery.
“We feel we found the perfect location,” said Lanier. “We’re within walking distance of Children’s Hospital and when kids who are in treatment at the hematology/oncology floor look out their windows, they’ll be able to see our building and know that this space is just for them.”
By touring other facilities similar to Smile-A-Mile across the country and polling its participants, the organization was able to work with general contractor B.L. Harbert and design firm Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds to transform the former warehouse into a facility that suits all of its programming and administrative needs.
“Every part of this building was well thought out,” Lanier said. “Every inch of our space serves to meet a specific need that our participants have.”
The main floor is devoted to programming. Upon entering the building, guests are greeted with a large open area filled with tables and chairs and a large screen. It’s perfect for events involving large groups of people.
On the far side of the room, a large red metal mountain covers the staircase to the second floor.
“This structure is entirely custom made,” Lanier said. “We felt that the mountain represents what our families and kids go through on their journey through treatment.”
Winding around the rest of the first floor are programming rooms. The rooms are devoted to art therapy projects, one for education courses and support groups, a fitness room for parents and young adult participants, a catering kitchen and reading nooks. There is even a game room with an Xbox for older participants.
“For these kids, it’s not about the activities at Smile-A-Mile so much as the opportunity to be surrounded by people who know what you have faced and what you are facing,” Lanier said.
A performance room equipped with a small curtained stage, large television, bean bag seating and an old-timey pop- corn machine is one that Lanier expects to be a participant favorite.
“Our kids love to entertain … . At camp we always have a talent show and the kids look forward to it all year ‘round,” Lanier said.
Lanier’s favorite room is the meditation space. With dark-colored walls, seating and carpeting and dim backlights tucked into the walls at eye level, the viewer’s focus is drawn to the ceiling, where filament lighting twinkles to create a starry sky.
“We want this to be a room where kids or adults can go whenever they need to be alone and think,” she said. “Maybe if they are facing a surgery or get news that they have relapsed, they can come in here for some quiet time.”
Another room that Lanier feels will “change the game” for Smile-A-Mile families is the family room. The space is set up much like a regular home living room. There is a washer and dryer and a full bathroom with a walk-in shower.
“Sometimes kids will be at the hospital for three weeks at a time,” Lanier said. “Most parents don’t want to leave their child overnight, so we wanted a space where they can come have some time outside of the hospital. They can come here during the day while their child is in treatment and they can just take a break – relax, take a shower, do some laundry.”
The second floor is where the administrative needs are met, including extra office space to accommodate staff growth, which organization officials expect they will need quite soon with all of the opportunities to grow within their building. There is also a large break room with seating and an open full kitchen where Lanier says the organization hopes to host its Mom’s Night Out programming, which typically includes spa and therapeutic activities.
A large conference room will be used for a variety of meetings for the staff and participating families.
“A dream for the future is that we can use this space to have pediatric oncologists conduct conferences,” Lanier said. “We have such a strong bond with Children’s, and moving forward we want to create ways to grow in that partnership.”
Though they are still within their capital campaign, Smile-A-Mile’s largest fundraiser of the year, the Red Nose Ball, will raise funds specifically for programming.
“With this new space, we will be adding more programming and serving more kids and more families,” Lanier said. “As our scope is broadening, so too are our budgets and we are so fortunate that Red Nose Ball has continued to be more and more successful each year.”
The event will be Feb. 25 at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. It begins at 6 p.m. and includes a cocktail hour, silent and live auctions, a seated dinner and dancing with music by The Schmohawks. Tickets are $300.
For more information, visit campsam.org.