29 October 2010

day one with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

I had the great fortune last week to volunteer on the site for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  You know the one, the ABC Sunday night TV show starring every lady's favorite carpenter, Ty Pennington.

I found out they were coming to Pensacola about a month ago, so I did some digging and found out how to volunteer (which, in all honesty, should just be "walk up" but I did actually get to sign up for some shifts through the builder).  I would call Heritage Homes the real champion behind the family.  They really did provide everything from skilled laborers to volunteer coordinators to donating materials and getting the community involved. 

Since Heritage Homes had done an Extreme Makeover home in Mobile a few years ago, I was expecting a really well-oiled machine.  But while they had worked out some kinks I'm sure, there was still a lot of rumors flying, miscommunication among various volunteer coordinators, and volunteers standing around waiting for something to do (namely, ME).

They really do keep the build a secret until the last possible moment.  From what I could tell, the family knows they're "in the running" but they don't know they're the chosen ones until Ty comes a-knockin'.  Which is kind of hard when you're a volunteer because you don't know where you've signed up to go until the day before (or the day of, for some folks).  The builder's Facebook wall was seriously exploding with speculations and rumors of the locale on the day of the announcement.  I was slightly paranoid it would be over an hour's drive for three days of volunteering.  But it turned out closer than I expected, so that was nice.

Here's just a blow-by-blow account of Day 1:
The first day I showed up I had to sign both a liability waiver and an image release form.  We waited around in the check-in tent for a bit, and then they finally called about six names.  Once my name was called, I was handed a way-too-big blue t-shirt and a white hard hat.  Then we were led down a path toward the house.  I'm no stranger to a construction site; I spent my year in AmeriCorps working with Habitat for Humanity on a site every day.

It was technically still Day 1 of the build, and the foundation had been laid at 4am that day (with apparently a special quick-drying kind of concrete).  When I saw it at noon the whole house was already framed with treated OSB on the exterior walls and trusses being taken up to the roof.  [There was no demolition for this episode.]  Even though during my AmeriCorps stint I had actually built a house in a week at a build-a-thon in Gulfport to help after Katrina/Rita leveled the place, this kind of pace blew my mind.  In the 5 days I spent in Gulfport, we only finished the exterior, siding roof, nothing on the inside but the studs for the walls.  So I have to hand it to the pros here--this is amazingly quick!

This was actually taken the next day, but you get the point
Once we were brought down to the site, we were told to go to yet another white tent and stay there until someone gave us something to do.  After about 10 minutes, a woman working on the site came over looking for water.  We had none.  Just some tables and some chairs.  Eventually, a guy came by asking for "one or two mechanically-minded people who can read directions."  Another gal named Eva and I jumped at the chance to actually do something.  He took us back to a shed not too far from our tent, and asked us to set up some industrial lights.  We opened up the boxes and soon realized we actually needed some tools (namely, a wrench and possibly a screwdriver).  So the guy went on and found someone's toolbag.  We got our wrenches, but a Phillips-head screwdriver was nowhere to be found.  We improvised with a pretty tiny flathead, and we had those lights together within the half-hour.  They looked like this:

Not the hardest thing I've ever put together
When we emerged triumphant from the shed, the rest of the people in our tent were gone, and we saw them on site pulling nails out of 2-by-4's (so the pieces could be re-used).  They were kinda crowded over there, so my new buddy and I decided to stay away and were soon handed a bucket and told to just go around the house and pick up trash. That took no more than 20 minutes, and then we decided to walk around the whole scene and take it all in.  We found the VIP tent (which we were not invited to) and a bunch of stuff going on at a formerly-abandoned warehouse across the street (the house being built was on a corner across from a sewage lift station in one direction and this warehouse in the other - no wonder the county donated the land!).  We stumbled into a makeshift cafeteria, where we saw lots of people eating lunch, including the guy who had asked us to build the lights.  He told us he had forgotten about us back there.  How nice.

We got to eat some lunch there (thank God, because I had forgotten and was starting to get hungry) and grab some ice cream.  All the food was donated, so thank you to the local businesses!  We left the cafeteria, and saw some volunteers we recognized from earlier.  They were standing on the other side of the warehouse in front of the other entrance.  The big Extreme Makeover bus was pulling around the site into the area.  It was a pretty cool sight.  People were starting to come off of it, and of course we just stood there looking for the TV stars.  We saw Michael and Tracy walk by, and Michael smiling the whole time (yes he smiled at ME!).  By standing there, we eventually all got to help set up their green room in the warehouse.  It was all junk food, I kid you not.

the infamous BUS!
We eventually saw Ty get out of a pickup truck, and I tried to take some crappy pictures on my phone while making a mental note to bring make sure my real camera was in my pants pocket the next day.

We did a lot of odd jobs for the rest of the time - including decorating the design tent for Christmas!  Yes, it was October but you gotta film this stuff early!  I somehow ended up in the house very briefly while Michael was doing a spiel.  They told me to pretend like I was measuring, but the measuring tape in the room didn't even have TAPE in it.  So I held up a board and pretended to be busy.  And then a bunch of us carried wood from one side of the house to the other and then BACK a few times as filming continued.  When this episode airs in December, I'll make sure to let you know if I see myself!

Also taken the following day - it's Michael's profile and the back of Tracy
Mind you, this was all Day 1.  The next two days were actually MUCH better from a "this is what I did today" perspective--and hopefully not nearly as LENGTHY, so tune in later for my account of the Bravehart March and other fun stuff!


  1. This is so cool :) I really want to take part in one of these one day. I can't wait to read on the rest.

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