[Remember when I was tweeting from the set of Extreme Makeover? This is the unabridged version of the article I wrote about the filming of the episode filmed in Indianapolis which appeared in the May/June issue of Indy Magazine.]

The school bus rumbled along, carrying the next groups of spectators and volunteers from the State Fairgrounds down to the staging area. Though hot and cramped, there were no complaints. Instead, the ride was filled with pleasant chatter. “What are you doing?” one passenger would ask. “Whatever they tell me,” another answered.

Such was the spirit that charged the site of the latest episode of the highly rated television show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. For those unfamiliar with the show, it typically featured a race against time to finish a complete renovation of a house, from its redesign to landscaping to decoration, with a team led by Ty Pennington. Usually changing the lives and fortunes of the families they touch, its viewers were left in shared tears or heartwarming uplift. In its 6th season, the show filmed its season finale with an unusually ambitious project. At its heart lay a forgotten part of our city in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, the home of Bernard McFarland and family at 2356 N. Oxford St (re-dubbed McFarland Drive) around a new home and its (new) Pack House 2000 library, not to mention all of the changes in the surrounding area.

While Extreme Makeover gave them the means, most of the vision came from one man. Paul Estridge, president of the Estridge Corporation, is the patient zero, the Typhoid Mary spreading a virus of generosity. Befitting the nature of the project, the orchestrating had to have been an organizational nightmare (“organized chaos” was the phrase of the day). All about the staging area walls were various Estridge mottos: Serve and Enrich. Continue to Grow. According to Biblical Principles. We Build Together. Time. Talent. Treasures.

There have been a couple of places where Extreme Makeover had painted a few additional houses, but no one had done anything on the scale of what Paul did in terms of a whole neighborhood. With the redressing of alleys, manicuring of streets and lawns, repainting of homes, and demolition of an abandoned home, over 198 acres were affected by the revitalization. With his greater vision of investing in neighborhood and community, his heart for the city rallied community leaders from councilmen to businesswomen, from artists to clergy.

The business philosophy undergirded by Christian values—to give back and be a blessing to the community—may partly explain why the community responded the way it did. Over four thousand volunteers descend upon this part of the city most would have avoided any other time. Carpenters, dry wallers, and unskilled hands, running the gamut of races and ages, volunteered their time, passion, and sweat. Some volunteers arrived from as far away as Texas. Some volunteers worked days that ran from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., with no job being too small for them to lend a hand.

Fueled by a sense of mission and a camaraderie of common purpose, crowds gathered to literally watch paint dry. Everyone pitched in and become involved. Neighbors hosted dinners. Neighborhood folks picked up brooms to sweep up adjoining areas. The common cry was that “we’re supposed to give back” and “we’re either going to be a part of the problem or try to be a part of the solution.” The renovation of a house, of a neighborhood, transformed the volunteers as well as the community.

IPS School #37 was gifted to the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood association to serve as a community center for the neighborhood. Amy Harwell, a member of the neighborhood association, loved the fact that School 37 will be put to good use as a community center. “School 37 is a landmark and I’m glad there’s someplace for neighborhood kids to go. Mr. McFarland has been taking kids into his house forever and now he’ll have some help. We’re proud of our neighborhood.” Built in the 1920s, the 50,000-square-foot school building had 20 classrooms, a gymnasium and food service area (but no air conditioning).

Before, the neighborhood was neglected, if not written off. People had given up on the neighborhood because it seemed that everyone else had. Pizza places wouldn’t even deliver to it. For your safety, you had to pick and choose the streets to carefully travel. “A lot of the crime and the drug selling came from people outside of the neighborhood,” former resident Jessie Hickman said.

Some streets had older people living on them, so they were fairly quiet. Other streets, however, had trouble brewing. You couldn’t even drive down the street without people running up to your car asking if you were looking for drugs. “I wouldn’t be caught up in here by myself. When you roll through you better lock the doors and roll up your windows.” Reverend John W. Martin, Sr, of the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church said. “but for the first time ever, this week I walked down this street.”

As Mary Catherine Grau, director of marketing for Estridge, admits, “Estridge has always been a pretty philanthropic company, but when this opportunity presented itself, it was a wonderful way to do what we’ve always done except do it on a much grander scale.” Paul Estridge had two conditions before he decided to partner with Extreme Makeover: 1) he wasn’t going to do a home so grandiose that families in the area couldn’t aspire to build one also; 2) it couldn’t just be the home, the project had to be much more involved in the neighborhood.

[to be continued …]