From Sept. 11 to 18, a large white tent encompassed the corner at the intersection of Wilbraham Avenue and King Street.
The tent was a sign of hope and presented the chance to give back to the community, something that Springfield College students are accustomed to doing. But this time, there was an unusual twist.
The tent belonged to the set of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, a show that airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on ABC.
“It’s not every day that a big show and production is in your area,” junior Amanda Hasenzahl said.
The show was in town to film a future episode for a house they tore down and rebuilt on Northampton Avenue.
Although the show’s timing seemed to coincide with the ongoing clean-up efforts from the damage done by the tornado, the show’s crew had already chosen a home well in advance that was unrelated to the recent tornado.
The home belonged to the Walker family, who were greeted with designer Ty Pennington’s customary “Good morning” wake-up call to announce that they had been chosen.
“The family that they’re building for has a really good story,” Hasenzahl said. “The message that they’re trying to promote with their situation is really powerful.”
According to senior Bethany Boyle, tragedy struck the Walker family in 2009 when their 11-year-old son, Carl, hung himself on the third floor of their home.
Carl was believed to have taken his life as a result of being bullied.
The family has promoted a message of anti-bullying ever since, starting an organization from scratch called “Stand Together” to raise awareness for anti-bullying.
According to Boyle, Carl’s mother, Sirdeaner, also attends the Gay/Straight Alliance’s Day of Silence held at Springfield College.
“The mother [Sirdeaner] is a really big activist for it [anti-bullying],” Hasenzahl said. “I think the message will hit a lot of people when it finally airs.”
For Boyle, the message already has a direct impact.
“I’ve known a couple people now who have taken their lives due to bullying,” Boyle said. “There’s nothing more than that family…that mother deserves than having her house redone.”
After surprising the family on Sept. 11, the crew of the show went to work tearing down and rebuilding the Walker’s home, but not without help. Volunteers from the city and surrounding colleges, including SC, were encouraged to provide assistance and manpower for the daunting process.
Many students answered the call after hearing about the show via Facebook and at the public pep rally held in Blake Arena on Aug. 30.
According to Boyle, the pep rally was during New Student Orientation (NSO) leader training, so the leaders went as a group to the rally.
The theme of NSO this year was “Connect to Inspire Change,” which seemed to be a perfect match for the purpose of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
As they do wherever they go, the NSO leaders spontaneously breathed life into the crowd to get them pumped up for the rally.
“It was kind of a dead atmosphere. People were just kind of sitting there and everyone looked kind of lost,” senior NSO leader Caroline Kosciusko said. “When the NSO leaders came in, we made a big circle in the middle and just started doing cheers and going along with the band, and all the little kids came down and started dancing with us.”
“It was really cool how many people from the community were there to support it,” she added.
People could sign up online or at the tent to volunteer for six-hour shifts at the construction site, but no one really knew what to expect until they ventured over to the house for the first time.
“It wasn’t as strict as I thought it was going to be,” Boyle said. “When I got my [paper] bracelet and my [work] T-shirt, it was an open opportunity that I could go back whenever I had time. It was definitely cool that it wasn’t all just scheduled.”
In addition to receiving an orange paper bracelet to show that they had registered and an official, blue Extreme Makeover: Home Edition shirt, volunteers were required to wear hard hats while at the site.
As they waited, the volunteers stood off to the side, milling around and sparking up conversation until a worker from the show called for a certain number of volunteers, at which point a group would proceed to complete whatever task needed to be done.
The tasks that the volunteers performed varied from washing dishes to being mic’d up to perform in the filming.
Hasenzahl volunteered on Sept. 16 and spent her time stocking the fridge and washing dishes for catering.
“It wasn’t the most glamorous thing,” she said. “It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was definitely nice to at least say that I helped, maybe on a small scale made a difference for this family.”
Kosciusko and her roommates decided to work a late shift, from 8 p.m.-2 a.m., in the hopes of being able to help in the building process.
“If you worked the later ones [shifts], there weren’t that many people there, so you got to do some pretty cool jobs,” Kosciusko said. “We got to actually go up in a cherry picker [basket crane] and hold up two-by-fours and nail them in.”
Other students got their time to shine by taking part in the filming process.
Senior Ashley Gladden went three times to volunteer, on Sept. 21, 22 and 25.
According to Gladden, the first time she and her friend went, they were only asked to move soda around.
On their second trip, they got the opportunity to organize a truck with supplies.
Her third time around, Gladden again helped with the truck, but this time, she did it while they were filming.
“I got to be right in front [of the truck] and slap all of the designer’s hands,” Gladden said.
“I was standing next to Paige Hemmis, and me and Paige were taking things out of the truck together, and they were throwing mattresses at us and it was absolutely crazy,” Gladden said. “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Although she did not ask for it, Boyle got a share of the limelight as well.
According to Boyle, one of the workers asked for 10 volunteers, and Boyle joined the group. After joining, Boyle and the group were informed that they would be pretending to work in the background while a scene was filmed.
They were informed not to look directly at the camera and to look busy.
Boyle’s true moment in the spotlight came when she was asked to be in a scene with Michael Moloney, whom she had met earlier after the initial scene she participated in.
“Me and Michael were just messing around. I was joking with him, telling him he could act better…and then they asked me to be in a scene with him,” Boyle said. “It was just me and Michael actually mic’d up.”
According to Boyle, Moloney talked to Boyle about his special fireplace project that he was responsible for in the scene. It was shot eight times to get the best take.
On Sept. 25, the house was unveiled to the Walker family. Many of the students who had volunteered throughout the week were in attendance.
“They had everybody chanting ‘We stand together, we stand together!’” Boyle said.
“I was sitting there in awe of how they did all of that in one week,” Kosciusko added.
According to Kosciusko, the Walker family was very emotional at the unveiling of their new home, which was finished right on schedule.
“It’s nice to see people get something back for the work that they’ve been doing,” Hasenzahl said.
Joe Brown may be reached at email@example.com