Volunteers look back on helping DeVries family

Published 9:31 am Friday, October 31, 2008

Magical. Exhilarating. Rewarding. A blessing.

No matter how volunteers involved in the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” process described their experiences in building a new home for the Dirk and Susan DeVries family, they all agreed on one thing: it was an experience they will never forget.

Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Susie Petersen, a volunteer coordinator for the “Extreme Makeover,” said the week of the makeover from Sept. 30 through Oct. 7 was probably the most tired she’s ever been in her entire life. Even though she’d go home and sleep during the process for a couple hours each night, she couldn’t wait to go back.

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It wasn’t until the family was brought home in a black limousine after their house was finished that the reality hit of what the community had done.

“We were all in tears,” she said.

More than 800 applications came in for the unskilled positions, of which about 400 were used, she said. There were 715 skilled workers.

“It went so well because of all the help,” Petersen said. “I just think of our community can-do attitude.”

She recalled a few experiences from that week last month that stuck out to her.

One of those was when the Albert Lea Thunder team came in and helped put in insulation to the house.

“They were so excited,” she said. “When they were done, they came back and were doing cheers. They had finished that job and were excited to be done. It was really fun to see that.”

Petersen also recalled seeing the Albert Lea High School cheerleaders helping to push people’s cars out of the mud.

“We’ve heard from some of the ABC folks that they go all around the United States, but it’s the Midwest people that have the heart and the caring attitude,” she said. “It was pretty wonderful to see what we can do.

“The project was an awe-inspiring project, and I just hope we all can pay it forward.”

Petersen said people can look for ways to serve their neighbors or be a part of positive efforts such as with the United Way. There are so many agencies in town that need the community’s help.

“We need to keep it out in our community about ways to help — the reminder of what we’ve done and what we can do,” she said. “We can’t let it just die.”

Petersen said she was honored to be a part of the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

She still has people asking her about it when she goes in to other communities.

Kim Nelson, who helped organize the catering for the skilled workers, said though she was in charge of a tremendous amount of work, she actually had to make very few cold calls asking people to donate food or meals.

“That’s just a huge example of this community and the area of how they rally around people in need,” Nelson said. “I think it started out more as just this one family, but as the week went on it’s what can we do from here. That’s the intention with the whole thing. So many people say, ‘I don’t think people realize the domino effect this has.’”

She said one day when her husband was volunteering, they took a break to eat together and met a student from the construction class at Riverland Community College. He was overwhelmed with the experience he was getting and the connections he was making with potential employers. That’s an example of what happened behind the scenes, she said.

Nelson said she’s always wanted to go on a mission trip for two or three weeks to help people in need, but right now it’s her mission to be with her children.

“This was a way to do a mission trip and go home every night,” she said. “It fulfilled that hunger for the meantime that I have for wanting to help others.”

She noted she’s seen the benefits of the makeover for the community and the friendships that were formed throughout it.

Volunteer Nancy Kelly, who helped serve breakfast to volunteers throughout the week of the makeover, said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being able to volunteer.

Plus, being a part of the Hollandale Christian School for many years — her children went to school there and took music lessons from Susan DeVries — it was an opportunity to give back to the DeVries family.

Responses from a thank-you e-mail sent out to volunteers by the volunteer organizers for the local “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition:”

“You are welcome! Thank you for your sincere and very nice note. It was my pleasure to be involved. God bless your kindness in our community. And I salute Al Larson and his team!” — Bryce Gaudian

“And congratulations to you! I think that what was accomplished is remarkable, and it was only achieved through the combined efforts of everyone. Let’s do it again sometime.” — Bill Howe

“It was an awesome experience, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat! I kept fairly busy picking up after the carpenters and helping carry stuff into the basement. I met lots of interesting people, and everyone was so upbeat, friendly and fun to talk to. Thank you so much for such a memorable opportunity!” — Laurel Yost

“Thank you for the opportunity. I felt it was a chance of a lifetime to be involved in something like that!” — Lisa Routh

“This was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of. Such a memorable experience!” — LaVonne Rushton

“It was really positive — a positive experience,” Kelly said.

Volunteer Sue Zimmerman, who worked in the check-in tent during the process, described the whole week as “a great experience.”

“The whole thing was just amazing to watch how so many people from our area came together and did something for one family,” she said.

She recalled people with their neighbors and friends who would come up to the tent and ask to help because they didn’t get signed up.

She also recalled a man that came up to the check-in tent with his children, who had made something for the duct tape contest held on the Saturday of the makeover. He said he also had a picture he made for the inside of the DeVries’ house, and he wanted to give it to the family.

Zimmerman said she told the man he could give the picture to her and she would give it to the producers.

He explained that one time years ago his motorcycle had broken down, and Dirk DeVries had stopped to help him get it going again.

“He said, ‘Dirk won’t remember me. It was a random meeting years ago,’” she said. “But this man had remembered Dirk. It was kind of neat to hear stories like that.”

Even though she didn’t know the DeVries personally, Zimmerman said she heard comments all throughout the week about what nice people the DeVries are.

She said she thinks the experience was such a positive one for everyone who came out and helped. Everyone was so positive and upbeat, and she never heard anyone complain or talk of being tired.

“I hope it carries over — that people realize how nice it is to give and do things nice for other people,” Zimmerman said.