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Section A: General News


‘Welcome home, Harris family; welcome home!’


‘Welcome home, Harris family; welcome home!’
COURTESY/Morgan’s Wonderland/ Shilo Harris and his family have their breath taken away as their new home is revealed this past January.


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Pascalle Bippert
WCN Correspondent
December 12, 2012
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FLORESVILLE -- Maybe you watched last Monday’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on TV and cheered with other area residents as a local family received a new home, custom-tailored to meet their needs.

The program brought back many happy memories for area residents, who saw the fruits of their labors brought to millions of TV viewers nationwide as the program revealed the home built for a local Wounded Warrior.

Working wonders

When Gordon Hartman, founder of Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, received the proposal from ABC TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” last year to build a home for retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris, a wounded veteran, and his family, he was more than happy to do it. Hartman said that Harris is such an incredible individual for his service to our country and in his continued service to wounded warriors who are recovering from injuries sustained in the war. Morgan’s Wonderland became the first-ever nonprofit organization to handle an Extreme Makeover project.

The fully accessible fun park in San Antonio is dedicated to being involved with people who have special needs, Hartman said, and he was happy to be involved with the Extreme Makeover people, whose passion it is to serve those who need special homes in order to carry out day-to-day life.

Hartman said approximately 1,000 volunteers work on a typical building site for Extreme Makeover; the project for the Harris family drew 3,400 volunteers. The TV team and volunteers had a 108-hour window to build the house -- roughly 4-1/2 days from framing for concrete to opening the door to the family. Hartman coordinated all the builders, donations, news coverage teams, and food donations.

Once in a lifetime

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Kevin Brown, owner of Abrego Development Co., one of the building companies on this Extreme Makeover project, of this experience.

Brown said the building schedule was 30 pages long, taking the project from framing the concrete to turning the key in 108 hours. They managed to complete the build in 101 hours; that set a record. Part of their success was the good Texas weather. Brown said a crew building a home in Kentucky had rain every day during their build. The other key to keeping the build on schedule was how well the teams worked together. Instead of destroying the Harris family’s doublewide mobile home, Brown said, the crew pulled it off the site and auctioned it, with the proceeds benefiting helpingahero.org, a charity that works to assist veterans wounded in the war on terror. (See “Helping a Hero” for more information.) The proceeds helped the organization provide 10 more homes to other wounded veterans.

According to Brown, Jon Wayne Heating and Air designed the HVAC system for the home; this was very important, due to Shilo Harris’ delicate respiratory requirements.

The Extreme Makeover crew was very impressed with how the teams worked together, said Brown, who managed the night shift during the build. They said that it was the smoothest build they had ever had.

Night and day

Jeanine Schoenert, owner of D&D Custom Homes, was the project manager for the build and was in charge of the day shift.

When anyone came to her and asked, “Where do I go? Where do I take this? Where does this go?” she had to be ready to tell them exactly what needed to be done and where and when.

“I loved it,” Schoenert said. “It was an experience of a lifetime. Super hard work. It was the most important thing I’ve ever done.”

“The camaraderie was unbelievable,” she added.

They were all strangers when they began the job, she said, but by the end of the job it felt like they had worked together for 50 years. According to Schoenert, Hartman’s crew was unbelievable.

I told her that when I walked through the home, I saw so many people working on the drywall, it was like drywall ballet. All the movements were synchronized and they all worked in harmony.

A passion for special needs

Josh Gerstner, the building contractor for Gordon Hartman, said, “All my building is for special needs people. It’s my passion.”

He likes to help people. This was his first time building for Extreme Makeover.

“Most of us had never worked together, and after the week I felt like Jeanine Schoenert was my sister,” he said of his experience. “We called her ‘Mom’ because she kept all of us controlling, macho men in line.”

And she kept things running smoothly, he added.

Gerstner worked 20- to 22-hour shifts and kept his RV on the site so he could nap between shifts.

He said the Extreme Makeover team was fantastic. After seeing how the Extreme Makeover building schedule worked, he has adopted the same idea on every building project he does. He broke ground on a 5,000-square-foot house in early October and he’s moving into it already.

Friends old and new

La Vernia resident Gina Trowbridge worked on the home for two days on the 2-8 a.m. night shift. She also participated in the San

Antonio River Walk filming.

Trowbridge said she and her husband, Charlie, arrived on site the day they were framing for the concrete pour. She said they watched the workers smoothing out the concrete with trowels and the next thing they knew the workers were standing on it and the walls were being raised into place!

She served food and picked up trash every hour, but also got to do some “artsy stuff” -- spray painting some lamps and hand-painting some western village miniatures to decorate one of the rooms. While she was painting, Trowbridge looked up, and across the table she thought she recognized a woman.

“Do I know you?” she asked the woman, who responded, “Did you used to be Gina Means?”

“Carol?” Trowbridge asked.

Sure enough, these gals graduated from high school together in 1981 and had not seen each other since. Carol was there with her church team.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to know that you are involved with people who were working toward a common goal of helping people who are so deserving,” Trowbridge said.

While working on the project, she kept saying to herself, “I can’t believe I’m out here actually doing the work on the show that I love to watch!”

Trowbridge met and got a photo taken with the show’s star, Ty Pennington, and was able to talk with him.

She and Charlie dressed in Christmas outfits, held signs, and waved flags during the River Walk filming, which was attended by 11 or 12 other wounded warrior families; unbeknownst to these wounded veterans, they were to be given keys to new houses through Helping a Hero.

Trowbridge said she cried so much she ran out of tissues, and when Lee Greenwood stepped onto the stage of the Arneson River Theatre to sing “God Bless the USA,” she really boo-hooed.

Family reunion

Kevin Brown hosted a reunion of folks who worked on the Harris family’s home Dec. 10 at the Kicaster Country Store near La Vernia. He said one of the guys from Colorado was planning to trek to Texas for the gathering.

Helping a Hero

Helping A Hero nominated Shilo Harris and his family for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” This national nonprofit organization provides “... support for military personnel, severely injured in the war on terror,” according to www.helpingahero.org. “Our principal activity is to provide specially adapted homes for qualifying service members as well as engaging the community to provide services and resources for our wounded heroes and their families.”

The organization takes into account the special needs of the wounded veterans. For burn victims, they work hard to limit light entering the home. For quadriplegics, care is taken to allow for roll-in showers and wider doorways to facilitate mobility.

“It is truly an honor to build these homes for our heroes who are daily reminded that America cares and that we have not forgotten the sacrifice they made to protect our great nation,” the website states.

See Online Photo Gallery:
•Photos by Wilson County News Staff: http://www.InstantImageGallery.com/iig/a/254/263491
 

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