An Extreme Home Makeover For Friends in Arkansas
At noon on Friday my father called me from the little town of Murfreesboro, Arkansas and said "Stephen, you've got to get up here. The Collins are getting their Extreme Home Makeover! This is something to see. The whole town has doubled in size overnight."
We had been hearing for awhile that our friends were in consideration for a home makeover. ABC was telling the Collins family that they were in the running with twenty other families, then ten families, then five families. Everyone had been afraid to get their hopes up.
During the first couple of seasons of Extreme Home Makeover, most families that were considered entered the contest themselves. But now ABC is taking a more active role in finding families to help. The Collins family didn't even apply for their makeover. It was the heroism of their 14-year-old son that started this process. This boy Mitchell Collins survived brain cancer but was left mentally handicapped. He was so thankful to be alive that he decided to help the Arkansas Children's Hospital that had treated him. So he started a fundraiser that captured the heart of his home town. When he wrote a report about his project someone at his school, perhaps his teacher or his principal, nominated Mitchell for the Volvo For Life citizenship award. He didn't win that award, but through that contest he and his family came to the attention of ABC.
This reality show is so much more enjoyable and uplifting than watching Paris Hilton or the late Anna Nicole set new lows with vapid stupidity. When Kim Collins learned that her family won she began crying for the other four families that she had thought were still in the running. She is sure that they must be in rough financial shape too.
It hadn't always been so tough for the Collins. Mr. Collins owns his own logging business. Kim Collins had almost finished earning her degree to be a schoolteacher. But when tragedies struck, the Collins opened their home to five young cousins.
That was eight people in a house with one bathroom.
So when my father told me the home makeover was really happening, I had to get up there to see it. I grabbed my family and took off for Murfreesboro. I felt quite fortunate to be able to get on location. The Collins' live off of a private drive that was being tightly controlled by security guards. But Kim Collins' father - Nim Harris - is a friend and he was able to get a couple of VIP passes out to my wife and I.
When I walked up Nim was looking a little anxious, "I'm ready for my family to get back," he said. With Extreme Home Makeover the winning family is always sent away on vacation while their home is rebuilt (synergy alert: the Collins were sent to Disney World and Disney is ABC's parent company). Contact between anyone on location and the beneficiary family is strictly forbidden. And Nim looked like he was going to bust with excitement. He really wanted to visit with his daughter and his grandchildren.
The new Collins' home as seen from Nim Harris' Driveway
The location resembled a human version of a busy ant colony. There must have been at least 100 workers putting on the roof, adding siding, doing stone masonry, land work, electrical work, and carpentry all at once. It was obvious that every detail was meticulously planned. There might be ten people in a single bedroom doing work at once - and no one was standing around or getting into arguments. As soon as one stage of the project was completed the next started without a pause. It was amazing to see.
Nim is a gifted carpenter himself. I got to know Nim when he was building my father's home and then, later, when he built my own home. "Nim, have you ever seen a building project like this?" I asked. "No, I haven't." Rather than try to upgrade the modest Collins home, the Extreme Team decided to start from scratch. They demolished the home, scrapped up the old slab – and they even got rid of the old septic tank. A larger tank was needed to service the 3 ½ bathrooms they were putting in.
From a bare slab on Thursday morning (they obviously used a very quick-drying cemet) they had the house completely framed up and walled in by early Friday afternoon. I kidded with Nim, "Man, you guys are downright slow by comparison." Nim and Thomas had just finished adding a much-needed room on to the back of the Collins' house. That had taken Nim and Thomas a couple of months of their spare time. And now this huge house was going up in hours. Nim laughed. "Yeah, our little crew works at a different pace."
As fast as they were going I was still a little concerned. About a third of the house was without a roof Friday evening - and we had a big storm system bearing down. But the project continued fast throughout the night. When the rain hit at 5:00 am Saturday morning the entire house was under roof.
But Nim and rest of the extended family were not getting a lot of sleep. They were spending their time receiving well wishers and watching their child's life improve by the hour. "Yeah, we are getting a couple of hours of sleep a night. Part of it is the excitement and the lights and the noise," Nim said. The project was lit up like a sporting event all night so that work could continue.
Nim continued, "It's also this - I finally get settled down enough to sleep around 3:00 am but I bolt awake at 5:00 not believing it is really happening." Usually when something this life changing happens to a family it's a bad thing - like a death in the family. Obviously this was the opposite of a tragedy, but I was struck with how similar the etiquette is. Friends come bearing casseroles. Many asked how they were holding up.
It would be hard to place a value on this gift to the Collins. Obviously ABC is funding much of the project, but they also are encouraging donations from others. Sears is donating all the appliances. Realsteel donated the steel for the framework of the home. Local contractors like earthmovers, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians are donating their time. Often scholarships are provided for the children of these families. 123 loads of dirt were brought in to level the yard. At least one 18 wheeled tractor-trailer of sod is being brought in to make an instant yard.
It seems like everyone in Murfreesboro has done something. When I had breakfast on Saturday morning my waitress told me that she had spent most of the night as a volunteer passing out drinks to the workers. She told me "If you see Ty, tell him his next girlfriend is waiting tables down at Buddy's."
Actually I never saw Ty Pennington. He had been there at the beginning of the project and would return at the end. On Saturday afternoon I saw the mayor and the police chief having their picture taken with another member of the design team John Littlefield. When I asked Nim why he didn't get in on that picture he said, "I'm not running for anything." It was Nim's son Thomas who gave the necessary media interviews.
Today the Collins' are traveling back to Arkansas. About 4:00 this evening Ty will yell out "Bus driver, move that bus!" and the Collins will get to see their beautiful new home for the first time.
Sometime later this evening Nim will get to sit down with his daughter and talk. And talk. I guess Nim will get some sleep tomorrow night.
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