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August 6, 2004

Oak Park family gets set for "Extreme Makeover'

From: Detroit Free Press, MI - Aug 6, 2004

OAK PARK, Mich. (AP) -- An essay by a 14-year-old boy about his family, with two deaf parents and a blind and autistic brother, has brought a surprise visit from the crew of ABC-TV's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Stefan Vardon wrote the essay for extra credit at school earlier this year, telling about parents Larry and Judy and 12-year-old brother Lance. He said he wanted people to know that he had a loving family that made him proud.

On Thursday, the suburban Detroit family a was greeted by the design team from the reality show that remodels a family's home each episode.

The team, led by Ty Pennington, knocked on the Vardons' door around 7 a.m. In less than a week, crews will redo the brick, 980-square-foot home, adding communications and safety devices for people with hearing loss.

"I was shocked," said Stefan, who opened the door Thursday. "I was amazed. I was out of breath."

Stefan's mother was overwhelmed. A few months ago, Judy Vardon waited in line for four hours at Sears to turn in Stefan's essay as part of the show's application.

Judy Vardon does volunteer work teaching braille and sign language to blind and deaf children. Larry Vardon is a welder for DaimlerChrysler AG.

The producers of the show had called the Vardons to find out more information, but the family did not know until Thursday that they had been chosen.

"I wanted to scream, but I couldn't," Judy Vardon told the Detroit Free Press through a sign language interpreter.

After a few hours of taping for the show, the Vardons were whisked away to Mackinac Island for a vacation while the Home Makeover team laid groundwork for the task ahead.

The area around the home was cordoned off. About 100 people gathered at the corner of Gardner and Labelle, just off 11 Mile, to catch a glimpse of what was going on. They reached over metal barricades to snag autographs from the design team.

Eight-year-old Sarah Tomkowiak of Oak Park had an autograph from Pennington scrawled across her hand.

"Everybody loves Ty," she said. "He's the coolest."

In the next few days, a marvel of modern remodeling will unfold before the eyes of the neighborhood.

A job that normally takes four to six months will be completed in less than six days, said Adam Helfman, president of Southfield-based Fairway Construction Co., local general contractor for the job.

Copyright © 2004 Detroit Free Press Inc.