Extreme Makeover Joplin gets underway
October 20, 2011
The team of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" came to Joplin early on October 19, 2011, in order to surprise an unprecedented seven families with their signature door knock notifying them that each had been selected to receive one of seven houses that will be built all at once in just seven days. The homes create a new neighborhood along a stretch of Connor Avenue just off of 26th Street. Each will accommodate the individual space needs of the chosen families and will be decorated accordingly.

All 26 family members will be whisked away for a vacation at Disney World in Orlando, Florida while "Extreme Makeover" team leader Ty Pennington, designers Paul DiMeo, Paige Hemmis, Michael Moloney and Tracy Hutson along with Sam Clifton from Millstone Custom Homes complete their houses. Assisting them are a record 10,000 volunteers and 3,000 others who are standing by.

Those families selected include Kyle and Jill Howard and their children, Konnor, Kobin and Kaleb. Kyle Howard was on duty as a fireman when the tornado struck Joplin. He continued to do his job not knowing whether his family had survived. Fortunately, a door that fell protected them as they huddled in a closet. Jill sustained minor injuries but the home was completely destroyed.

Kari Nevins, a supporter of Bright Futures, and her husband Justin ran to their basement with their children Uriah, Avery, Cana and Rhoen before the force of the tornado ripped apart their house, their neighborhood and neighborhood school. After making sure his family was okay Justin helped dig neighbors out of the destruction.

Crystal Cogdill, who works for the Joplin Housing Authority, lost her 9-year-old son Zach Treadwell. Crystal and her two children sought refuge in their bathtub but the F-5 tornado tore her house apart and ripped Zach from her grip.

Four-year-old Keana Whitely and her mom Crystal Whitely, a personal care aide, were the only family members to survive the tornado that tore the house they were in from its foundation. Like the Cogdills the Whitelys sought refuge in their bathtub. Crystal Whitely could not save her children, 10-year old Shante and 6-year-old Trentan who were ripped from her arms.

Tom Walters, a coach and teacher and Emily Walters, a nurse and their 9-year-old daughter Chloe survived together in the bathtub as the roof ripped off of their house. They became part of the group that helped rescue several people from the rubble of the Greenbriar Nursing Home.

Almost retired Thang Nguyen, who works for General Mills, convinced his wife Tiffany to have dinner at a seafood restaurant even though she had dinner prepared. The tornado missed the restaurant but tore apart their house.

Scott Gonzalez and Natalie, both divorcees and Natalie's son Augie also headed for their bathtub. Augie's life was saved by the helmet his mother insisted he wear even though it was shattered to pieces by falling debris. Natalie hurt her back protecting her son and Scott suffered a compound fracture of the arm. They all sought protection in a drainage ditch to weather the second wave of the storm.

The families convened in Cunningham Park awaiting the hard hat volunteers that were part of the show's Braveheart March organized by Tim Puttre. Included in the march were a group of firemen from Springfield led by David Carter who had his hat signed by Nascar driver Marcos Ambrose who came to Joplin to assist in the build. Wearing hats of seven different colors to represent each house, the group eventually surrounded the families and cheered for each member. Passersby could see the bright lights that were set up for the ABC filming crew that eventually had the only equipment that could adequately cover the event.

Selection or application process

According to Diane Korman, a senior producer, choosing families for this build was the most difficult they have ever had. "There were so many to choose from," Korman said, attesting to the large number of families displaced by the tornado on May 22, 2011, that followed a wide path through the center of Joplin.

The decision-making process involved a background check and included criteria that any family selected would be stable and without debt. How they served the community was also taken into consideration.

Marking the 200th episode of the show, the Joplin build will air later this season on the ABC television network.

These photos show the progress of the build as well as recognizable members of the "Extreme Makeover" staff. Click on any photo to start a slideshow. (Photos by Mari Winn & Vince Rosati)

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