In 2003 ABC aired a new show called Extreme Makeover that helped people with major facial deformities get a new lease on life by giving them the reconstructive surgery they so desperately needed and deserved but were unable to afford themselves. The show proved to be a hit and ran for four seasons but it also spawned a spinoff series that proved to be even more popular – Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
If you are not familiar with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (EMHE), for eight years running the show has been helping families with unique stories get back on their feet by demolishing their current house - usually in a state of disrepair or inadequate size for the family - and building them a brand new house complete with furniture and tons of extras. America loves to watch a “feel good” show about special families in bad situations getting help from their local communities and that is just what ABC has given them with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
With former Trading Spaces carpenter Ty Pennington serving as host, EMHE has helped 185 families in each one of the 50 states from a variety of backgrounds move passed a rough part of their life. For those unfamiliar here is the process the show goes through each time a new episode airs:
- Months in advance, several families in a specific area of the country are nominated by friends and family members as deserving of getting a new home
- ABC goes through all of the nominations and picks a family
- Once the family has been chosen, a local contractor is selected to oversee the entire build. Then local companies DONATE all the materials necessary to build the home in exchange for advertising time or space on the build site and on the show.
- After ABC sends the family on vacation, hundreds of volunteers get together and tear down the original house and rebuild a brand new house in only 4 days!
- The house is revealed to the family with the now familiar catch phrase "MOVE THAT BUS!"
I’ve been watching the show for years now and have always wanted to help on one of these builds. While in college, I spent a couple of years assisting on build sites with Habitat for Humanity and had always enjoyed working in a team environment to help build something for a great cause. So when I heard a family in Middleburg, FL (which is less than an hour from my house) had been selected by ABC for EMHE, I knew that I had to be involved. I was able to spend four days on the build site, helping do all sorts of grunt work, meeting all the people behind the scenes and the celebrities who showed up to help.
Below you are my experience of what it is like to be a part of this massive undertaking - as well as a gallery of behind the scenes images.
The Family's Story
Carrie Prewitt is the high school volleyball coach at Middleburg High School and first met the Brewer sisters – Ashley, Taylor and Gina – when Ashley was a freshman in high school. The Brewers came from a broken home and when their mom died of an overdose, Carrie immediately took Ashley into her less-than-modest double-wide trailer home while the two younger sisters stayed with their grandmother.
After the sisters’ father died of an overdose as well, the state was going to put them into foster care but Prewitt stepped up and requested to be legal guardian of all three girls. Carrie Prewitt became a mother that day to those three girls, which is why ABC chose her for the special Mother’s Day episode of EMHE.
I showed up shortly after the demolition, which was done by shooting frozen volleyballs from a pumpkin cannon. I was able to meet a couple of the designers - Tracy Hutson and Mike Maloney - and John Long, who is the owner of J.A. Long Design Builders. John's company was in charge of the actual construction of the home. Along with his wife Linda and two sons Randy and Ryan, John and his family literally worked 24 hours a day for a week to make sure the Prewitt-Brewer family had a gorgeous new home to live in.
I was there all afternoon and it was amazing to watch the demolition crew go from standing house to level ground in less than six hours. There were motor homes and tents scattered everywhere as an army of volunteers all worked to prep the build site so that the foundation could be poured as soon as possible. If you’ve ever wondered how EMHE is able to begin building on a freshly poured concrete foundation so quickly, it’s because they use a very expensive fast setting concrete – the same concrete used to build bridges.
I came back early the next day and was determined to get onto the build site. Previously, I had been denied access because press was required to stay in the VIP area. Volunteers for the build had signed up weeks in advance and to even be allowed onto the build site by security you needed to have a blue volunteer T-shirt and white hard hat, neither of which were given to members of the press. However, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I made it my personal goal to get a chance to actually help out.
Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia is a BIG military outlet with several bases located in and around the area; as luck would have it, over a hundred service men and women drove down with their families from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and Naval Air Station Jacksonville to help, or so they hoped. After making the almost 2.5 hour trip to the build site, they were told all the volunteer slots for the day had been filled but that they were welcome to watch the action unfold from the sidelines in the VIP tent.
Show designer Mike Maloney spent time with the group signing autographs and posing for pictures and suggested the sailors could help install the pre-fab walls that were currently being installed one at a time by crane. They started passing out T-shirts and hard hats - so of course I grabbed a set and trotted off with the group. More than 150 people gathered on the build site receiving instructions of what we were about to do from Randy Long of J.A. Long Design Builders.
In teams of ten, we took each 500+ pound panel to its designated area on the foundation and stood it upright while qualified construction workers secured them in place. It was truly a site to see because what was going to take 3-4 hours to accomplish using a single crane literally took 15 minutes with all those servicemen and their families helping out.