"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" creates stir of volunteerism

Since the famous door knock and morning greeting from host Ty Pennington happened Oct. 21, the Grys family of Pekin and their visit from ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” has been the talk of Central Illinois.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" creates stir of volunteerism

Since the famous door knock and morning greeting from host Ty Pennington happened Oct. 21, the Grys family of Pekin and their visit from ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” has been the talk of Central Illinois.

There are several reasons why the Grys family was deemed deserving by the popular reality show.

Stephen and Jean Grys have been foster parents for 25 years, caring for more than 250 children.

Their adopted son, 8-year-old Jake, suffers from brittle bone disease and dwarfism.

The family is heavily involved in the Muscular Dystrophy Association, St. Jude, Special Olympics and Easter Seals, where Jake is an ambassador.

While the family vacationed at Walt Disney World, a team of hundreds tore down the Grys’ home and built a new home constructed to allow Jake to get around easier and function more independently.

Pennington and his team of designers will likely see the most screen time when the episode airs in January, but it is the behind-the-scenes work from that team of hundreds who worked for free that helped make the home’s transformation happen.

Serving as master coordinator for the project was Melanie Spurgeon, the owner of Design Built Home Ltd.

Spurgeon’s grandfather, Howard, was a widely respected builder in Central Illinois in the 1940s.

He and his three sons built some of the finest homes in the Washington area and also developed and constructed schools, power plants, water treatment facilities, gymnasiums and subdivisions.

Spurgeon’s father owned Sunnyland Cabinets, where she honed her craftmanship skills and learned about kitchen design.

She started Design Built Homes in Peoria in 1993 to build energy-efficient homes within a budget.

Since word got out about the Grys project with “Extreme Makeover,” Spurgeon said the amount of helping hands has been overwhelming.

“We had about 500 volunteer slots to fill and over 4,000 people volunteered. That means for every volunteer, there are seven disappointed people,” Spurgeon said.

Spurgeon said the builders are asking people instead to help raise money to pay off the Grys family’s mortgage.

“Even though this is a very energy-efficient house, we know the taxes and utilities may be higher. So, if we can pay off the mortgage, that will go a long way toward offsetting any increased costs,” she added.

A pair of Morton companies were among those that helped put the walls up around the home last week.

Eigsti Construction was involved with the framing of the house and the interior trim work.

The company’s president, Kent Eigsti, said there was no hesitation when Spurgeon and the Home Builders Association called him up to see how his team could help out.

“You can tell they were a deserving family, and it was a great experience for me and my employees,” Eigsti said.

Eigsti said one interesting part of the week was working side by side with other area construction companies.

“Some of them are our direct competition, but it was nice to see everyone side by side working toward a common goal. It really flowed smoothly,” he said.

One of those companies in the trenches with Eigsti was Jason Parr Drywall of Morton.

Parr said his company does drywall work on many of the homes Spurgeon builds, so he was happy to get the call.

“We had a meeting and went over the game plan for the project. I admit the time frame scared me a bit,” Parr said.

Parr said from 4 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday, 420 sheets of dry wall were hung, sanded and prepared for painting.

“The painters actually showed up at 4 a.m. because the schedule was supposed to be 12 hours for our work, so they jumped in and helped us finish our part or started to paint. We were like an assembly line,” Parr said.

He said 60 union and non-union workers volunteered their time for his part of the makeover, including 20 people from his own crew.

“A house of this size would typically take us five to six days. They told us the entire house would be done in 106 hours over the course of the week, which is amazing to me,” Parr said.

“I’m only 33 years old and the whole experience beat me down. It took me and my crew the entire weekend to recuperate,” he added with a laugh.

Parr said to speed up the drying process, dozens of humidifiers and fans were used.

Parr’s office manager and wife, Amy, also helped out with the project by volunteering for Spurgeon.

“She was working 12 hour days by calling vendors and suppliers for donations and helping man the VIP tent,” he added.

Parr said he has had to go back to the site a few times since his 14-hour work day for minor touch-ups, like covering up spots where cameras were mounted on the wall for live Internet feeds.

Parr said he had a great time at the Grys home, but had to miss deadlines and work at other jobs as a result.

“I actually saw most of the guys out at the makeover site because they were working there, too, so obviously we all understand this week was a little different,” Parr said.

Tammy Finch said she has had to rely on the patience of her customers during this busy period as well.

Finch owns Web Tech Services Inc., a Web development and computer repair company in East Peoria.

Finch is the Web master for the build, providing daily updates on the project’s Web site.

“Melanie called me and I had one week to get everything up. All information since then has been pretty last-minute, too, and we’re adding constantly, but it has been so exciting,” Finch said.

Finch admitted she was worried the site would crash when the call went out for volunteers and 250 people started signing up each day.

“Now we have over 3,500 visitors to the site daily and are adding new sponsors, links and logos all the time, too. Even though I’m not getting my hands dirty at the house, I’ve still been busy, ” Finch said.

She added they plan to keep the site up indefinitely so people can make donations to the family.

“I have a feeling we’ll have even more traffic after the show airs next year, so it’s probably good to keep it going. Plus, it’s a good point of contact for the family,” Finch said.

She added many of her customers learned she was helping with the project and decided to volunteer as well.

“I just think it’s pretty amazing people from everywhere are doing this for no pay and just willing to help out with whatever unique gift they have. I’ve had an awesome time,” Finch said.

For more information on the Grys family and the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project, visit www.DesignBuiltHomesExtreme.com, or www.ExtremeMakeoverUpdates.com.