Skilled Volunteers Cover the County's Home for Children With Fresh Paper

Times Staff Writer

In a bedroom at the Orangewood Children's Home, Joe Damato wielded his knife and spatula with quick, skillful motions to cut and smooth a small section of wallpaper near the ceiling.

Nine other professional paperhangers like Damato, 45, donated their skills Saturday to spruce up 13 bedrooms in the county children's care facility. The paper they hung, like their time, was donated.

"It's just nice to do something for someone else, like those kids, and make them feel like someone cares for them," said Damato, who has been hanging paper for 20 years.

The Western Wallcovering Distributors Assn., an organization of wall-covering distributors, manufacturers and representatives, donated 274 rolls to Orangewood, located in Orange, as part of its continuing program of community involvement, said Joe Anguiano, spokesman for the trade firm's public relations agency.

Although Bob Theemling, deputy director of Children's Services for the Orange County Social Services Agency and the man who runs Orangewood, was pleased with the donation, he had no budget for a county crew to hang the paper, Anguiano said. So the wall-covering organization contacted the Orange County Chapter of the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers and enlisted their support, he said.

In all, about $10,000 worth of labor and materials were donated to the facility, Anguiano said. When the project is completed, 26 bedrooms will be redone: the thirteen rooms completed Saturday in the adolescent boys cottage, and thirteen more to be fixed up in the adolescent girls cottage, he said.

Theemling said he is grateful for the donation because it provides the "extra" comforts the county cannot afford.

"I could always get the walls done in institutional tan or pea green if I wanted," Theemling said. But he expressed distaste at the idea of sterile, generic colors providing a backdrop for the large stuffed panda bear at the door or the wooden bookcase filled with well-thumbed textbooks.

Aesthetics aside, wallpaper is more practical, Theemling said. It doesn't chip like paint, and the paper was selected specifically for its sturdy resistance to peeling. The old paper suffered from the absent-minded tugs of teenage boys and girls.

"If a seam comes up, it's almost an invitation to pull on it," Theemling said.

In this case, the kids at Orangewood were asked to rip off the old paper in preparation for the new covering.

"They kind of liked that. Some of them said, 'You're kidding. You really want us to do that?' " Theemling said.

The wall-covering organization hopes publicity from its community-involvement programs helps inspire the use of wall coverings, Anguiano said. And the laboring guild members hope people become aware "that there are professional hangers and that we're good guys," guild President Doug Clay said.

Private industry was a main provider for Orangewood, and Theemling looks to private industry to provide more than the basics for the more than 2,600 children a year that Orangewood services.

"The great fear was that once this facility was completed, that people would forget there is an ongoing need," Theemling said, leaning against a table and surveying the busy environment in the cottage as the workers joked with each other and hung paper.

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