ANTIOCH -- The Ouimet family has not been home much over the past three years -- their life a blur of trips to San Francisco hospitals for dialysis treatment and care for toddler son Matthew.
In fact, since moving from a rental home last January, life has been so chaotic with the 3-year-old's life-sustaining liver and kidney transplant in June and recovery that many boxes remain packed and family photos were never put up on the wall.
But now, thanks to a high school service club, the family can settle in to a fun place to relax and hang out.
About 60 students in the Healing Spaces Club from Concord's De La Salle and Carondelet high schools spent most of this past Saturday giving the family home a makeover.
"It way surpassed anything I could have imagined. It feels like a model home," Kristi Ouimet said.
Seeing the family-friendly refurbishment left her in tears and speechless, she said.
The new upstairs loft includes rustic-themed textured wallpaper, drapes, couch, coffee table, a new TV and Xbox One and walls covered with family photos and other personal touches. One of Kristi's favorite parts is a sign out of old fence wood that reads: "What I love most about my home is the people I share it with."
"They were just so professional and respectful, and all their little personal touches were adorable," she said. "It's a constant reminder how lucky and blessed we are."
Matthew showed his appreciation as well on Saturday, as the teens were eager to meet him and take pictures, Kristi said. After some initial shyness because of all the people, he declared "this is amazing" and had to touch everything, including every M&M in a large candy dish, she said. He is still eagerly clutching his new "Frozen" and "Despicable Me 2" DVDs, she said.
The Healing Spaces club started in 2008, raising thousands of dollars and sacrificing a weekend to perform an act of kindness.
"I think it's a really great club, just to have these kids willing to give up their weekend, to have the compassion and love to do it," interior designer Sharon Gerlach said.
Though her son already graduated, Gerlach stayed on because of the work being done.
Over the years, Healing Spaces has worked on a halfway house, a battered women's shelter and a nursery for children of families in crisis.
Last year, the group spruced up the condo of Concord resident Stoorai Nuri and her daughter, Hannah, whose lives were devastated by a tragic auto accident in 2012 that killed Stoorai's husband and 9-year-old daughter.
"We try to find a candidate that is dealing with a lot in life, and hasn't had time to do it for themselves," said Steve Oelschlager, club moderator and English teacher. "Having a pleasant environment helps heal the family."
They heard about the Ouimet's 24/7 struggles through the media and within the De La Salle community, as Matthew's father, Kelly, is a grad.
Gerlach's hope is that the loft "will provide a little oasis" for the Ouimets they all can enjoy.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.