LINCOLNTON James and Devonda Friday and their eight children will relive the joy of last Christmas watching national TV on Monday.
A two-hour holiday special edition of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition airs at 8 p.m., detailing how their three bedroom ranch at 105 Moore St. was more than doubled in size, compliments of the ABC network and volunteers from the community.
As the weeklong project got under way in December 2011, the Fridays left on a free trip to Jamaica. When they returned, they found their house transformed into a two-story home with eight bedrooms and about 4,000 square feet of heated space.
Even more good things came their way. Belmont Abbey College offered all eight of the Fridays children full tuition scholarships toward their undergraduate degrees a gift totaling about three-quarters of million dollars.
Settling into a new home, free of worries about their childrens educations, the couple is reflecting on an experience thats changed their lives.
I never in a million years would have thought this would happen, said Devonda Friday, 38. Its truly a blessing. So much keeps going on. It touches my heart.
Friday and her husband have served as foster parents to more than 30 children over the years. Devonda Friday, a former police officer, saw the effects of child abuse and wanted to become a foster parent for kids in need.
In May 2010, a teenager named Chris was placed with the Fridays and their three children. On his first night, Chris showed them a video of his four brothers and sisters, separated in the foster-care system. He asked whether the Fridays would consider taking them in, too.
The couple promised they would. But authorities said their three-bedroom house was too small. So the Fridays sold a van to help pay for renovating the carport and adding two bedrooms. Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius assisted. In April 2011, the couple got approval to adopt all five of the children.
A caller the Fridays didnt know nominated them for Extreme Makeover.
When TV producers contacted Belmont Abbey College officials about hosting a pep rally that would kick off the Extreme Makeover project the first reaction from college President Bill Thierfelders was: Who are they?
I must have been living in a cave, he said of the popular ABC show. Id never heard of them.
After learning about the Fridays work with foster children, he concluded they were doing a really noble thing.
Also making an impression on Thierfelder, who has 10children of his own, was the fact that the Fridays had eight children.
I felt very empathetic to large families, he said. I just respected what they (Fridays) did. It was no small thing to go from three kids to eight. I thought we might give them some comfort to know theyd be provided free tuition for their children. Hopefully, this will help.
He said the assistance is in line with the tradition of Benedictine Monks at Belmont Abbey Monastery helping students in need.
They couldnt help everybody, he said. But they did what they could.
Belmont Abbey students and staff took part in the makeover project and the college hosted the pep rally.
The Fridays have tried to share some of their good fortune. Four of their foster children came from the Crossnore School in Avery County. When the couple mentioned the school to Makeover producers, they connected with Allowance Manager, a San Diego Web- and mobile-based money management tool for families. Inspired by the story, Allowance Manager put out a nationwide call to young people asking them to donate a portion of their allowances to buy Christmas gifts for 102 Crossnore children.
A TV crew filmed the gift distribution at the school last December. Allowance Manager CEO Dan Meader was there to watch the kids get personalized blankets, towels, iPods, and video cameras.
Other children from around the country had chipped in to buy the gifts, a response that astonished us, Meader said. The collective effort was a fabulous thing. Im proud of the kids who contributed.
Allowance Manager is accepting donations for another round of gifts at Crossnore this Christmas, he said. Its a great school, said James Friday, 40. Its been so instrumental in the work we do. And our children only have good memories about the place.
Spreading the joy
Rachel Hoilman, associate director of the Crossnore School, said many of the children referred to the residential facility by social workers and juvenile justice officials are abused, abandoned and neglected.
She recalled four kids whod been living in a home where the mother was selling methamphetamine. When they came to Crossnore and were asked to make a wish list for Christmas, they didnt know what Christmas was.
Theyd never celebrated Christmas, Hoilman said. When they come to us all they have is whatever things they bring in a Walmart bag. For someone to give them a lovely gift with their name its one of Gods miracles.
Children and staff at The Crossnore School will be watching the Extreme Makeover program Monday.
We cant wait to see it, Hoilman said. It will be a pretty special day.
Others are also looking forward to the show. Lincolnton Mayor John Gilleland Jr. sees it as a chance to showcase the area and people to a national audience.
We have such a beautiful downtown and wonderful citizens, he said. This is a really good opportunity for the rest of the world to see not just the beauty of the city, but whats going to come from good people stepping up and helping. Thats the most amazing part. Im very proud of what the folks in Lincolnton did.
The Fridays are thankful for the Extreme Makeover experience.
Spreading the joy is a theme with them this Christmas. Theyre assisting foster families in Lincolnton and the surrounding area through their nonprofit called House of Hope, providing toys, clothes and other gift items.
The kids arent asking for much this Christmas, said Devonda Friday. Its about helping others. That brings back the true meaning of Christmas.