COLUMBIA — As producers met with hundreds of families under consideration for the Joplin episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," senior producer Diane Korman noticed a particular kind of generosity: Families hit hard by the May 2011 tornado said that although they could use the help, they knew people who needed it more.
"It was very hard to pick seven families when a lot of families need help," Korman said. "We hope the show is just a start of the rebuilding process."
The Joplin episode of the show will at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 on ABC.
The show will air at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 on ABC. That morning, "Good Morning America" will show the "door knock" moment when the Howards found out they would be one of seven families to get a new home as well as when the family saw its new place for the first time.
This 200th episode will conclude the series, although "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" will reappear occasionally with special episodes.
"This is a very big deal, especially because it's a different type of show," Korman said.
The show has typically focused on building one home in a week. The average number of film hours shot was about 600, which was turned into a 44-minute show.
But the Joplin episode took much longer to organize because seven homes were being built in seven days. The number of film hours shot was seven times the usual number. The first cut of the show was three hours, Korman said, and the producers narrowed it to 88 minutes for a two-hour show. About 13,000 volunteers, including groups from Columbia, participated during the October filming.
Volunteers were crucial
Korman said that when the show's crew heard about the EF5 tornado, which resulted in the deaths of more than 160 people and destroyed 8,000 homes, they immediately wanted to know how they could help.
"The show wanted to come in Joplin and really help and make a difference," she said.
Before going to Joplin to pursue what Korman called an epic project, the producers had to figure out how much they could do, and because they knew they wanted to build more than one house, what would be enough.
Every nail, piece of wood, furniture — everything that goes into building the homes — is donated.
"We couldn't do it without the volunteers, builders and the entire crew," Korman said.
The show had 21 builders, led by Sam Clifton of Millstone Custom Homes in Springfield. Korman said volunteers were recruited a month earlier than usual and came from across the country to help. Some of the volunteers had lost their homes, and it was important to them to make a difference.
"It says so much that people care about Joplin," Korman said. "I believe Joplin is what community is all about."
Two volunteers, Mark and Theresa Clement of Philadelphia, led the reconstruction effort at Cunningham Park. They built a basketball court and replanted trees. Korman said that Joplin was the couple's fourth build with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and that the Clements expect to volunteer again.
Korman also was touched by an older woman whose name she didn't know who spent her 33rd wedding anniversary volunteering with her husband. The couple had given up a trip to be there. Korman recalled that the woman, who wore a red, white and blue hat, kept saying they just had to be there.
Because the project had so many experienced volunteers, it was a smooth build, Korman said.
"We've never failed," she said. But given the magnitude of the project, "we were worried we might."
The crew spent four months in Joplin meeting with prospective families and others who wanted to offer nominations. Background checks were run on candidates, which is part of the show's routine, and the crew spent hours talking with people.
"We are inspired by not just the rescue effort, but the true community spirit about helping your neighbor," Korman said. "We rely on neighbors to give the family a new start."
The seven families selected came from all over town — except for two. Crystal Whitely and Crystal Cogdill had been neighbors in the past, and their children had played together.
In the tornado, Cogdill lost a son, Zach Treadwell, and Whitely lost sons, Shante and Trentan.
The two Crystals will be neighbors again, this time with a "healing garden" connecting their backyards.
About the families
The seven families aren't supposed to talk with news media about their new homes or the rebuilding process until the show airs, but an "Extreme Makeover" spokeswoman provided information about them:
The Howard family
Jill, the mother, tried to protect children Konnor, Korbin and Kaleb in the closet while Kyle, their father and a Joplin firefighter, was at the fire station during the storm. Kyle Howard waited for two hours to find out whether his family was alive because on his way home, he helped save people stuck in debris and wounded by it. At the Howard home, a door that landed on Jill Howard and the children ended up protecting them. Although their home was destroyed, Jill Howard had only minor injuries. Their oldest son, Keenan, who was not home during the storm, soon came back to be with his family.
The Nevins family
Kari and Justin Nevins crowded with their four children, Uriah, Avery, Cana and Rhoen, in their cellar. After the tornado passed, Justin Nevins helped look through rubble to pull others out of the debris. Their home and neighborhood was destroyed.
The Cogdill family
Once the sirens went off, Crystal Cogdill and her children huddled in a bathtub, but the storm was too strong for her to keep hold of them. Her 9-year-old son, Zach Treadwell, was found dead under a fallen utility pole.
The Whitely family
Crystal Whitely and her three children also tried to take shelter in a bathtub. Their house was demolished, and 10-year-old Shante and 6-year-old Trentan were wrenched from her grip. A daughter, 4-year-old Keana, survived.
The Walters family
When the storm came, Emily and Tom Walters huddled in their bathtub as their home was torn apart around them. Chloe, 9, yelled to her parents that she didn't want to die. When the storm passed, Tom and Emily left Chloe with a neighbor and helped search for people in a demolished nursing home. The couple were able to save several people.
The Nguyen family
Thang Nguyen, a Vietnam veteran who works at General Mills, was planning to retire before the storm tore apart his home. He and his wife, Tiffany, were eating at a seafood restaurant, which was not damaged.
The Gonzalez family
Natalie Gonzalez saved her son's life by putting a bicycle helmet on his head. The helmet broke but protected him when a toilet hit him in the head. Scott Gonzalez was lifted into the air then slammed down in the bathroom. When they grasped that their home had been destroyed, they went to find shelter in a ditch.