"Better than a birthday."
That's how Nick Borreca described the gift of a backyard playground for his son, Luca, 6, who is battling Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.
On Thursday, May 10, Vaughan-based non-profit Million Dollar Smiles' volunteers, aided by 16 Keller Williams Referred Realty employees, built the 19x10-foot structure in Luca's corner-lot backyard in the quiet, leafy neighbourhood of The Queensway and Islington Avenue.
"They're strangers. We never imagined this would happen," dad Nick said. "It will make him happy. He'll be very surprised."
Borreca and wife, Maria, led a blindfolded Luca and big sister, Julia, 8, into the backyard as the Miley Cyrus song, The Climb played. Family and friends erupted in applause.
Luca seemed awestruck - by both his new playground, and by the media attention.
"Yeah!" said the shy, blond-haired boy as he clambered onto the structure when asked by a reporter if he thought the playground was neat.
Mountainview Resort looks like a little house, complete with yellow plastic tunnel slide, two swings and hanging rings.
The swings are Julia's favourite: "I think it's nice. I think these people are being really helpful."
Anna Lopes founded Million Dollar Smiles six years ago to put smiles on the faces of people facing major challenges in their lives.
"I had turned 40 and realized there is more to life. I needed to find my purpose," she said, noting she met a four-year-old girl at the time who had raised money for cancer. "I fell in love with that little girl. That was it. Kids with cancer touch my heart. They really do inspire me."
Families request playgrounds of Million Dollar Smiles to allow their children to play at home.
"It allows their parents to be able to watch them. They get to be kids while they have their treatment," Lopes said.
This summer, Lopes plans to build nine playgrounds, all paid through corporate sponsorships and fundraisers.
Last November, Luca was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia or ALL.
ALL is the most common type of cancer in children, SickKids Foundation reports. It destroys the white blood cells in the body that fight bacteria.
Luca was immediately put on an extensive course of ongoing chemotherapy. He just finished treatment at SickKids Hospital on Monday, May 7. He'll continue to take a chemo pill each night before bed.
Luca's grandfather, Maria's Dad, is also battling cancer.
"You look up at the sky and ask, 'What did I do to deserve this?'" dad Nick said. "God has given us a test. 'How much can these people handle?' But so far, so good."
Mom Maria was particularly moved.
"It means the world to us. Knowing all these people are here to support us with all this love. It's fantastic."
Keller Williams Referred Realty employee volunteers from offices in York and North York sported "Red Day" T-shirts that read, "Give Where You Live."
Every fourth Thursday in May, tens of thousands of the Texas-based realty firm's employees across North America take on charitable projects in honour of the company's vice-chair Mo Anderson. Anderson led her KW Cares organization to raise more than $5 million for Hurricane Katrina relief.
"It's pretty cool to take on such a good cause to give back to the community and make a difference in other people's lives," said Jennifer O'Kane, a Keller Williams' sales rep at its North York office in the Leslie Street-York Mills Road area. "We appreciate the community letting us sell their homes or referring us. Doing this is a pretty amazing feeling."
Visit www.milliondollarsmiles.ca to sponsor or volunteer.