In November of 2005, my wife, Tonya, and I went on a vacation to Gatlinburg, Tenn. It was a vacation that would change our lives, though we did not know exactly how much. The vacation, though very nice, was not the focus of the change, however. You see we have a couple of dear friends who have eight kids — they are wonderful people and happen to live in a very old home. Ross Hall, the husband, works two jobs to make ends meet, and when he has time off, he spends most of it working on their home. His wife, Karen, spends a great deal of time home schooling the kids with the eldest son recently entering the Navy. The youngest, Caitlyn, is 8.
We had asked, and the Halls graciously agreed, to care for our 6-year-old son, Adam, for the time we would be away on that vacation. Though we don't get away often, when we've needed help, the Halls have always been there for us. They are the type of people who would give what they could to help out and often do. One of those evenings while away in Gatlinburg, we were casually watching one of our favorite home makeover programs on HGTV when it dawned on us to attempt a 'simple' home makeover for the Halls.
Within a few weeks of that date, we had organized into a small group of people (very small) who were committed to try to put this all together. Apparently, the Halls had applied for a home makeover almost two years earlier, but as Ross has so elegantly put it, they hadn't the extreme tragedy that often times is associated with a family chosen for an extreme makeover, and they were fine with that. I had approached Ross about the idea knowing that it would require a lot of work, and we needed to be sure it was something they were 'ok' with. After all, we had no corporate sponsors, no major backers. We were just a couple of people that share the same church family and friendships.
Tina Grooms (another common friend with the Halls), my wife and I got together and brainstormed the possibilities, budgets, labor needs, the works! Little by little, we pulled mom and pop stores, some larger chain vendors and shops into the project. We also got a local used car dealership, Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart and CiCi's Pizza into the action, among others. My wife spent hours on the phone just getting vendors to provide meals for the crew we had gathered of about 25 people from our church family.
We had no budget, because we really didn't have any money. Of course, Tonya and I had put aside a little something to use but not much. Eventually, we received nonprofit status from our church, Trinity Worship Center, for the cause, and we were able to get a lot more assistance though many vendors didn't really care about the tax deduction. We still had no real budget, but people were providing things left and right to be certain we had what we needed. Of course, all the while, the family was in the dark and even Ross was of the impression I would only do a little computer work for him and some networking. Time was getting close to the date of May 6 when it all would begin.
Within three weeks of the start of the actual construction phase of the project, I remembered the Elon University Project Pericles Service Sabbaticals program headed by Dr Tom Arcaro. I, in jest, mentioned that perhaps I could apply for a Service Sabbatical, and he said he didn't see why not. That surprised me because I thought there were deadlines that must have passed by now, but apparently this was not the case. I had planned on using up almost all of my remaining vacation time for the project, which I would have willingly done, but with the Service Sabbatical, I was able to stay on the job for two full weeks and complete tasks I otherwise would not have been able to complete.
The project started on Saturday morning, May 6, with trucks and trailers all loaded up with tents, supplies and people. The only thing we had to wait on was for Karen, Ross and their brood to leave their home. You see, we had arranged for them to go on a six-day vacation in Myrtle Beach so we could do the work while they were away. Fortunately, they were ahead of schedule, and work started promptly at 10:30 a.m. There were people everywhere, projects were assigned and rooms scheduled to be completed by certain times. Well, that didn't work out quite that way, but everyone knew the tasks to be completed and went to it. We had walls to move and electricians, carpenters, plumbers, tillers and cabinet installers all vying for space.
We successfully moved two walls, revamped their one functioning bathroom and repaired the second bathroom to functioning status. We revamped many electrical outlets, installed ceiling fans throughout, laid carpeting in three rooms and on the staircase, and installed laminate flooring in another two rooms and ceramic tile in both bathrooms and the large eat-in kitchen of 25 x 12. We also created a tile stall and had to rebuild the supporting structure for the downstairs bathroom. We painted the entire inside of the home after repairing and spackling holes. We repaired one hole made by a previous infestation of termites and another weak spot where water had damaged the room from a previous water leak.
We installed new dry wall in the master bedroom and kitchen, plus new cabinets. We removed two large windows from the kitchen that looked out into an added laundry room and made a support structure for more cabinet space. We built a new closet for a room which had none and replaced all broken window panes throughout the home. Networking was installed and computer desks built and installed for the three computers the family shares. Full wall built-in shelving units were built and installed in a new home schooling room we designed for them. We replaced all window hangings and draperies with new ones. We replaced all broken screens.
A landscaper working with the project surprised us by bringing in all his equipment and trimming the trees, replacing dead and dying shrubs and plants and planting a completely new garden with a timed, sprinkler system. He even re-graveled the entire driveway (about five dump truck loads full). A resident artist at our church painted a full wall mural and many other scenery paintings throughout the children's rooms. There is no way I can put into words the work that went into the project to sufficiently project the accomplishment.
The family was contacted while on vacation and told to meet someone at a local restaurant near the highway where one of our members rented a limo to meet them and bring them to their newly remodeled home. We had approximately 50 people there with signs and cheers to greet them.
Karen was tearful and so appreciative at just the sight of her new gravel driveway -- she did not realize that we did the inside as well. We proceeded to greet them in the manner of the extreme makeover projects that we are all so familiar with and took them room by room through the house, ending at the new granite countertop kitchen complete with new 12-seat, solid oak dining table with new place settings and all the works, including a new chandelier!
It was a tremendous experience without one incident. To see so many people of different abilities band together and make it all work for one common purpose was truly amazing.
Last, but not least, I want to thank Elon University, the Project Pericles administrators, Dr. Tom Arcaro and the gang, and my boss, Fred Melchor, for allowing me the time for this opportunity to serve a well-deserving family in our community. Thanks, guys!
Wayne E. Thompson Jr.