I was 10 years old when I first saw “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and asked my mother if they would come and build us a house. At the time, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and barely made ends meet with government programs such as food stamps, called Texas Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
This December — nine years later — the ABC show led its herd of white studio trailers to Smithsville, Texas, to transform the ashes of volunteer firefighter Mizzy Zdroj’s house into a home. Zdroj’s home was one of more than 1,400 destroyed in the Central Texas wildfires last September.
About 3,000 volunteers joined local Bastrop builder EFC Custom Homes to build Zdroj a home in one week, beginning Dec. 7. The Zdroj family home is one of the final Extreme Makeover projects, as ABC has cancelled the show after nine seasons. Launched in 2003, the show will air several special edition episodes this year to complete the series. The show will feature the Zdroj family home in a December special.
Although I had no previous construction skills, I joined the build for two days. I knew my mother, who watches the show religiously every week, would be proud.
During my experience, I noticed a slow transformation in people every time I got off the volunteer bus and set foot on the ash-covered ground. Each time, they stopped talking about the show’s host, Ty Pennington, and all of the past episodes of Extreme Makeover and got this look of determination in their eyes. All around me people carried wood, picked up trash and always asked the same question: “Do you need any help?”
History senior Eric Ramos, a member in my volunteer group, helped me consider the sense of family among volunteers.
“The most prominent memory I have of the build is the people I met while I was there,” Ramos said. “Every volunteer I talked to was so friendly and excited to be helping out that it made the whole experience better.”
Eric Christophe‚ president of EFC Custom Homes, said the first time he received a call from the producers of Extreme Makeover, he didn’t believe the request was real. When the producers called again and asked him if he would accept the job, Christophe said yes.
Christophe said his company contributed their time and skills and that everything on the site and in the house was donated. The project included a house, animal cages, an art studio and a new volunteer fire station. A project this size would usually cost about $250,000 to $300,000 with landscaping and could take anywhere from 90 to 120 days, he said.
As time went on, the project seemed to transform into a home. I realized I did not like Extreme Makeover for the old reasons I thought I did. It was not because I wished we would get a house one day — it was because it made me feel like we were not alone.
Meeting Zdorj’s mother Tricia Sanders topped off my experience. Sanders said when Zdorj and her husband first moved to Smithsville, they lived in a tent on seven acres with twin boys and no water or electricity.
Sanders said the neighbors offered Zdorj an old farmhouse to live in if she could move it herself. The whole house burned down in the fire, and the family almost went to live in a shed before Extreme Makeover came knocking.
Listening to Sanders talk about Zdorj’s life in the tent reminded me of my little cramped apartment and how my circumstances had changed through the years. Today I have my own apartment, go to UT and am able to work to put food on my table. It was no easy journey, and my mother and I never did get our own house, but we each realized what it meant to say, “home sweet home.”
Welcome home, Zjord family.