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New home featured on reality show

A Columbia woman earned her Habitat house after hundreds of takes and many hours of service.
Friday, March 11, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sherry Hampton threw open the door of her 884-square-foot Habitat for Humanity home, finding a host of friends and neighbors gathered to congratulate her on the front lawn. She then went back inside and did it again. And again. And again.

Only in the world of reality TV would Hampton have to reenact this scene for cameras, appearing surprised every time. For this shot, the tenth time was the charm.

Hampton is only one of 27 Columbia homeowners who will receive a Habitat for Humanity home in the Norbury Subdivision, north of Interstate 70 off of Vandiver Road, but she is the first to be taped on this reality TV series.

Volunteers laid the foundation just 16 days before the house was finished, and the home-makeover reality show, which will air in April on Country Music Television, documented every step. Wednesday afternoon’s 34-degree weather — with the wind chill factor — didn’t keep this blitz build from completion.

“I never dreamed of this,” Hampton said. “I never thought I’d get a new home from Habitat, and I certainly never thought I’d be on a reality TV show.”

The past three weeks were anything but reality for her. She awoke at 5:30 most mornings to film interviews with the camera crew or stage scenes with the show’s two actors. She also spent time at her new two-bedroom, one-bathroom home so that the producers could get footage of it being constructed.

David Hahn, construction supervisor and employee for Habitat for Humanity, poured the concrete driveway late Tuesday evening in a last-minute effort to have it finished by Wednesday. “They wanted to get a shot of the concrete coming out of the shoot,” Hahn said. “I told the cameramen, ‘we’re not going to put the concrete back in the chute just so you can get it on tape.’”

Hampton reenacted the easiest scenes three, four or five times before she got it right. Some scenes required many more takes.

She said this whirlwind experience was quite different from her usual life. As a customer service representative for Columbia Insurance Group, Hampton works in an office 40 hours a week.

She lives alone in a rented Columbia home that she considers to be in a bad neighborhood. Like many other Habitat for Humanity hopefuls, Hampton has wanted to own a home for many years, but couldn’t find anything she liked and could afford.

Hampton was selected to be a Habitat for Humanity homeowner based on three criteria: her income level fell between $13,000 and $21,700; she has the means to pay the mortgage; and she agreed to do the allotted Sweat-Equity hours — community service hours required for future Habitat for Humanity homeowners to receive their houses.

In Hampton’s case, she did more than the allotted 250 hours. By the last taping of the show, she had worked at the Habitat for Humanity office, attended six workshops about how to care for her new home and sent out mailings and newsletters for a total of 325 hours.

“She’s motivated to buy a house and contribute to the community as a stable person in the neighborhood,” said Vivian Nimmo, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity office in Columbia. Hampton will then be required to pay a 20-year mortgage with no interest on her new house.

The materials for the house were paid for through a $50,000 donation from Lowe’s. This donation was split up into $25,000 in cash and $25,000 in store credit to Lowe’s. The builders used the cash to buy materials that Lowe’s doesn’t carry, such as concrete.

The show was conceived when Habitat for Humanity and Lowe’s joined together to sponsor six homes around the country, which will be built in the hometowns of six country-western singers. Sara Evans of New Franklin is the singer that sponsored this Columbia home.

From tools to mules

As if building a house in two weeks wasn’t enough, the show’s producers decided to have Hampton and other mid-Missourians engage in another spectacle, donkey basketball.

The fund-raiser for Habitat for Humanity showcased a close relative of Missouri’s state animal, the mule, in a game where helmeted participants hoisted themselves onto donkeys and shot baskets in the New Franklin High School gym.

The battle was between New Franklin administrators and the Boonville firefighters. The rules, explained by referee Ron Wyatt, are that players must be on their donkey to shoot or pass the basketball and can stand next to their donkey to move or rebound shots, but must never let go of the animal.

The eight-minute quarters were filled with airballs, players falling off their donkeys and laughs from the crowd. When the clock ran out, the two teams were tied at 18-18. Production manager Todd Lewis chose to break the tie in a staged overtime victory for the firefighters. Lewis said he didn’t anticipate the game ending in a tie, but he did guess that this game would be an interesting, fun way to get the community involved in a game of donkey ball.

“They told us, ‘the donkeys had a game in Tennessee recently, so they’re going to be a bit tired,’” Lewis said. “What is this, Major League Baseball?”

An outpouring of support

Hampton’s home was constructed by other future Habitat for Humanity homeowners, construction workers in the professional industry and local vocational students. All the workers were volunteers.

Filiberto Estrada, who will soon be Hampton’s neighbor, spent mornings and weekends working on Hampton’s home. He then worked at a paid job from mid-afternoon until about 10 p.m.

“This is different from the place I work,” he said, balancing atop a ladder with paintbrush in hand. “There, everyone does what they have to do. Here, everyone does what they can.”

Estrada helped cut, build and paint the porch on Hampton’s house, along with other jobs on the roof and frame.

“I saw nothing three weeks ago. Now, there’s a house,” he said.

Hampton will wait to move into her new house until the road is completely paved and her house has heat and air conditioning. Otherwise her house is completely finished, and so is the reality TV series.

“No more retakes, retakes, retakes,” she said.


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