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'Makeover' reality requires a few takes

Windsor Park family chosen from 5 finalists

By Mark Washburn
TV/Radio Writer
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

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  • A three-bedroom, two-bath brick-and-metal siding house built in 1961. A garage has been finished into the day-care area. It does not have central air conditioning. They bought it in 1999 for $105,000. Its tax value was set at $112,100 in the last revaluation in 2003.

    Organizers say they've been overwhelmed by the number of people who have volunteered to help on the “Extreme Makeover” Charlotte project. About 500 were needed, and more than 6,000 have volunteered. Builders ask that those who didn't get picked to work on the project come out and help cheer on the workers. For information on donations or events, check www.extrememakeovercharlotte.com.


  • To visit the site, you should take the CATS bus, Route 232, Grier Heights, so cars don't clog the Windsor Park neighborhood. It leaves Eastland Mall Community Transit Center, 5411 Central Ave., every 15 to 30 minutes and costs 60 cents one way, or $1.20 for a round trip. CATS accepts exact change only.


Unreality in the form of “reality television” hit Sudbury Road on Monday.

About 9:15 a.m., host Ty Pennington and the crew of ABC's “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” poured off their bus at the residence of the Kings with a bullhorn for the show's traditional wake-up call – the part where a deserving family is surprised by the news they're getting a new home.

And a few minutes later, Pennington & Co. poured off the bus and did it again.

And again.

Producers finally got the shot they wanted and moved on to new business.

By late afternoon, with the temperature hovering in the 90s, it was time to film the King family getting into a black stretch limo for the beginning of a weeklong vacation in Puerto Rico.

They got in once. Then again. And yet again.

Reality is, the Kings won't leave for the airport until today. That's show business, reality style.

Another reality: Their selection wasn't a complete surprise. They had been told they were one of five finalist families in Charlotte under consideration for a new home. They were told to hang around, just in case.

None of that bothered the Kings. They looked like they'd just hit all six numbers in the lottery.

Paying it forward

This season's theme on “Extreme Makeover” is community heroes. Curtis and Alisha King run a home day care at their small home in the 4200 block of Sudbury Road in the Windsor Park neighborhood. They are more than flexible in the arrangements.

If parents work a night shift, their kids can stay over with the Kings. For free. Working a weekend shift? Same deal.

For six years, the Step By Step Home Daycare, capped at 12 children by regulations, ran at a loss. It has just become a break-even business.

“A lot of families just don't have people to help them,” says Alisha King. And she knows what a difference it makes to have support.

With help, she climbed

Alisha King was a single mother at age 15 in St. Pauls, in eastern North Carolina. Only because others reached out to help her, she says, was she able to work multiple part-time jobs to support her son while she finished high school, went on to college at N.C. A&T in Greensboro to study computers and made a success of her life.

At N.C. A&T, she met her future husband, Curtis King, originally from Wilmington, an art design student.

They eventually moved to Charlotte and in 1999 bought the house in Windsor Park. A finished garage became their day care area.

But the one-story, 1,900-square-foot house built in 1961 was cramped and feeling its age. Worse, a mold problem took hold.

Their 7-year-old daughter Laila has been taken to the hospital several times with asthma attacks. And they were concerned about the effect of the mold on the children in the day care, though their business earned four out of five stars – 225 out of a possible 235 points – in its last inspection in February.

Neighborhood in transition

Sudbury Road took on the personality of a military depot as events unfolded Monday. Trucks arrived carrying generators, lights, production equipment, building supplies. Spaces were cleared for portable potties.

Police sealed off the block. And groupies materialized to catch glimpses of Pennington and the other designers – Michael Moloney, Ed Sanders, Rib Hillis and Didiayer Snyder – on the Charlotte project.

About two weeks ago, producers began approaching people on Sudbury, telling them a nearby family was a finalist for “Home Makeover” and asking whether they'd cooperate if a neighbor was selected.

“Not a single one said no,” said Diane Korman, a Los Angeles-based senior producer.

Today, the King's belongings will be inventoried and removed from the house. At noon Wednesday, demolition will begin.

Then, if all goes well, in about 88 hours a new house will go up with volunteer labor. Next Monday, the Kings are to return to a life-changing home.

Justin King, 19, said his parents deserve the honor.

“It shows when you work hard and give it your all, good things happen.”

Observer researcher Marion Paynter contributed.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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