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Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's Largest Turnout Ever...with the help of AmeriCorps

by Western New York AmeriCorps

This Sunday, Jan 24, ABC will air an extended two-hour episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, about an extraordinary story of hope from the west side of Buffalo. In November 2009, the show came to one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in our nation’s third poorest city to build a green home for the family of Delores Powell. What happened next has never happened in the history of the show. More than 6,300 volunteers turned out to help, building not only a home for one deserving family but transforming an entire community through service. The volunteers worked on projects for 164 families– replacing roofs, rebuilding steps, painting, hanging siding, landscaping and other needed projects for neighborhood.

This mass volunteer mobilization would not have happened without the leadership of Western New York (WNY) AmeriCorps, which led volunteer recruitment and management for the entire project. More than 200 WNY AmeriCorps members and staff helped the build out and managed volunteers during the blitz. The blogpost below tells the behind-the-scenes story of AmeriCorps involvement and the extraordinary partnerships and compassion that transformed a neighborhood.

P.S. The text message story actually happened and kicked all of this off...

Extreme Makevover: Neighborhood Edition

It all started with a text message to a friend. Kyle Kraus (from Buffalo, NY construction company David Homes) sent Joshua Randle (of WNY AmeriCorps) this text: “Extrm mkovr home edit comin 2 do house in buflo. u in?" "can u bring vols?" Randle's response, "Of course!...you want 10 or 10,000?"

David Stapleton of David Homes had been selected to build a home for a deserving family on Massachusetts Avenue in the City of Buffalo, by the hit ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." David was looking to expand the project beyond the one house and into the community, but they only had two and a half weeks to make a plan and build a team. WNY AmeriCorps agreed to come on board to manage volunteers and further develop the community projects, and what started with the idea to assist a handful of homeowners quickly grew into what would be coined “Extreme Makeover: Neighborhood Edition."

“It was heartening to see David embrace a commitment to the community beyond the makeover house,” said WNY AmeriCorps CEO Mark Lazzara. “It really enabled WNY AmeriCorps to do the kind of service we do everyday, but with amazing resources at our finger tips. We didn’t have to say no to anyone in need.”

Led by WNY AmeriCorps COO Joshua Randle, community meetings began and the scope of the projects expanded, with the staff of WNY AmeriCorps taking an active role in identifying and addressing community need while also maintaining the required confidentiality of the chosen house. Along with community partners, the scope of the project had more than tripled.

Meanwhile, something special started to happen online. The outreach was working. Western New Yorkers had begun to sign up to volunteer; hundreds the first day, hundreds the next, adding up into thousands. Word went out to WNY AmeriCorps members, offering them the unique opportunity to lead volunteers in the kind of large scale community change possible under the spotlight of national attention with passionate local interest.

On November 7, the day the Powell family finally found out they had been selected to receive an Extreme Makeover, over 1,000 volunteers came out to march to their front door as part of what the show calls the “Braveheart March.” While volunteers were marching, WNY AmeriCorps was working to prepare for the next five days of projects.

Through the work of David Homes, Delores Powell’s family’s new house was going to be “green;” super efficient with a minimal environmental impact. On the first project day, the deconstruction of the old house began, with local non-profit, and WNY AmeriCorps partner, Buffalo ReUse leading WNY AmeriCorps members and alumni as the house came down piece by piece for recycling. Many materials taken from the house were used in the neighborhood projects, including using the stone foundation to create a retaining wall in the community garden and lumber to reinforce other community projects.

Throughout the week community members began to come forward with their stories, opening up to WNY AmeriCorps members and staff, admitting that they had been living without some of the most basic necessities for years. Some had no hot water while others had been living with no running water at all. Roofs had been leaking while porches deteriorated, with little or no resources to correct the issues. As WNY AmeriCorps members began leading the projects to replace railings and roofs, reinforce porch floors, rebuild steps, paint houses, and hang siding on houses, staff reached out to local retailers and contractors, working with David Homes to receive donations to help fix the most urgent problems of neighborhood residents. Complete roofs were donated and installed, new security lights dotted the neighborhood and increased the sense of safety, all while a certified emerald-green home was built in the center of the City of Buffalo with volunteers serving around the clock to complete it. In the end, Buffalo had the largest amount of volunteers in the history of the show, yielded 6,336 volunteers who served 53,544 hours in service to 422 individuals from 164 families.

In the course of five days, an opportunity to create tremendous community change from an impressive public-private partnership between David Homes and WNY AmeriCorps, creating confidence in the Massachusetts Avenue community and providing many low-income homeowners the encouragement, resources, and leadership they needed to move forward and build community. “I am proud that over 200 WNY AmeriCorps members and staff a significant role. We believe that service benefits both those who are being served, as well as those who are serving,” said Lazzara. “This was truly a transformational service project.”

The full statistics of the community projects are staggering:

  • 6,336 Volunteers Mobilized
  • 4,053 Community Revitalization and Transformation Volunteers
  • 1,428 Skills and Trades Volunteers
  • 855 Food Drive Helping Hands Volunteers
  • 53,544 Volunteer Hours Served
  • 32,424 Community Revitalization and Transformation
  • 14,280 Skills and Trades
  • 6,840 Food Drive Helping Hands
  • $1,516,511 Value of In-kind Volunteer Service
  • $909,169 Community Revitalization and Transformation
  • $415,548 Skills and Trades
  • $191,794 Food Drive Helping Hands
  • 14,360 Meals Donated and Served to Volunteers
  • 109 Individual Community Revitalization and Transformation Projects
  • 33 Homes Equipped with New Security Lights
  • 7 Full or Major Paint Projects
  • 17 Minor Paint Projects
  • 3 Full Siding Projects
  • 3 Roofs Installations
  • 5 Porch Renovations
  • 5 Gutter Installations
  • 4 New Fence Installations
  • 2 Community Garden Projects
  • 30 Properties Landscaped
  • 164 Unique Households Served
  • 412 Community Residents Served
  • 119 New Trees Planted
  • 388 Units of Blood Collected
  • 85.1 Tons of Food Collected
  • $255,300 Value of Food Collected
  • 1,207 People Fed Every Day for an Entire 10 days

Tune into Extreme Makeover: Home Edition this Sunday.

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