The Community of Building (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) Pt. II

[click here for part I]

“You remember the story of Nehemiah?” Rev. Martin asked. “Before he got there, no one was doing anything. But when he got there, the whole city got together and started working. The people had a mind to work.”

The spirit of community and mission appealed to the best in the Hoosier community. There was a holistic approach to restoring the neighborhood and you didn’t exactly have to twist arms to get folks to participate because the virus of generosity spread quickly as folks got caught up in the “what can I do?” attitude. There were can food drives to stock food banks. Different vendors pitched in where they could, from J. Ennis Fabrics donating fabric then wanting to go on to teach sewing lessons at the donated community center; to AV Framing Gallery donating pictures to be hung inside the home.

Though prepped by the producers a few weeks earlier, no one knew for sure which house would be selected. All they knew was that the streets would be blocked off and folks would be given the option to stay in nearby hotels during the duration because of the noise and inconvenience. Mark Smith, a student at Martin University, had lived in neighborhood for four years. “At 6:30 in the morning, our house was shaking when all the people marched down the street. It’s been a positive impact and will hopefully be an incentive for people to keep their property up.”

Some residents had been in the neighborhood for over 32 years, seeing things like this on television but never expecting to see it in real life, much less in their neighborhood. Everyone pulled together to continue to improve the neighborhood. The Estridge led crews landscaped the property of Martin University. Wheelchair ramps were built for houses who needed them. The entire neighborhood was equipped with wifi and Dell donated computers to all of the IPS students who live there. Marian College will be providing tutoring and literacy training at the local elementary school in Martindale-Brightwood (IPS School #51) and also at the new community center. Crews painted some of the surrounding houses, paved the alleys, and cleaned up the trash. Over 1200 trees, six miles worth, were planted.

“Thank God for the Rain”

This experienced even changed how people spoke about neighborhood. Everyone had stories. Neighborhood children baked cookies for the production crew. There was a story of a little girl bringing her “Jesus money” to donate to the project. Even inclement weather became an opportunity to serve. That Sunday, the weather was awful during one of the “hurry up and wait” moments before the volunteers could do their “Braveheart march”. The Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church opened its doors and welcomed the volunteers in from the cold and rain. The crowd filled out the balcony, the choir section, and the basement. Jessie Hickman admitted that they were “caught a little bit off guard, but the people were so friendly and then they wanted to hear some singing.” The church stopped teaching their Sunday School class and started a prayer service for them which included prayer, dancing, and singing. Everyone was invited to tap along to a rendition of “Let it Rain” which gave goosebumps to the listeners.

“I think the church had a profound effect on them,” Jessie Hickman went on to say. The collection plate was a little fuller than usual. The church remained open all week, servicing the needs of whoever walked through its doors. The Estridge group re-sided it and also did some landscaping. Says another parishioner, Kathy Griffin, “they were an answer to prayer. It’s truly a blessing coming down from God.”

Reverend Martin summed up the experience this way, “God is a God of restoration. He’s restoring hope in this neighborhood. He’s restoring lives. He’s restoring dignity.”

All of this started with one man, Bernard McFarland, a school teacher going about his business, trying to make a difference one child at a time. His life caught the attention of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition production team. Their mission coincided with Paul Estridge’s and a community was forever changed. As the wave of beautification extended out from the McFarland home, everyone’s hope is that it continues to spread. No one wants things to stop with this project but want to see it replicated in other neighborhoods.

“With the revitalization that’s going on, you’re seeing a spark. People want to try to do what they can for the neighborhood. It can’t help but rub off,” Jessica Hickman said. “I know people are going to keep up. If you see it beautifying, what are you going to do? You’re going to pick and help at least maintain it.”

“Shout all you want to!”

April 4th, at 2:45 p.m., Bernard McFarland, his sons, his family, and his neighbors yelled “Move that bus!” and finally saw the results of a community pulling together. It was a cathartic celebration, the payoff moment, for a community rally and neighborhood family coming together. Not only had Bernard leapt out of limo at his return to his neighborhood, but ran up the street once he saw his new home for the first time … so that he could high five his neighbors. “Shout all you want to!” some cried out. At one moment it looked like Bernard was going to runoff with Paul Estridge. Then came his grand shout: “Thank you community!!!”

The house at 2356 N. Oxford St is like the proverbial city on the hillside, a light in the darkness. It serves as a beachhead to reclaim the rest of the neighborhood. Both a point of pride and a symbol of community cooperation, it illustrates the power of transformation.

In many ways, we’ve lost the community spirit of sitting out on our porches. It seems like we are determined to keep moving away from each other (in the name of “escaping the crime” and “those people”); and if we can’t move, we build fences from one another. Maybe we ought to answer our own question of “who is my neighbor” by sitting out and getting to know them; learn the comings and goings of our neighborhood and maybe keep an eye out for each other. We need to take ownership of our neighborhoods, even in the tiniest of ways.

Caring about our neighborhoods means spreading a viral concern to “love thy neighbor.” Not just keeping a vigilant eye, but having a proactive mindset, one that fixes problems as we see them. If we are truly to be lights in a world of darkness, the least we can do is start by fixing a broken window and being a good neighbor. That’s the work that Paul Estridge and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition began and the residents of Martindale-Brightwood hope to continue.

The Community of Building (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition)

[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 …]

I Really Didn’t Just Go Randomly Nuts Over the Weekend

For those who follow me on Twitter and thought I was having a random breakdown and became fixated on large motor vehicles, here are some accompanying pics from the site of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition season finale (as it was being filmed here in Indianapolis):

At the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition site. The limo’s about to pull up …

We’re waving to Ty! (well, not me. I’m strictly media, you know)

Move that bus already!

And now … some cheerleaders are performing (because this day hasn’t been long enough)

For the record, me and my film crew would have had this shot by now. Granted, there would be some random dance sequence in it.
I’d have Ty and Paige in the background doing the robot …

The times are a-changin’: First a black president & now black folks move into a neighborhood & the property values go up!

Countdown to security wrestling a Paige stalker to the ground.
Normally when you see this many white folks in a black neighborhood … they’re preparing to move away.

I’m convinced: this bus is never moving. In fact, I think I see the McFarlands unpacking their stuff in it.

I’m really starting to hate this bus.

All the writers are herded together. No, no … we’re definitely not gossiping about our papers…

Media secrets: “It’s the last day with the catering tent. Bring the big purse.”

The limo’s FINALLY here.

No, seriously … move the @+!%#!# bus.

Dear Extreme Makeover, if you know black folks talk in the movie theater, what’d you think would happen when you’re filming live?

OMG … tell me the family didn’t just sprint up the street! (with a pack of white cameramen trying to keep up)

Ty’s ass didn’t move.

You can’t stop us from having church out here. “Shout all you want to!”

From Bernard McFarland: “THANK YOU COMMUNITY!!!”

As a member of the media, I neither whoop nor hollar.

“Go on in your house, man. Make all them folks take off their shoes first.”

Although, half the fun of my tweets are the fact that they’re mostly context free.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.