The Flyers and Michael’s Way team up to make one local family’s dream home a reality.
For the O’Malley family, the journey home has been an unforgettable one.
The Northeast family — who reside on the 3800 block of Violet Drive in Millbrook — were the latest recipients of the annual Building Hope for Kids project, a partnership between the Flyers and Michael’s Way.
Shaun and Tara O’Malley have three children, the oldest, 5-year old Maddie, and her two younger brothers, Austin and Gus. In March 2015, Maddie was diagnosed with B-Cell Leukemia. She recently completed therapy at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
Over the past seven years, the Philadelphia Flyers and the charity Michael’s Way have chosen a family with a chronically ill child for their Building Hope for Kids project. Michael’s Way was founded in 2002 by Chris McElwee, a Mayfair native and Abraham Lincoln High School graduate. McElwee began the charity in memory of his older brother Michael, who died of leukemia at age 25, and has since raised more than $6 million to lessen the financial burden of hundreds of families whose children suffer from cancer.
McElwee owns Fastrack Construction, and his workers remodel the entire home of the family chosen for Building Hope for Kids. Robin Capecci, social worker at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, thought the O’Malley family would be a more-than-deserving recipient of this project.
Shaun, a Philadelphia firefighter, and Tara, a part-time occupational therapist, were happy to see representatives from the Flyers and Michael’s Way at their house, but the real surprise came in their announcement.
“Oh wow, I guess we got it. I guess we’ll get a room redone,” Shaun O’Malley recalled from the initial announcement. “They were like, ‘No, we’re redoing the whole house.’ ”
At the beginning of the new year, Fastrack Construction began its task of remodeling the O’Malley household. During this time, the family vacated their house and lived with Tara’s parents in Parkwood. The only time the O’Malleys would visit their house during the remodeling period was to pick up mail and occasionally catch up with neighbors.
After a month and a half of being away, the O’Malley family returned home on Valentine’s Day. They arrived back on Violet Drive to see their street shut down with a block party celebration. Police cars blocked the entrance, a fire truck flew the American flag, children decked out in Philadelphia Flyers gear played foot hockey in the street. And in their driveway, members of the Flyers organization — from President Paul Holmgren, down to the players and their wives and girlfriends — welcomed the O’Malleys home.
“I think every opportunity to be able to give a little bit back, to be able to be a part of the community. I think both the players and their wives and the coaches’ wives are always right there and wanting to be a part of that,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. “It’s a way that we can be a part of the community. All you have to do is be a part of this day, even for a couple of hours, here this afternoon and it’s a pretty special feeling.”
This scene was quite a lot to take in, as cameras from local television stations were present to get the O’Malleys reaction of their new and improved home. Shaun and Tara were able to catch a glimpse of the living room and kitchen before their children bolted up the stairs to see their new rooms.
Maddie beamed as she saw her room and exclaimed, “I love it!”
O’Malley recognizes how vital their family support has been throughout Maddie’s battle with cancer, and is thrilled to be able to make his newly renovated home and true gathering place for their family.
“Our families have done so much for us throughout this entire process and to have them there in support of us and to know this is really going to be a gathering place for our family,” he said. “You know — grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles — this can really be the location to keep the family strong and together … it is just what probably means the most to me right now.”
As for the organizations that contributed to their remodeled home, O’Malley couldn’t stop complimenting their hard work.
“It was amazing to see them there, just the amount of work and thought that they put in to just making our house a palace, we’re just so appreciative,” said O’Malley. “There aren’t enough good things to say about them.”
After the Flyers organization and media members had departed, the O’Malleys could finally process their unbelievable experience. O’Malley explained that even after spending 24 hours in his new house, it still hasn’t fully sunk in.
“It really does look like a different house. There’s just so much done that I couldn’t even take it in all at once. It was like just looking with your jaw dropped. It was amazing, it still is,” said O’Malley. “I’m standing in my bedroom right now just looking around amazed, just thankful and grateful that this gets to be our house, forever.” ••
John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com