If you’re planning to watch tonight’s episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” have a BYOK policy.
That’s Bring Your Own Kleenex.
The ABC reality series, which renovates homes for families facing obstacles, usually makes viewers emotional. A Georgia connection creates a five-tissue alarm.
Even for the stars of the show, the Williams family of Pine Mountain Valley, about 20 miles north of Columbus.
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“It is very rare that you get to do something for people that will change their lives forever,” said Jennifer Williams, 37. “It was just one unbelievable expression of human generosity.”
Her 38-year-old husband, Greenville High School football coach Jeremy Williams, has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The incurable, fatal condition affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
The couple’s 7-year-old son, Jacob, has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. They also have daughter, Josie, 8.
In February, crews from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” built a new approximately 4,000-square-foot house for the Williams family. They also renovated the field house at Greenville High School.
Show policies prevent the family from describing the home’s interior with detail before tonight’s episode, but Jennifer Williams promised the space meets their needs.
“It is absolutely wonderful,” she said. “There are no limitations.”
ABC has aired preview clips promoting tonight’s episode.
Viewers see the Williams family interacting with Disney star Demi Lovato while vacationing in Colorado during the project. The commercial dubs the Pine Mountain Valley show the biggest season finale in “Extreme Makeover” history.
“It’s truly one of the coolest houses that we have ever built. It’s a different build than we’ve ever done before,” Paul DiMeo, an “Extreme Makeover” designer, said in an interview.
The local home, constructed of pre-made sections, is the first modular home in “Extreme Makeover” history. Virginia-based Nationwide Custom Homes worked on the project with its parent company, Texas-based Palm Harbor Homes.
The entities have continued to raise awareness of ALS after the project’s completion.
“We want to tap into all this energy,” said Maury Kennedy, vice president of sales and marketing for Palm Harbor Homes.
Jeremy Williams’ story inspired Kennedy’s friend, country singer Mark McGuinn, to write and record a song — “Move That Bus” — about the football coach.
An online music video with the song features footage of the Williams family. For every view of the video, company sponsors will donate a penny to The ALS Association.
The video is a tear-jerker, to say the least.
“From the minute that thing came on, I was sobbing,” said Nan Wilson, wife of an associate pastor at Columbus’ Edgewood Baptist Church, which the Williams family attends. The church will have a viewing party for tonight’s episode.
Wilson remembers being asked a question during the February project: “Can you paint?”
She initially wondered if she’d be needed at the construction site, but ended up working a double shift as well as a shift on the morning of the big reveal.
Viewers who didn’t see the Pine Mountain Valley project firsthand might not understand the volunteer effort’s magnitude.
More than 2,700 volunteers registered to help with the project, an executive from Nationwide Custom Homes said at a news conference after the home was revealed.
“I don’t think you realize the amount of people that volunteered to participate in it. It’s amazing, the amount of people that stepped up to the plate,” said Matt Stahl, president of the Greater Columbus Home Builders Association, which encompasses Muscogee County as well as Harris County.
The association helped coordinate “Extreme Makeover” volunteers from local companies.
Volunteers have vivid memories of things that might only air briefly tonight: the giant sea of blue shirts, the cold temperatures, the school buses that shuttled people to the site.
Yes, there were star sightings. “Extreme Makeover” personalities like Ty Pennington showed up, along with Leigh Anne Tuohy and NFL player Michael Oher, whose story is told in “The Blind Side.” Wilmer Valderrama from “That ’70s Show” even made an appearance.
But many volunteers agree the most memorable part of the experience was the way it put life in perspective and highlighted the power of a united community.
“I think that was such an eye-opener for a lot of our employees,” said Eric Blackman, director of operations at Emory Clark-Holder Clinic in LaGrange.
The company provided health assistance for the project’s workers. Downtown LaGrange will hold a screening party for tonight’s show.
The Williams family will watch tonight’s show with relatives and friends. Since the project, some people have excitedly told Jennifer Williams about their volunteer experience.
“To hear their stories, that is really what is so cool,” she said.
Since the big reveal, the Williams family has only been allowed to have family members inside their home. They’ll often get questions about tonight’s episode.
Among the most popular: “Did Sandra Bullock come?”
Sorry, Jennifer Williams doesn’t have an answer.
During the project, rumors circulated that Bullock was in Pine Mountain Valley filming a guest spot on the episode. Some people swore they saw the “Blind Side” actress around town.
Project leaders never confirmed the speculation, however.
In the months following the makeover, Jennifer Williams said her 7-year-old son has gained tremendous emotional and physical strength, thanks to the new home’s conveniences. Even though her husband had to transition to a feeding tube, he continues to tell his story.
With a foundation built on community support, the Williams family made their new house a home.
“It’s just such a huge, huge blessing,” Jennifer Williams said. “We would love to just say a thank you to all of the people that were involved.”