Arriving at the set of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in East Setauket is a lot like arriving at the first day of summer camp. Big yellow school buses shuttle you and a group of strangers to the house, as you exchange friendly glances and wonder what awaits you when you get there.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a reality TV series that provides grand renovations to the homes of deserving families across America. Each episode focuses on a family that has faced some sort of recent or ongoing hardship. The show’s producers and design team coordinate with a local contracting company, as well as various other local businesses, to renovate or rebuild a new house for the family, who are sent away on a free vacation.
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All materials and services are donated. The show, which airs on ABC, is currently in its seventh season and just finished filming in East Setauket, where producers teamed up with Alure Home Improvements of East Meadow to build a new home for the Lutz family. They had one week to demolish the Lutzes’ old home and build a brand new one.
As the bus approaches Ringneck Lane, the site of the build, volunteers are greeted by big tents, massive cranes and clusters of people clad in blue shirts and white hard hats. Although the site will change at a rapid pace by the hour, the flowing sea of blue shirts and white hard hats remains the one constant throughout the build.
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The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team is a crew of producers, designers and cameramen who weave in and out of the site, intermingling with burly construction workers and ducking under 2x4s with a strange grace. They are a well-oiled machine. And they have to be. For 10 months out of the year, the team travels across America from neighborhood to neighborhood, taking each one by storm and leaving as fast as they came.
“I feel a little anxiety and stress, but I’m in good spirits. I’m pumped,” says Sal Ferro, president and CEO of Alure, the contractor that has teamed up with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to build the Lutzes’ new home. This is their eighth collaboration with the show. Ferro said more than 100 local businesses and charities were involved in the whole process throughout the week. And indeed, by week’s end, a slew of celebrities, including former New York Yankees David Cone and Bernie Williams, and members of the Islanders, will have graced the new Lutz residence to lend a helping hand.
Although the show is known for its tear-jerking tales, the Lutzes’ story is particularly touching.
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When Grace and John Lutz learned they were unable to have children, they decided to adopt. The loving couple adopted a total of 18 children over the course of their marriage, including seven with Down syndrome. The couple passed away, and their daughter, Kathleen, gave up her career and moved back into the home to take care of six of her siblings with Down syndrome, ranging in age from 21 to 25 years old.
Soon after moving back with the family, Kathleen, 39, had a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. During this time, her brother John Jr. decided to move back to the home and care for his sister and the other siblings. She went through radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and is now in a stable health condition. The brother and sister work as a team to care for the family.
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And while their bond remains rock-solid, the 40-year-old house they live in has deteriorated, having suffered decades of damage and neglect. It is exactly the reason that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has stepped in and transformed their life from the ground up.
On the set, no job is too big or too small, whether it’s the Alure team assembling the walls that will house the Lutzes, or the volunteers from St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa, who spent hours on a hot afternoon preparing sandwiches for volunteers and serving them until the wee hours of the night. Danielle LaRose, who organized the meal, points out that packed in with each sandwich is a prayer card depicting St. Joseph, patron Saint of the working man. A full heart goes into every task.
The fans of the show are just as dedicated as the workers themselves. Actually, saying they’re dedicated may be an understatement.