Mount Union Students Volunteer to Work on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Project

May 05, 2010

At Mount Union College, many students packed their bags last Thursday and returned home for much-needed rest and relaxation during Fall Break, October 14-17. But some students - more than 130 - essentially gave up their Fall Break for a better cause. They volunteered their time to help ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition brighten the lives of one Youngstown-area family.


Photo Gallery Of The Construction Site

The Novak family of Boardman learned late last week that they would be the beneficiaries of the award-winning reality show's generosity, in the form of a new house. According to a press release from Prodigal Media, the family has been living in a three-bedroom, 76-year-old Dutch colonial home where the basement annually fills with raw sewage and the shower leaks into the rooms below.

It's 3 a.m., it's cold, everone is tired, and our Mount Union College students, faculty and staff are still working hard... and smiling


But the family's unsuitable residence is the least of its worries. On Mother's Day of this year, oddly enough after watching an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Jeff Novak's world was turned upside down when his wife of six years, 28-year-old Jackie, died of a pulmonary embolism, the blockage of an artery in the lungs. Not only did she leave behind her husband, but three little girls - Zoey, 6, Harley, 2 and Presley, 5 months - were now without a mother.

Jeff, 29, is in his second year of teaching special needs students at South Range Middle School. Students at the middle school joined Jeff's daughter, Zoey, in nominating the family for the show.

In a letter to Ty Pennington, the show's team leader, Zoey said "My daddy doesn't have a wife, I don't have a mommy anymore. Me and my sisters could use a new house."

The demolition of the Novak's current residence took place on Friday morning and TC Quality Homes began the process of building with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers - including more than 130 from Mount Union.

Volunteers from Mount Union have been organized by senior information systems major John Burkey of Salem and his mother, Dr. Linda Burkey, associate professor of education and chair of the Department of Education. The two became involved in the project through Linda's mother and John's grandmother, Marilyn Schmidt.

"My mother works with the Lions Club in Canfield," said Linda. "Part of the Lions Club's responsibility is to complete eye screenings in the local schools. Dr. Carmela Abraham, an optometrist in Salem, volunteers her time to assist in the eye screenings, and her husband is the contractor that is building the new house."

Abraham told Schmidt of the need for volunteers for the project, and Schmidt mentioned that she had a grandson attending Mount Union. From that point on, the Burkeys were on the project.

"My mom contacted John to see if he could get volunteers," said Linda. "I joined him in the search for and organization of volunteers, but he has been the backbone of the organization and information sharing process."

"We started gathering volunteers through word of mouth," said John. "My mom helped me promote it to students in the Department of Education and I attended group meetings on campus to ask for volunteers. In a matter of four days, we were able to get more than 130 volunteers."

John, who defines the organizing of the event as a joint effort between him and his mother, compiled a master list of volunteers and created a time schedule for the weekend. He forwarded the volunteer list to Dr. Abraham and she, in turn, forwarded details of the project to him.

"I sent out a mass e-mail to all of the volunteers providing them with information they needed, including directions to the staging area," said John. "Planning this in about five days is one of those things that one person could have not done alone, and it took my mom and me working together to do this in such a short period of time and garner such a great response from students."

John had to turn a number of students away because of ABC's limit on the number of volunteers that were needed.

"I knew once word was out we would get volunteers," said Linda. "We had much more interest than spaces to fill. I only wish I could have signed up more volunteers."

According to Linda, the volunteers included students, members of the faculty and staff, and alumni of the college. The Mount Union covered the late-night shifts: Friday from 7 p.m.-1 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1-7 a.m. and 7 p.m.-1 a.m.

"Our responsibilities mainly entailed cleaning up, light duty around the yards and streets and construction clean up within the job site itself," said Linda.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, currently in its third season, is an Emmy-nominated reality-television program where a team of designers, contractors and volunteers completely rebuild a home, including all rooms and the exterior landscaping, in only seven days.

"I am not really a fan of reality shows," said Linda. "I do however support a show like this that makes a positive impact on others. I see how the community gets together to support someone in need. That is true community."

John rarely misses an episode and sets his VCR to record the show if for some reason he is unable to watch it when it airs at 8 p.m. on Sundays on ABC.

"I love this show," he said. "I have watched it every Sunday for the past three seasons. It's the only TV reality show that I watch and that is because it helps people who need it."

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