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Extreme Makeover

I've been a big fan of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition since the beginning, for both the home construction aspect and for "making the world a better place" by building a new home for deserving families. On December 11, 2006 I read an article in the Austin American-Statesman that the Extreme Makeover team had chosen an Austin family for a new house project. The O'Donnell family has 6 children, 5 with autism. No other families with 5 biological austistic children are known in the world, and their house was falling apart as they focused their energy and money on getting the kids the specialized help they need. I found out from this followup article that the house is only 4 miles away from where I live!

Update: The episode aired on February 19,. 2007. My big scene was cut!  Oh well.  A wrapup article from the Statesman is here.

Here are a great group of pictures taken around the site through the week by the builder - right from the knock on the door through the family arriving home.

On Sunday, Ty and the design team arrived in the bus and did the traditional bullhorn wakeup call, talked about the project and sent them to a camp for autistic children in Crested Butte, Colorado.  On Sunday they moved out the contents of the house and did demolition.  They poured the concrete slab Monday at 3 AM (about 3 hours behind schedule) and the framing was half done by Tuesday, as you can see from these pictures I took when I visited the site.  I went over at lunchtime so the site was not as active as I was expecting.  I saw Eduardo, the landscaping guy on the design team, from a long way off. The site was well-managed with safety and security in force, and a spectator area set up across the street.

A lady who lives in the area said she heard the old house was about 2200 square feet and the new house will be 4600 square feet! That's going to take up almost all of the small corner lot, but it makes sense in Texas as you just can't spend a lot of time in your backyard with the scorching heat, like you can in other areas of the country.  I'm sure they'll use all of that space for bedrooms for 8 people and facilities for the kid's special needs.

I went back to the site again on Friday and as you can see, work was moving along well.  They will have no weather problems this week so they should be able to finish on schedule.  The shell of the house is up at this point and it's just huge!  It looks like they're going for a barn look with a colored stucco exterior finish. There's a slab of wood capping each window, and a cupola right at the peak.

A woman has been collecting donations all week from the spectators and on Friday she said they had raised $80,000 towards paying off the family's $140,000 mortgage.  A benefit concert at La Zona Rosa on Monday night must have been a major part of that sum.  At one point Paulie came over and talked with her about how the donations were going. The camera crew was following Paulie so they set up a shot showing people putting money into the hard hat. Well, given the magic of television, they did the shot, gave the little kids in the front row their money back, did another shot, gave it back and did a third shot. You might even get a chance to see me as I was standing right behind the kids in a bright red shirt!

Just as I was about to leave, a concrete pumper truck showed up to get concrete to the back yard for a patio slab and then pour the driveway.  This thing was big and the operator drove the articulated booms with a radio control system.

Well the big day arrived on Sunday.  I had heard the family was coming back between 1 PM and 3 PM so I went over about 12:15.  I got to a place across the street and about 30' down from the bus, standing on a bit of a platform in someone's front yard so I was about 6" above everyone in front of me giving great views of the action. I estimate there were over 2000 people there, including crew, builders, volunteers and spectators. People were sitting on roofs across the street to get a good view. Rumor had it all the neighbours agreed to let the show use anything they needed except for one cranky neighbor.  I won't say which one, but this lady just picked up a whole lot of bad karma. Here we see the expanding crowd and a shot of Tanya as she walked by.

The crew didn't do a very good job of telling us what was going on, other than one megaphone announcement around 1:30 that "the family is being interviewed, in a perfect world they'll be here at 2:00".  While we were waiting, they filmed several shots of the limo pulling up and the bus pulling away so they could splice in good footage for the show, as the real limo only pulls up once and the bus only pulls away once. At 2:35, we saw the limo stopped at the end of the road and the crew went into action getting everything ready.  That's the limo with its lights on in the left-side picture below, and on the right Ty is studying his hand - I think he must have written all 8 family member's name on it and was getting in some last-minute cramming...

Ty gives the signal and everyone starts cheering and the limo drives up behind the bus.  The crowd went crazy when the door opened and the family piled out.

Ty welcomed the family home with the bus blocking their view, and I think due to the length of time they must have done several takes. At one point one of the girls put her hands over her ears to block out the noise and the crowd noticed almost immediately and went quiet.

Then we did several rounds of "Bus driver, move that bus" and then the bus finally pulled away.  Big hugs all around.

Then the builder, Jimmy Jacobs, and the design team came out.  After more hugs we watched the family go inside to their new house.

Everyone started leaving the site to allow the family some peace and quiet to see the inside of the new house. We had no idea how long it might be until all interior filming was done and they would come out again.  So I finish with a nice shot of the completed house.  Definitely bigger than anything else in the neighbourhood but hopefully just right for this deserving family. Here is the wrapup story from the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.  The show is schedule to air in mid-February 2007.