This past August, a group of homeschool volunteers had the opportunity to both bless and be blessed in a homeschool version of “Extreme Home Makeover.” The Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) partnered with the Ambassador Program of the Home School Foundation to completely renovate the home of a single homeschool mother in the Hampton Roads area. The bulk of the project—which took a month from start to finish—was completed on Saturday, August 28,by a team of more than 40 volunteers, leaving a grateful homeschool family with not only a beautifully restored home, but restored hope.
The genesis of the project occurred when Chuck Hurst, director of the Home School Foundation (HSF), called Anne Miller, president of HEAV, about an idea for homeschoolers to help other homeschoolers in a Habitat for Humanity-style project. The HSF, which is funded through the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), has several programs to help homeschoolers who are in need, but did not have one specifically directed toward home projects. Unbeknownst to Mr. Hurst at the time, Anne (a home decorator) and her husband, Jeff, (a home builder/remodeler) both have a passion for fixing and beautifying homes—making them the ideal team to bring this project idea to fruition. Thus began the HSF’s pilot Ambassador Project, funded by the HSF and led by the Millers.
Local support group leaders and the “Homeschooling in Hampton Roads” Yahoo group were contacted in order to find appropriate homeschooling families to benefit from the home renovation. HEAV’s executive director, George Lansing, interviewed several of them, and one family, nominated by Lisa Pitts, a local support group leader, stood out. Leticia was a single mother who was homeschooling her children while on disability for a chronic illness. Leticia’s home was in disrepair, and she did not have the financial resources to fix it. Once the family was chosen and the scope of the project was determined, volunteers were recruited through e-mails, personal phone calls, the HEAV newsletter, and contacts to homeschool support groups. The response was tremendous, not only from homeschoolers who wanted to volunteer, but from businesses within the community as well. The project slowly began to move from concept to reality.
Jeff Miller functioned as the site supervisor, developing a job assessment for the project; his wife Anne, as project manager, translated this into a list of tasks. The HSF provided a budget of $5,000, although anonymous donors provided additional funding for the project. After three solid weeks of organizing, shopping, and choosing colors and accessories, SmartBoxes were delivered to the front yard and the contents of Leticia’s home were moved from the house to the storage boxes. Next, professional floor finishers began sanding and refinishing the hardwood floors while Leticia spent the week with a family from her church.
On Friday, August 27, volunteers prepped the house by removing doors, sanding and priming trim, covering floors, and generally preparing for the next big workday. Saturday dawned bright and clear and volunteer work crews showed up and revamped the entire house and grounds under Jeff’s able direction! Every room in the house was painted—walls, ceilings, closets, and trim. Multiple repairs were made, including fixing gutters, replacing fence posts, repairing a chain link fence and gate, and correcting drainage problems in the yard. Volunteers participated in mulching, weeding, moving a phone line, replacing a large picture window, and installing exhaust fans in both the kitchen and bathroom. The team moved appliances and hung shelves to make the laundry room more functional, and installed new window blinds throughout the house. Old furniture was painted and repurposed, and new sofas, lamps, pictures, and bedding were purchased. No detail was left undone and the house was completely redecorated. Volunteers made multiple trips back to the home for days after the planned work weekend to be sure everything was fully finished. Although the scope of the work was ambitious, the team was committed to seeing an excellent job through to completion.
They certainly accomplished that goal! Upon seeing their new home, Leticia’s children excitedly exclaimed, “Everything matches! It’s like a hotel!” Leticia loved absolutely everything. She saw it as the fulfillment of a dream, having always wanted to provide for her children the lovely home she had never had as a child. And the Lord was clearly at work in every detail. When making decorating choices about window coverings, Anne felt led to use the more expensive wide plantation blinds rather than cheaper mini-blinds. When Leticia saw the window coverings, she cried; she told Anne she had always dreamed of having wide blinds in her home, but never imagined she would ever have them. She kept reiterating how blessed she felt by the Lord, and that she could see God taking care of things in their lives far beyond what she could ever have imagined. For her children, who do not have a father in their lives, it was a beautiful model of the care and love of their perfect Heavenly Father.
When asked what the most fulfilling part of the project was, Anne replied, “Being used of the Lord to create the beautiful home this family has always wanted.” Even after the project’s completion, Leticia’s family continues to experience its blessing. Leticia learned that prior to the renovation, her children had been ashamed of their home and had not wanted their friends to visit and see how they lived. Since the Ambassador Project, Leticia’s family has begun having people into their home; Leticia’s desire to practice hospitality in her home is being fulfilled. It is the weaving of a lovely tapestry of Christian service: The family that was served is now serving others.
The HSF hopes this will be the first of many Ambassador Projects throughout many states, and is currently looking for a Virginia Ambassador to do similar projects in local homeschooling communities. Anne explains that the response to the Ambassador Program has been tremendous. She says, “Almost all the people who worked on Leticia’s house said, ‘We want to do this again. Please let us know when there’s another project.’” Even local businesses got excited about the work. An auto mechanic and an architect offered their services, Starbucks donated coffee for volunteers, Lowe’s and Home Depot provided discounts on supplies, Target gave gift cards, and Sherwin Williams donated paint. The willingness is there, both with volunteers and with business donors. What HSF needs now are people who can identify families who have needs and people who are willing to be the hands and feet of the program on a local level to organize and execute projects.
Anyone interested in bringing the Ambassador Program to his or her community should contact the HSF. Projects do not need to be as comprehensive as this one; Ambassador Projects could be as simple as painting someone’s house or replacing appliances. The most important quality is a willingness to help other homeschoolers. It was through such willingness that the Lord blessed Leticia and her family, and all of the many volunteers who participated in the project. Anne sums up the “payment” for efforts like this: “We just loved doing the work. We were more blessed than Leticia was! She can hardly believe it, but through giving, we got back so much more than we gave. The pay may not be much, but the rewards are out of this world.” The Ambassador Project, through this “Extreme Home Makeover,” not only rejuvenated one homeschooling family’s home, but their lives—and the lives of all those involved.