SINGAPORE - Growing up, student Jessel Ng and his two older siblings often had to eat their meals apart in a cluttered three-room flat, as they did not have a dining table at home.
But earlier this year, the 17-year-old's church friends gave his Geylang Bahru home an elaborate makeover, including a fresh coat of paint and new furniture.
This Christmas, the family shared a feast together for the first time in the renovated home. Santa hats, artificial poinsettia flowers and a Christmas wreath adorned with fairy lights in the living room added to the Yuletide vibe.
"We haven't eaten together in a long time. Christmas is a special occasion and I wanted us to come together as a family," said Jessel, beaming brightly as he feasted on Christmas staples from turkey ham to spaghetti bolognese.
The family's home makeover was a gift from Heart of God Church, which he has been attending for the past five years.
The youth church in Eunos helped to spruce up the flat between December last year and January this year, giving Jessel and his loved ones a more conducive living space.
Unlike most of his peers, the teen grew up not having his own room or new clothes to wear for festive occasions.
His mother, 56, works as a coffee shop assistant from morning to night to single-handedly raise him and his two siblings, now aged 21 and 22. His father died when he was three.
The idea for the home makeover came about when Jessel's connect group leader Ms Nadine Leong, 30, discovered last October that Jessel did not have his own bed to sleep in. The teen, who was sleeping on an old, worn-out mattress placed on top of a television console, had complained of severe back aches.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Ms Leong, an accounts executive, said: "When Jessel told me he was having back pain, I thought it was weird since he was only 16 then.
"I asked him to show me a photo of his house. Then we realised, no wonder he had the back pain, because he was sleeping on a TV console."
Ms Leong informed the senior pastors of Heart of God Church who initiated the makeover of Jessel's home, and the church financed the renovation costs.
Over seven weeks, church volunteers helped the youth to declutter his home, repaint its walls and accompanied him to Ikea to get new furniture, including his own bed.
The makeover was not easy, as the boy did not know where to begin.
Ms Cecilia Chan, the church's senior pastor, said: "For youth growing up in a difficult environment, the struggle is not just physical or financial, but also psychological and emotional.
"When Jessel remodelled his own room, he realised that he can also rebuild his own life."
Now, the boy's bedroom - once littered with tote bags and shoe boxes - is a well-lit space where he sleeps, does his homework and invites friends over. Decorative plants line the walls of his room and stuffed animals create a cozy atmosphere.
The St Andrew's Secondary School student also has a study table that is large enough to accommodate his laptop and study materials. Previously, he had little space for home-based learning and had to hide in a corner of his room for Zoom calls.
"Now I can invite my friends over. After the renovation, I don't feel insecure about my home anymore," he said.
During the Christmas meal with his family on Tuesday (Dec 21) evening, Jessel could not help but feel thankful.
He had been planning the dinner for two weeks, including putting up the decorations around the flat.
"Having a Christmas dinner of my own at home is a dream come true," he said.
"Without the church, all of this would not be possible."