Some of Phyl’s volunteer work includes having collaborated with the television crew of ABC Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for a special needs learner and family in the state of Vermont.
In desperation, a Vermont family wrote a letter to the ABC show last year, with support from their baby’s medical team, asking ABC for help – for a new home without physical barrier in their current home. The show gets 5,000 requests for help each week.
This family got their wish in September of 2007 when a full-scale television crew was on a dirt road in a small town in Vermont filming the beginning episode. Under the rules of the show, the house must be built in 106 hours and the house was to be built on one level due to the handicapped considerations for the child.
The energy efficient house was specifically designed for the family, with complete handicapped accessibility, generator back-ups, and climate control. The house was also fitted with communication software, donated by DynaVox Technologies, to enable the child to tell his family what he needs or feels.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition built this family a state-of-the-art “green” house in just over 100 hours. Volunteers described the home as beautiful, but not ostentatious or palatial, but filled with special touches and medical equipment to make the child’s life easier. In addition to the new home, the family was surprised the evening before the home unveiling with an art exhibit at the Brattleboro Art Museum of their child’s artwork. Phyl consulted with the family and the medical team to fabricate adapted paint handles to hold paint brushes to further increase the child’s independence in producing his artwork. This child’s artwork, along with artwork produced by other children with disabilities, is posted on the web site, created by this family, at www.AngelBoyArt.com.
Family Gets Dream House By NICOLE ORNE Reformer Staff
ATHENS – Everything about Wednesday’s big unveiling of the Vitales’ new home hinted at staged, organized chaos. Throngs of volunteers and fans decked out in identical blue “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” T-shirts cheered on cue, shouting, “Move that bus” with cult-like force. The Vitales’ oldest son, Kane, 4, repeated his actions when reporters re-adjusted to snap his picture as he clutched a stuffed bear and pointed at the new sign bearing the family’s surname, shouting over and over, “There’s a sign here.”
As 4-year-olds tend to do, though, Kane didn’t always want to stick to the script, throwing rocks at fans and even the show’s host, Ty Pennington. This spontaneous moment drew gasps from the crowd. The ABC crew spent the last week with volunteers building a home for Susan and Lou Vitale and their two sons.
The popular show documents the destruction of a family’s often ramshackle house, and the construction of a brand new dwelling to help a family suffering through some hardship. Louie Jr., the Vitales’ 1 1/2-year-old son, was born with arthrogryposis, a rare disease that causes restricted joint movement. He also requires a tube to breathe because his larynx is not developed.
Since the crew arrived last week, every aspect of the project has been strictly designed for optimal result. The Vitales were not allowed to speak to the press all week due to a gag order imposed by the show’s producers. Guards were even instructed to turn away one of the Reformer reporters. But nothing could have tainted the touching scene of Kane shouting “Mom!” from the doorway of the new house, for the first of thousands of times. As the bus moved away, revealing the house to the family, who had been kept in the dark for the last week, both parents cried.
As they approached their new house, Lou Vitale punched the air repeatedly, sharing his joy with the crowd. The house was specifically designed for the family, with complete handicapped accessibility, generator back-ups & climate control so that Louie Jr. will be able to go “in one shot right out all the doors,” Kevin Birchmore, McKernon Group vice president & part owner, said.
The home is also energy efficient, a condition the Brandon contractor set before agreeing to donate the work. Birchmore estimated the house cost around $750,000, not counting landscaping. Birchmore added that the show crew couldn’t “believe the energy and craftsmanship in Vermont, the way everyone worked, not climbing over each other.”
The house is also fitted with communication software donated by DynaVox Technology to enable Louie to tell his family what he needs or feels. Right now he can play “Old McDonald” and blocks. As he gets older, he’ll be able to type in sentences, spoken in one of roughly 15 different voices. “We knew we had to give Louie a voice,” AT Specialist Phyl Macomber said. “This has been one of the most wonderful weeks of donating my time.” She estimated the equipment cost roughly $12,000.
The Vitales were not available to speak with the Reformer on Wednesday night. Nicole Orne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 271.