By MELINDA WILLIAMS
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – From the life-sized elephant in their children’s playroom to the courtyard they share with their clients, Daniel and Mandy Byrd Watson agree they are “Literally living in our dream home.”
The Watson’s new home in Knoxville, Tenn. was officially unveiled to the general public Monday night on a special holiday edition of ABC’s reality show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Mandy is a 1997 graduate of Pulaski County High School.
Thanksgiving came early for the Watson’s this year as the stars of “Extreme Makeover” rolled up in front of their home in January to make the surprise announcement that they would receive the new home to be constructed for the special holiday show.
The January filming came with all of the normal features of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, including four Thanksgiving dinners in a week and a special parade that featured floats brought in from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
The Watsons said they were nominated for a home makeover in October 2010, but they and 11 other groups in that area were involved in the “casting process” for more than year. The show’s producers announced in November 2011 the home would be constructed in the Knoxville area and the possible recipients were narrowed down to three.
However, they said it truly was a surprise when the show’s stars arrived at their doorstep Jan. 10 to reveal they had been selected.
Although they had a producer in their house that day and had been told to pack their bags to go on vacation in case they were selected, they were told the other two potential winners were doing the same thing.
Daniel said they felt pretty confident they had been chosen, however, due to a utility pole that had been put up in a field near their home a week earlier.
Of course, upon being informed they were selected, the family was wisped away to Clearwater, Fla. for a week’s vacation while the old house was razed and the new one constructed. While there, the family is completely cut off from the outside world, so that they cannot receive any information on their new home in advance of the reveal.
The couple said they spent five days in Florida and then returned home a day early due to a surprise Thanksgiving Dinner the show organized. The event surprised Mandy with a visit from her sister, who lives in Africa, and unveiled new college scholarships for their children and children of their clients.
The Watsons founded “The Restoration House of East Tennessee,” which assists single mothers.
The three children the couple had at the time of the filming (they have four now) received full scholarships to their alma mater, Johnson University in Knoxville, and $50,000 was set aside to start a scholarship fund for clients’ children, as well.
Just as it appears on the show, the Watsons said the first time they laid eyes on their new home was when they and “Extreme Makeover” star Ty Pennington lead the crowd in yelling, “Move that Bus!”
Mandy said her first impression of the house was, “It totally fits us.” They were asked to describe their dream home to the producers and they said the show reproduced that dream home inside and out.
Even after the bus pulled away, Daniel said he was still most amazed by the 1,500 people who showed up to take part in the reveal. They said it was “overwhelming and humbling” that 4,000 volunteers from across the country and Canada helped build the home and the accompanying two duplex apartments that will provide housing for clients.
The “coolest” part of the house, they said, was the life-sized elephant in the African-style play area for the kids, as well as the giraffe head that appears to come out of the wall. Their son was adopted from Ethiopia.
A courtyard constructed between their house and the duplex provides a “perfect place for the children to play together and the moms to hang out,” said Mandy.
Their original home was 2,000 square feet, including an apartment used for clients. The Watson’s new home is 3,500 square feet and the duplex apartments are 800 square feet each.
Daniel said the actual build time for the project was 106 hours (about 4.5 days).
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of having been selected for the home makeover, the couple said, is the amount of awareness that has been drawn to “our ministry.”
Daniel said, “The ripple effect has been tremendous.”
As a result of the show, Restoration House has been able to purchase six acres of adjacent property on which to construct four buildings containing six condominium-type apartments for client housing. It will be called “The Village.”
They have a fundraising campaign in progress, called “It takes a village to build a village” and Daniel said volunteers are getting excited about the project. Also benefiting from their fundraiser will be a library in Ethiopia and the scholarship fund for their clients’ children.
For more information on The Restoration House and The Village, visit http://www.therestorationhouse.net.
The Watsons summed up the experience by saying, “We’ve been trying to give all our lives and now it has been returned.”