A North Carolina girl with special needs enters her redone bedroom for the first time. She then falls onto her new bed, spreads her arms, buries her face in the comforter, and hugs as much of the mattress as she can.
In the background of the video, Meg Caswell stands alongside the girl’s mother, their expressions nearly matching the unbridled joy displayed by the bed squeezer.
It’s another priceless Welcome Home Angel moment, the kind that Wilmette interior designer Caswell—host of the former HGTV show Meg’s Great Rooms, after having won season six of the channel’s Design Star show in 2011—plans to embrace again and again as the founder of Welcome Home Angel’s first chapter (Illinois) outside of North Carolina.
Founded 15 years ago by John Kaiser in Wilmington, North Carolina, Welcome Home Angel brings joy to children with significant health or life-altering conditions and relief to their families by creating happier and more functional living spaces. The nonprofit completes a variety of makeovers, ranging from aesthetic refreshes to useful enhancements, such as widening doorways, building ramps, and installing lift systems.
The 44-year-old Caswell, who grew up in Kenilworth and earned her BFA in interior architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, serves as board president of Welcome Home Angel.
Welcome Home Angel-Illinois launches this month.
“We believe every child with special needs, and every child who had suffered an unexpected medical crisis, should have a welcoming and safe home, where children can focus on themselves versus their diagnoses,” Caswell says. “We want parents to be parents, not just constant caregivers.
“We aim to take care of the physical needs of families, as well as their emotional needs. We’re all about alleviating the stress and challenges these families endure at home.”
Caswell had attended Canterbury School in Connecticut for three years and just earned a degree in criminology at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, when a chat with her late grandfather, William B. Graham, altered her life’s direction. Graham served as CEO of the health care company Baxter International from 1953-1980. He died in 2006, in Kenilworth, at the age of 94.
“My grandfather asked me, ‘What’s next for you?’ ” Caswell recounts. “I told him, ‘Law school.’ He then looked right at me and said, ‘Why would you do that? You don’t like to read; you’re creative, truly creative.’ Later on in our conversation he encouraged me to think about what I love to do and to pursue a more suitable career path.
“My grandfather assured me that doing something I’m passionate about would likely lead to success, and that with success I’d be able to give back to the community in some way. He made an incredible number of lives better through the medical innovations he oversaw as a leader at Baxter, and I will be forever grateful that he served as such an influential mentor for me.”
Caswell took Grandpa Bill’s advice and ran with it, ending up at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Good-bye, torts. Hello, tapestry. But she emerged with more than a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
Caswell entered the workforce with a belief she holds dear today: Good design should be accessible to everyone.
She owned and operated the Design Shoppe on Armitage Avenue in Chicago from 2006-2011, and moved to Wilmington, North Carolina in 2013, eventually opening the Fifth & Castle design shop.
Her first lunch with Welcome Home Angel founder Kaiser evoked memories of the pivotal conversation she’d had with a certain relative.
“I thought of my grandfather as John told me all about Welcome Home Angel and its wonderful mission to give the gift of a safe and functional home environment to deserving families,” says Caswell, who shares son Ransom, 8, with husband Randy Holladay. “Then, I realized, ‘This is it! I need to help. I want to help.’ And I love to raise money for good causes. What a great opportunity to give back and do something I love at the same time.
“These kids … they shouldn’t have to struggle or worry while doing everyday things at home—things that most people don’t even think about,” she adds. “Things like getting in and out of a bathtub, walking up and down stairs, making it through doorways.”
Welcome Home Angel has recognized, since its inception in 2007, that the needs of siblings of special needs children tend to either turn into afterthoughts or are forgotten altogether in a household.
“After accepting families’ applications, we research what interests the siblings, and we look into what they would love to have added to their bedrooms,” Caswell says. “Siblings often do a lot to help their parents with the challenges at home. They need attention, too.”
Caswell first flexed her philanthropic muscle way back in her Canterbury School years. As head of a clothing drive on campus, she placed empty boxes in dorms, hoping students would want to rid their crowded closets of superfluous threads. But most of the boxes remained empty.
So, she did something about it.
“I went to the Dean of Students and asked permission to go room to room in the dorms and make it easier for people to donate clothes,” Caswell recalls. “I got permission. I also received help from my friends, who didn’t want to miss out on the chance to stop by the boys’ dorms.”
Caswell and Co. collected boatloads of clothes, stuffed the togs in bags, and then practically busted a van’s suspension en route to a shelter.
Dubbed “Palm Beach chic” because of her penchant for vibrant pastel colors, Caswell, the interior designer, has 32 clients, including five in Florida and two each in New York (the Hamptons), Michigan, and Colorado.
But nothing would thrill her more than to see Welcome Home Angel lift the spirits of families in 50 states.
“I’ve always been this way,” Caswell, sporting a bright-pink shirt, says of her can-do attitude and infectious enthusiasm. “I’m up a 6 a.m., every morning, ready to go. People always ask me, ‘How do you do all that you do?’
“Easy,” she adds. “I don’t procrastinate.”