Daniel Watson stood outside his white farmhouse with its sinking foundation and leaky roof Tuesday, cradling 2-year-old son Silas as a dozen or more strangers gathered in the family yard.
"I love you. Can I have a kiss?" Watson quietly asked the youngest of his three adopted children. "Can you say 'Hi' to everybody? Can you blow everybody a kiss?"
Silas buried his curly head in his father's shoulder, then blew a kiss to a crowd of reporters. A few minutes later the toddler napped in the arms of his mother, Mandy Watson, not caring if scores of volunteers were ready to take over the family's Robinson Road home for an episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
The show oversees the rebuilding or renovation of homes for selected needy families across America. Each project — a good deed wrapped in television retakes and dozens of earth movers, dump trucks and portable toilets — is coordinated by "Makeover" designers and constructed with locally donated labor and supplies.
Silas' brother Atley, 7, was much more excited about having his home torn down and rebuilt in seven days. "I can't tell you what kind of room mine's going to beeeee," Atley yelled as he ran up the hill away from the two-story house during the first day of filming for the ABC show.
The Watsons knew they were finalists for the program and had a feeling they'd be selected. One hint — a utility pole was placed near their yard a week ago. "But we certainly never knew until they came to the door this morning," said Daniel Watson.
That knock began 106 hours of organized chaos. Knoxville police and "Makeover" security coordinated traffic, corralled the media and directed dump trucks and flatbed trailers.
In the early afternoon the older Watson children — Atley and Ava, 6, — walked or ran in and out of the house in between taping.
"It's a whirlwind of activity. And we are just thrilled, excited, overwhelmed and super blessed," said Mandy Watson. "It was really a buzz of hope that built up in us ... It's been surreal; I'm not going to lie."
"We are just humbled; it's amazing," said Daniel Watson in a brief news conference before the family was sent on a week's vacation to Florida. "It's been amazing to see literally a community of people around our family."
Daniel Watson hopes the program will bring more awareness to Restoration House of East Tennessee. The Watsons began the nonprofit five years ago. Restoration House gives single mothers and their children a place to live and helps them become self-sufficient and productive community members. "In a lot of ways, they are an extension of our family," he said.
Restoration House is now helping five mothers and 11 children. Three families live in apartments elsewhere. One lives in an upstairs apartment in the Robinson house. The fifth family lives in a small house on their 3.5 acres. "Extreme" Executive Producer George Verschoor said the reconstruction would include a house of "less than 3,500 square feet" for the Watsons as well as a duplex for Restoration House.
The Watsons' farmhouse with gingerbread trim looks quaint but it's got structural issues. The family room is sinking on a crumbling foundation. Because of Silas' medical bills — he was found abandoned, with neonatal tetanus, in Ethiopia before the Watsons adopted him — the family hasn't been able to repair the leaking roof. They bought the property in 2005 and have "taken care of the aesthetics," said Daniel Watson. "But we've been told the only way to fix the rest is to tear it down."
That tear-down is set to happen this morning. The house's replacement will be revealed to the Watsons Jan. 17.
More than 3,000 East Tennesseans are volunteering for duties from providing food to donating building supplies to helping construct the house under the direction of lead builder Grace Construction.
This episode will air as a Thanksgiving special during the 2012-13 season. The show has been canceled as a series but will continue with some specials.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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