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Currents: extreme makeover

Colby-Sawyer's Community Service Club Hits Primetime with House Project on “Extreme Makeover”

No family wishes to have a child diagnosed with leukemia or to have their molding house falling down around them, but that was the reality of the Marshall Family of Lyme, N.H. – or it was until the crew of ABC's “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” arrived.

The family of 10 faced a pile of medical bills resulting from son Cameron's diagnosis of leukemia a year ago. With all their money going toward his medical expenses, the family could not take care of the mold problem in their home, which was not only causing problems for the structure, but also for nine-year old Cameron's health. With all their troubles, though, the family was still able to help their community in tremendous ways – chief among them by helping to raise more than $100,000 for the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth.

Colby-Sawyer Volunteers Step Up

A group of 1,500 volunteers, including about 45 Colby-Sawyer College students, joined the Extreme Makeover team in tearing down and rebuilding the family's home. Members of Colby-Sawyer's Community Service Club and other students made the 100-mile round trip to Lyme four times during the course of the project.

Ashley Jette, co-president of the Community Service Club, heard about the Marshalls's story and submitted a volunteer application for the club through ABC's web site. After waiting a few days and not hearing back, she contacted the contractor heading up the operation, who put her in touch with the United Way. It was with them that Jette worked to coordinate volunteers.

“Initially, I sent out an e-mail looking for volunteers for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” said Jette. “I then found out there was another opportunity to go to the site on Sunday. In total I received about 150 e-mails from students interested in helping out the family – it was a lot to sort through.”

When Jette finished going through the e-mails, she organized 45 volunteers for the four days, including dozens of students, one college staff member and two alumni to help the crew build the Marshalls's new home.

Reality Meets Reality TV

On Tuesday, a group of 10 students and alumni drove to Lyme, where they spent the night helping the security staff with parking; kept the ramp of a BMX rider on site dry, and worked at the registration tables. A few of the volunteers were even asked to be in host Ty Pennington's video showing the family how the demolition was proceeding.

“We were used as human props for Ty's video,” said Jette. “We were told to stand somewhere and do something, basically just to fill in the video.”

The next day, students made the trek to Lyme but were told no more volunteers were needed then so they returned to campus.

On Thursday, though, the construction workers – as many as 400 of them – began to frame and build the house. The students on site for that assisted by bringing the hungry workers sandwiches, drinks and coffee through the course of the night.

Sunday was the busiest day for the Colby-Sawyer volunteers, when they worked the overnight shift from midnight to 6:30 a.m.

“We were really busy that day,” said Jette. “Some of us did registration, some of us did catering, and we were able to get into the house, too.”

The students were put in charge of removing the scrap wood and drywall from the house and then bringing the tile and hardwood flooring into the house, putting it into their respective rooms.

“It was more physical, manual labor than we had done all week,” said Jette.

It Takes a Village, and Then Some

The experience for the students was great, but different than most had expected.

“When I arrived on Tuesday, I was expecting to see exactly what you would on TV, but it was totally different,” said Jette. “It was interesting to know what happens behind the scenes that people who watch the show do not get to see.”

The club's co-president, Stef Turner, agreed.

“It was an eye-opener because things are so different when you see it live, in comparison to what you see on television,” said Turner. “I think it also had a profound impact on us because we were able to see how much hard work and effort the surrounding community applied to building the house.”

The area around the house was packed with volunteers and workers for the entire seven-day period that the show was in town, and the community really rose up to help the Marshall family.

“The experience was wonderful,” said Krisi Loh, a sophomore and one of Thursday night's volunteers. “It meant a lot just to see the whole process and how many people wanted to help out the Marshall family.”

-Amber Cronin '11, November 2009