Thursday, November 17, 2005

Helping with an extreme makeover

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Nov 17, 2005): When Weird Al Yankovic showed up in Wells on a television production site, Rhonda Finley of Scarborough was home, asleep.

“I always was at home on a power nap when good stuff happened,” Finley said upon seeing Yankovic’s accordion performance on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” Sunday evening on ABC.

Finley and her friends Mary Nablo and Laura Roche were volunteer coordinators during the filming of the program, which gave a Wells lobsterman a new home in a week, as part of a national hit television program that visits deserving families to tear down their old houses and build new, state-of-the-art homes.

The trio, and many other contractors, workers and volunteers, watched the program’s Sunday broadcast at the Thomas Room in South Portland at a party thrown by the lead company, Katahdin Homes.

Nablo, Roche and Finley worked at a volunteer check-in desk at a parking lot near the construction site at the home of the family of Doug Goodale, a lobsterman who lost his arm in a freak accident in 1997 aboard his lobster boat. Goodale was treated at Maine Medical Center by Dr. Donald Endrizzi, a Scarborough resident.

The three had been recruited by their friend Karen Gaydos, formerly of Scarborough and now of Saco. Gaydos’s father is a friend of Katahdin Homes president David Gordon, and was helping with logistics, Finley said.

As contractors and other volunteers arrived at the site, Nablo, Roche and Finley worked in shifts to sign them in, get them hard hats and send them up to the home site, where Hollis resident Susan Dow met them and put them to work.

“We had a schedule that was modified pretty much hour to hour” of the number of people needed, Nablo said.

The trio – and Dow, who joined them at Sunday’s party – recognized lots of people on the TV program, as well as in a “behind-the-scenes” show broadcast on the Portland ABC channel an hour before the national broadcast of the “Extreme Makeover” show.

“There’s Angie,” one said. “There’s Emily,” said another. “I remember him,” they said as a paint-stained man spoke briefly to a camera.

In one shot of the work area, they recognized a place they drove through often. “Our cars are going to come right up there,” Finley said.

Finley was featured prominently, if you knew where to look. She was in most of the shots of the family reacting to the “reveal,” their first glimpse of their new house, standing near the major contractors on the project and the show’s stars. Nablo was on the show briefly, in a passing shot. Roche knew she would not be on TV, as she rarely saw cameras.

Their work was exhausting. Roche said she tried to help out and be a full-time mom to her four children. As a result, she volunteered at the work site all night and was up during the day with her family, getting no sleep “for about five days.”

Finley said some volunteers were surprised they were not going to be helping with the actual construction, expecting the work to be more like a Habitat for Humanity project, in which everyone pitches in on nearly every task.

On the show, however, because the new house has to be built well in five days, there is no time to teach people construction skills along the way, Finley said.

So people sewed, carried items, and did other odd jobs that needed doing, and were spotted from various angles in the television broadcast.

“We sat on that bus,” Finley said during the opening sequence of the show, in which the show’s stars drive to the work site in a custom charter bus.

When landscape designer Eduardo Xol was interviewed on-camera near a stack of lobster traps, the three recognized the spot where they parked their cars for a couple days early in the project.

There were other, emotional ties. “I’ve never not cried watching this show,” Finley said.

And there was laughter, as they recalled a trip away from the work site to pick up some supplies.

“We had 12 minutes to get to Home Depot, to Biddeford, from Wells,” Nablo said. They were going about 80 mph through heavy fog on the highway, carrying the walkie-talkies they had been issued, when they got a phone call from Gaydos, wondering where they were and why no one was answering the calls on the walkie-talkies.

The crazy situation and the ridiculous pressure came out in peals of laughter as the women told the story, taking turns as each needed to laugh or breathe.

They arrived at Home Depot, having called ahead. “We walk in the door and they act like we’re like gods,” Finley said.

They could not do everything, though. The night before the final day, Nablo was told the production crew wanted 300 people at Wells Harbor in the morning, to watch Goodale receive a new lobster boat as part of the show.

Nablo decided that she would not be able to help: “I don’t know 300 people in Wells,” she said.

The show has had lasting effects, beyond the trio’s willingness to help again – “maybe in a year,” Roche said. Someone was recently fiddling with Finley’s cell phone, looking at the names in the address book, and asked, “Who is Greg the welder?”

It took her half an hour to remember that she had once needed to get in touch with a man to weld a barre for a dance studio in the basement of the new home. She had entered his number into her phone in a rushed moment amid the frenzy, and forgotten about it.

“It seems like a lifetime ago,” Finley said.