'Extreme Makeover' selects Beaufort Marine family

January 11, 2011 

Tuesday, Jan. 11: A tan, one-story ranch house stands on a quiet street in Beaufort. The only outward signs of the sacrifice its owners have endured are a piece of plywood tacked conspicuously to the facade and a faded American flag hanging next to the front door.

By the end of today, that house will be gone. In a week, a Marine, his wife and their five kids will have a new home.

ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," a reality show that uses teams of volunteers to renovate the home of a deserving family, kicked off a shoot in Beaufort County Tuesday by surprising them with the news on camera.

'BESTOWED BLESSINGS'

India Dickinson knew her family was a finalist for the show, but said she thought the announcement would come today.

At about 1 p.m. Tuesday, she came to the Marine Air Base for a teleconference with her husband, Staff Sgt. Bill Dickinson, an inspection technician deployed to Afghanistan and scheduled to return in May.

Since they hadn't seen their father in more than three months, the couple's children came instead of going to school,

Outside, a 20-member production crew, Marines and other volunteers waited in the cold to surprise the family.

As they emerged from the building, the show's host, Ty Pennington, swung open the door of a large orange tour bus emblazoned with the show's logo and greeted the family as volunteers swarmed India and her children.

India thought she might pass out.

"Everything was a whirlwind. My head was literally spinning, my fingers got tingly, and my head got really warm," India said. "I thought I was fixing to go to the ground."

India said her husband started to cry when he found out.

"It's been a never-ending battle for him," India said. "He's going to be able to sleep tonight, wake up tomorrow and take care of himself and not worry about the home life."

The house had been plagued with problems -- chief among them mold, which has permeated nearly every room and caused respiratory problems for the couple's 16-month daughter.

They considered giving up the home and moving on base, but the family would have to move again in two years when Bill retires.

"Beaufort is home to me. I love this place. It's beautiful, and this is where he wants to retire," India said.

So Bill did his best to fix it up himself, doing home-improvement projects after work.

"Last time he deployed, he literally got done working on the house at 5 a.m., and we left at 5:30 to get him to the bus to ship off," India said.

India says she's overwhelmed by the hard work the community is putting into the project.

"In the process of applying, the one thing I did tell my children is, you've got to figure out one thing in your life, how you're going to pay this forward if you're chosen," India said. "When blessings are bestowed upon you, you've got to pay it forward."

Even if another family had been chosen, she said, it still would have been a pretty good day.

"I got to see my husband. That was probably one of the best things of the day," India said.

NEIGHBORS 'ECSTATIC'

At about 4:30 p.m., nearly 200 volunteers wearing blue T-shirts and white hard hats marched down the street to the family's home. They huddled in the driveway, listening to a rousing speech in which volunteers learned they were "weapons for mass construction." A camera on a long boom hovered above and captured it all.

Tomorrow, the Dickinson family will fly out for a week-long vacation at Disney World.

In their absence, their house will be transformed.

Todd Hawk, owner of H2 Builders, which is leading local construction efforts, said the crew has cut off utilities and begun prep work. Movers tagged the family's belongings for storage.

Full demolition of the house will take place today.

In the surrounding neighborhood, trailers, equipment, buses and 20-foot-tall portable lights crowd the pavement and spill over onto lawns.

Soon contractors, volunteers and spectators will flood the area. Work on the house will proceed at all hours of the day or night. The street has been barricaded and is closed to traffic; residents living nearby need a security pass to get home.

Still, many neighbors are happy for the inconvenience.

"We're ecstatic," said Jessica Mallard, who has been watching the show for several years with her family.

Ryan Parsons, who lives several houses down, said the production crew has been sensitive to his needs. He was worried about noise because he has a 2-month old daughter, but said the show's producers offered to pay for a hotel if it became a problem.

"They're really trying to accommodate and make everybody happy," he said.

Some neighbors have been cheering for the Dickinsons all along.

"We knew she was a finalist about three months ago, when her husband was deployed," said Teri Horn. "This morning we were avidly watching and waiting to see. We kept seeing the policemen shuttling cars, and then when we saw the barricades going up, it was like, 'Yes!'"

Staff writer Patrick Donohue contributed to this report.

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