‘Warmer, safer, drier’ - Trumbull volunteer documents Appalachia

As a volunteer with the Appalachia Service Project, Trumbull photographer Sharon Rentz has documented volunteer home renovation projects before. But never before had she documented the documenting of such a project.

Rentz served as a volunteer photographer on a holiday-themed episode of ABC's Extreme Makeover! Home Edition. The episode airs Monday at 8 p.m. but was filmed last December. During filming, ABC decided to cancel the show but the crew saw the job through to completion. The last regular episode of the show aired in January but the network continues to film and air new episodes as stand-alone specials.

Unlike most of the show's makeovers, the Appalachia family featured in the episode lived in a home that was in good condition, though small. But owners James and Devonda Friday were foster parents and had taken in five siblings before learning that the state could take them away if the family did not find larger accomodations.

"They already had children, and adding five more violated state law because it meant that some of them would have been sharing rooms and you can't have children of opposite genders sleeping in the same room once they get past a certain age," Rentz said.

The family's location and circumstances made it a natural fit for ASP, a home repair ministry that sends more than 15,000 volunteers into Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina to repair homes. Rentz got her start with ASP through the Nichols United Methodist Church, which this summer will send volunteers into the region for the 30th consecutive year.

"I started volunteering with ASP with my family five years ago and as a professional photographer I documented my first summer," Rentz said. "I offered these photos to ASP to use in their fund raising and that started an amazing relationship."

The television network invited ASP to participate in the episode since Wade Miller, one of the show's pro builders, had been an ASP volunteer in high school and college. Rentz, through her relationship with ASP, was asked to be one of the volunteer workers.

The show's producers surprised the family, showing up under the pretense of buying them a Christmas tree. Once informed that they would receive a home makeover, the family had to leave their home that day, Rentz said.

"That was the most amazing part to me, that we all have our entire lives in our homes," she said. "Once the family left, workers ran everywhere, dumping drawers into boxes for storage and bagging up everything they could."

Then the ASP volunteers went to work, ripping out baseboards and fixtures before an excavator tore down the entire outer structure of the house.

Other obligations prevented Rentz from staying for the entire week of the build, so she said she will find out what the family's new living conditions are like Monday.

"I have seen photos, but I'm anxious to see how it all turned out," she said.