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Big hearts fill small house

Six days a week, David Scott drives a truck on the overnight shift, picking up garbage collected in Roxbury and Dorchester. Seven days a week, he's a single father to three boys; the youngest, Michael, has cerebral palsy and mild retardation.

Until recently, 6-year-old Michael shared his father's bedroom in their small Brockton home. Michael would sleep while his dad worked the night shift. When Michael went to school in the morning, his father would take his place in bed, catching a few hours of sleep before his sons arrived home. The other two boys, Chris, 13, and Nicholas, 10, shared a second bedroom.

Their lives are crazy, he acknowledges, and Michael's needs are many. There is a lot of "just running around to physical therapy appointments, occupational and speech therapy, to Children's Hospital; it just never ends," says Scott, 41. "I have to remember the other two need me, too."

Dave Scott does not mean to complain. "I wouldn't change my life for the world," he says, hoisting Michael to his shoulders. His son cannot walk and has limited speech. "This is a beautiful boy."

With his busy schedule, Scott didn't focus on the house so much. It needed work. Lots of work. Enter the Room to Dream Foundation, a nonprofit that renovates the bedrooms of chronically ill children from families of modest means. Working with designers, artists, and trade volunteers, the foundation tries to create a healing and stimulating environment since the kids spend so much time at home, in their rooms.

Normally, Room to Dream does just that: a room makeover. Sometimes, they'll redo the sibling's, too, to avoid rivalry. The IKEA home furnishings store provided the designers for the Scott project. They ultimately decided that the entire small ranch house needed a makeover, which was outside the foundation's scope and budget.

Then a board member of Room to Dream called a South Shore businessman and asked if he knew anyone who could help. Yes, replied Eric Eskander: me. Eskander, 33, and his three partners -- John and Jason Cadete and Carlos Resendes -- signed on.

"We've been doing business in Brockton for so many years, and the city has been so good to us for so long, that we decided to do what we could," says Eskander, who lives in Braintree and has two young children of his own. "I was lucky to be able to do it."

The four partners own 52 Dunkin' Donuts franchises on the South Shore, 10 of them in Brockton. They picked up $9,300 to cover what the foundation couldn't.

On a recent weekend, while the Scott family was put up in a motel, volunteers from the Room to Dream Foundation and IKEA, and Eric and Jennifer Eskander, showed up at their house, tools in hand.

They painted, assembled furniture, ripped up old carpet, replaced it with new, installed shelves and cupboards, and added decorative touches. The dining room, which had no furniture, now has a new table and chairs, a china cabinet with new dishes and pretty vases. The brick fireplace was painted white.

The kitchen has a new butcher block counter and electrical outlets for the new flat-screen computer donated by a volunteer. Someone even stocked the cabinets, refrigerator and freezer with all sorts of food.

But best of all -- and the original subject of the makeover -- is Michael's new room. Before, it was the computer room where the boys did their homework. Now, it's a little boy's dream bedroom: green and white walls with a Celtics theme, brand new furniture, carpet, lighting and shelves. A television is tucked away in a cabinet, and on a recent day, Michael lay on his bed and watched "Sesame Street."

Next door, Chris and Nick share a red and white room: everything in it is new except for their clothes. There's a nearly lifesize decal of Paul Pierce on one wall, and Ortiz and Matsuzaka jerseys on another, next to a Red Sox clock. The closet has been rebuilt, and there are new curtains, lamps, and mirrors. But perhaps their favorite acquisition is a Nintendo Wii videogame system. With their help, little Michael can also play.

Dave Scott now has his own bedroom back. The walls are a deep navy blue, the better to maintain darkness since he sleeps during the day while the boys are in school. Again, everything in the room is new.

"I feel like I'm living in a different house," he says, as he tells Nicholas not to take a soda into his bedroom. He is especially thrilled with Michael's room, with its bright colors, low shelves that he can crawl to, and interactive lights. Scott says he can't believe volunteers "took their whole weekend to be here, to bring joy to a little boy they never met."

Stefan Nathanson, a Newton attorney who founded Room to Dream, says about 50 people showed up to work, including foundation board members and their families and friends, as well as IKEA employees and the Eskanders. Catchlight Painting donated all the paint and labor to turn the walls from white to bright. Michael was greeted by the Celtics' own Lucky the Leprechaun when the family returned home to their new house.

Because of the kindness of strangers, a single father with three boys has a home that is organized and attractive, and that makes Scott's hectic life easier. Though relatives and an aide are there nights when he's working, he is clearly Mr. Mom. His calendar is scribbled with appointments, and he says he tries his best to keep up with the laundry for four males, as well as meals. And he is tender and sweet with his boys, particularly his youngest.

This Brockton version of "Extreme Makeover" is proof that in a world filled with war and crime, cynicism and incivility, people reaching out to others can create a caring community that restores one's faith in goodness.

Columnist Bella English of Milton can be reached at