January 3, 2010 in Idaho Voices

Family gets surprise home remodel

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When Leslie Nelson met Deb Farnsworth last year, she couldn’t have imagined their friendship would result in a community project that changed her entire house. Nelson just wanted to change her life.

Farnsworth leads a Celebrate Recovery group at Valley Real Life church. The ministry focuses on those “struggling with hurts, habits and hang-ups.” Farnsworth recalled their initial meeting. “Leslie had come out of a dysfunctional, abusive relationship and was a recovering meth addict. When she told me her story, crying, I asked her, ‘What do you want?’ ”

Farnsworth’s voice broke as she recalled Nelson’s answer. “She just looked at me and said, ‘I need prayer.’ ”

That reply touched Farnsworth.

“I was in,” she recalled. “This is all about showing her the love of Christ.” She agreed to mentor Nelson.

Later, when she visited Nelson at her home, she found the kitchen sink was broken, and Nelson had to wash dishes in a bucket or in the bathtub. No easy task for a single mom of eight, six of whom live with her. In addition, the bathroom floor was disintegrating. Farnsworth began looking for a way to help.

A couple of months ago, she saw Clyde Haase’s “House to Home” program on KAYU-TV and called him. From there, Farnsworth said, “It just snowballed.”

Haase contacted Jay Alderson of Alderson Custom Homes and the incoming president of the Spokane Home Builders Association. “Clyde and I are good friends,” Alderson said. “He called me up and said, ‘Let’s go take a look at this house and see what we can do.’ ”

Both men felt overwhelmed by what they found. “The kitchen was literally falling apart,” Alderson said. “The vinyl bathroom floor was duct taped all around.” In addition, they discovered broken windows, missing cupboard doors on all the cabinets, and sheets used instead of interior doors. “There wasn’t a matching light fixture in the house,” Alderson said. “So we decided to do a little bit more than replace the kitchen sink and bathroom floor.”

Instead of a “House to Home” feature, Haase and his producer believed the house was better suited to a community project. So Alderson called his contacts at Spokane Home Builders.

Meanwhile, Farnsworth and her husband, Steve, took Nelson and her six children into their home for the week. They told her that workers needed space as they replaced her kitchen sink and bathroom floor.

As Christmas rapidly approached, the team wanted to surprise Nelson with the remodel on Dec. 18, which gave them four scant days to complete the project.

Dozens of volunteers worked at the house from dawn to dusk. More than 50 area businesses and individuals donated money, materials and labor. Alderson said they replaced three broken windows, installed new flooring and carpeting, hung new cabinets throughout the home, and replaced the kitchen countertop with a brand new Corian counter. And of course, they put in a new kitchen sink.

But that was just the beginning. Businesses donated new appliances and new lighting fixtures. Donors produced beds and bedding, additional helpers hung doors and painted the entire interior of the home. According to Haase, the cost of the improvements, including labor, exceeded $50,000.

He expressed amazement at the scope and variety of the assistance that poured forth. “Waste Management of Spokane removed 80 yards of garbage (from the property),” he said. “And then they helped paint!”

On Dec. 18, a long line of well-wishers and volunteers stretched along the sidewalk in front of the house. Soon, Nelson and her children arrived. “Look at the door!” squealed 4-year-old David as he pointed to the home’s new front door.

Haase, who’d never met Nelson or her children, was overcome with emotion as they crowded around him outside the home.

Blinking back tears, he held Nelson’s hand and said, “Hundreds of people spent hundreds of hours … all for love.”

Pastor Matt King prayed a blessing over the house, and the curtains were drawn back to reveal a lighted Christmas tree shining in the window.

As Nelson and her children entered the home, Roxanne, 5, and her sisters, Karma, 3, and Kendra, 22 months, ran to their room. They appeared entranced by the newly painted pink room with glistening butterflies affixed to the walls. “I’m a butterfly girl!” Karma said.

Her brothers Daniel, 9, Gabriel, 8, and David, 4, eagerly explored their newly painted room. “It’s blue!” shouted David. “I got new blankets!”

Their mother seemed stunned by the transformation. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s a godsend.”

Later, Nelson said, “I felt like I was in a dream. I just thought I was getting a new kitchen sink. Everything was brand new, from the carpet to the TV!”

She paused, still overwhelmed. “I wasn’t expecting a brand new bed. I’d slept on a mattress on the floor for years. It feels like a home.”

Haase said emotions overcame him when he saw Nelson’s children. “I’m a grandfather,” he said. “I’ve done these things before, but this one really hit home.”

Farnsworth agreed and added, “The story is not just about making over a home – it’s making over a family.”

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