An Extreme MAKEOVER For a Cub Scout Family's Home
By Melanie Parker
A national TV audience witnesses an incredible home remodeling project with a special blue and gold emphasis for the family's Cub Scout son.
How would you react if six television cameras were trained on you and 4,500 spectators were cheering outside your front yard, as you caught first sight of your home that, thanks to Hollywood and hundreds of volunteers, had just tripled in size?
If you were 9-year-old Webelos Scout DeWayne Harris of Pack 11 in Center Point, Ala., you'd be speechless.
This wasn't the first time DeWayne's family had garnered media attention. Their story made headlines three years ago when his mother, Diamond, delivered sextuplets. Suddenly, daily life multiplied sixfolddiapers, doctor visits, chaosnot to mention bills.
DeWayne's father, Chris, was having difficulty making ends meet on an elementary schoolteacher's salary. Then Hurricane Ivan sent a 90-foot-tall pine tree crashing through the roof of their home. Desperately cramped for this family of nine, the 1950's ranch-style house now had one unusable room.
"We had no idea what we were going to do," Chris says.
So the family appealed to ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the popular prime time television reality show that teams up with local contractors to build and renovate homes for deserving families.
Because the producers receive thousands of applications a day, the Harrises knew their odds were slim to nonethat is, until one cold, gray morning last January when a long red bus pulled up and Hollywood spilled into their front yard. The "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew had arrived to transform their houseand their lives.
"Good morning, Harris family! Come on out!" Ty Pennington, the show's hyperkenetic design team leader, bellowed into his trademark bullhorn.
The awesome ride was just beginning for DeWayne and some of his fellow Alabama Cub Scouts. Because the designers knew about his involvement in Scouting, they'd planned to incorporate BSA motifs into DeWayne's new bedroom and an extremely cool backyard retreat.
Carpentry guru Paul DiMeo tackled the bedroom, for which he decided to build a pinewood derby car bed, complete with working wheels. He even salvaged from the Harrises' kitchen a stainless steel 1950's oven door, using it as a car hood, and then, test-drove the bed by having it pushed around Alabama's Talladega racetrack.
"We wanted to make sure the wheels were aligned, in case [DeWayne] ever needs to drive it out the second-floor window," the designer explained.
Along with other BSA mementos to hang on DeWayne's bedroom walls, DiMeo envisioned an American flag fashioned from pinewood derby cars. Racing enthusiasts Johnathan Hendley (Birmingham Pack 121) and Steven Jackson (Brent Pack 83) were tapped to guide DiMeo with some of the finer points of pinewood derby mechanics.
Always prepared, Johnathan brought his own sleek black racer, a wheel alignment tool, graphite, weights, and design decals. The boys discovered that DiMeo was a quick study as well as a skilled carpenter. Working in the driveway with a lathe and band saw, he fashioned 50 cars, then turned them over to Steven and Johnathan, whose job was to paint them red, white, and blue.
Meanwhile, DeWayne and his family were on vacation at Walt Disney World, where they received daily updates from Pennington's handheld videocam.
What they couldn't see was that their once-quiet neighborhood was transformed into a major construction zone: The street was filled with dump trucks, bulldozers, front-end loaders, and forklifts piled high with stacks of wall and scaffolding. Golf carts whizzed in every direction, carrying production and volunteer crew members in their "Extreme Makeover" uniforms of blue T-shirts and white hard hats. "Star wagons" and huge generators in neighbors' front yards gave away that this was, unbelievably, a television production.
Four days, four hours, and 45 minutes after demolition, a new 5,800-square-foot, Tudor-style home was ready for the Harris family. There was a parade air, with local police, volunteering through Homewood Explorer Post 777, to hold back an army of enthusiastic spectators.
"Welcome Home, DeWayne, love, your 4th-grade class," exclaimed one banner.
"Man, DeWayne's gonna die when he sees this!" exclaimed Matt Seay, DeWayne's den chief, waving a BSA flag.
On March 6, the Harris family watched their house being torn down and rebuilt on TV. They saw their personal story unfold, and they laughed and cried along with the rest of America.
The home changed before their eyes, as action was fast-forwarded to a near-blur, the production and building crew looking for all the world like a bunch of speedy antsraising the roof in 10 seconds, laying 16,000 bricks in five.
In reality, 100 builders affiliated with Birmingham-based contractor Signature Homes and 600 volunteers worked around the clock for seven days, braving cold and wet winter conditions to raise a house for a family they didn't know. Hundreds of local sponsors donated materials, and area restaurants delivered food at all hours.
Six months after the makeover, the Harris family is settled in and, even with six toddlers, their new home is relatively calm.
"It was so tough before," says Diamond. "Now we can think about rearing these children."
DeWayne can enjoy his celebrity in relative peace. With a backyard water park, a fire pit any urban Scout would envy, and a tree house the size of a New York City condo, DeWayne has a fair chance of becoming the most popular kid on the block.
"They gave us someplace to go this summer," said neighbor Courtney Hill.
The Tuesday after the show aired, DeWayne joined his fellow Cub Scouts in a small basement room at Center Point First United Methodist Church. There, his 6-foot-4-inch-tall den leader, Lionel King, commanded the attention of the boisterous 9-year-olds of Pack 11.
"These kids need to be aware that the world is bigger than what we see," said King.
Because of DeWayne's experience, "they understand even more the importance of helping people in need and contributing to society," he said. "It should encourage all of them to follow through on the goals of a Cub Scout."
Melanie Parker is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala., whose work appears frequently in Southern Living magazine.
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