Volunteers give Stewartville boy a place to call his own

September 18, 2018

STEWARTVILLE — It’s important for A.J. Fischer to call the shots. And Rule No. 1: His new play shed is all about fun.

“I made the rule, no school allowed in here,” he said Saturday, after getting the first look at his new playhouse, appropriately named A.J.’s Command Center. “It’s only a fun area.”

A.J., a 10-year-old from Stewartville, suffers from recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, a rare disease that prevents his skin from properly anchoring to his body. His condition, which includes red welts dotted across his body, can be aggravated by jostling or temperatures too warm.

It has also made it hard for A.J. to play with children his own age. A simple bump can cause a new blistering outbreak, said his adoptive mother, Barbara Fischer.

So, when A.J. made a wish to Minneapolis-based Wishes & More for a place where he could play Legos and video games, but also where he could make the rules, the nonprofit organization saw a child in need of the necessities of a childhood.

“The process started in March when A.J. put in a wish for a clubhouse where he could play games with friends,” said Bruce Humphries, a wish coordinator with the organization.

From there, Humphries got in touch with Lanny Tippetts and Jon Severson, who served locally as the project manager and co-manager for construction of A.J.’s clubhouse.

Tippetts, who works for Team Depot, an outreach of Home Depot that generally helps veterans and communities needing skilled labor after natural disasters, said he and Severson found volunteers and helped build a getaway for A.J.

“Jon and his father-in-law brought in crushed gravel and leveled the site,” Tippetts said. As an assistant coach for Stewartville’s football team, Severson got several players to donate their time to help with the construction. Several showing up Saturday as Wishes & More held a grand opening, including a ribbon cutting for A.J.’s Command Center.

The shell for the clubhouse was purchased at a discount from Tuff Shed. Inside, the textured walls were painted by Severson’s wife, Kim. A wall unit that provides both heat and air conditioning will keep A.J. and his guests comfortable.

“You see kids like A.J., and you try to give them everything you can to be a kid,” Tippetts said.

That includes the military theme of the clubhouse.

A.J.’s brother-in-law, Corey Bartlet, who also serves as A.J.’s full-time caregiver, is a member of the National Guard.

“I really look up to him,” A.J. said.

So the curtains, sewn by Tippetts, are camouflage. Sandbags surround the front of the Command Center, and an American Flag was one of the housewarming gifts A.J. received during Saturday’s dedication.

In fact, as Humphries noted, a bald eagle even flew overhead during the ceremony.

A.J., along with his adoptive sister, 11-year-old Arianna, who is confined to a wheelchair, will be able to use the clubhouse to spread out to play.

“We just live on the main level,” Barbara Fischer said. “A.J.’s room is about a third or less the size of the shed. If he pulls his Legos out, it’s on the kitchen table.”

Storage for the Legos, a couch, and a TV with a game system are still to come, Tippetts said. And he plans to be there to help finish the job inside for A.J.

“You’re only as rich as the people you call family,” Tippetts said. “It’s just turned into a big family out here.”

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