Article: Construction Executive – December 2009

mattressMattresses for each bedroom in this makeover project were custom-built, donated and delivered by E J Schrader Mattress Co. Inc.

Extreme Makover: Do-It-Yourself Edition

Florida Contractor Partners with Community to Build New Home For Deserving Family

By Erin Robertson

Although working as a nurse gave Rita Gorenflo the opportunity to care for others, she always wanted to have children of her own. While attending a training session on pediatric HIV, fate stepped in and she realized she could help disadvantaged children not only at her job, but also on a much bigger, more personal scale.

In 1993, she adopted her first special needs child. A year later, a premature baby weighing only 2 pounds was born to a mother who drank heavily and abandoned him at the hospital. After his oxygen had been cut off during birth, he suffered permanent brain damage. Doctors said he would never wake up from his vegetative state, but Rita took him home anyway. The baby, Jonathan, is now 14 years old.

During the next few years, Rita took in three more children who faced tough challenges after birth, including some who were HIV positive.

#As a single mother with four children, Rita reached out for companionship and a helping hand with an ad in The Palm Beach Post that read: “Adoptive mother with four special needs children seeks promise keeper.” Les Gorenflo answered the ad—and the rest is history.

Together, the Gorenflos adopted three more children, bringing the grand total to five boys and two girls ranging in age from 10 to 14.

The Gorenflos lived in a small, run-down home that limited the mobility of their handicapped children. Because the home originally was designed as a duplex, the duplicate kitchens and utility systems wasted space in a house where each square foot needed to count.

Helping Hands

Susan Lemieux, director of community outreach at The Weiss School, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., met the Gorenflos when her school adopted the family during the holidays more than four years ago. While visiting the family, Lemieux saw not only how much love they all had for each other, but also the state of the home. She knew something needed to be done.

#Lemieux contacted the television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in an effort to get the family a new home. After exchanging many emails and phone calls with ABC-TV to no avail, Lemieux shared the bad news with the Gorenflos that they would not be featured on the show. But, she vowed to find a way to get them the new home they needed.

In stepped Chris Kennedy, Lemieux’s brother and a vice president at Suffolk Construction in West Palm Beach, Fla. The siblings decided that together, they could pool their resources and reach out to their many community contacts to get the project off the ground.

“The family had been so excited about the TV project, and when it fell through, Susan called me,” Kennedy says. “I met the family, and once you see what they do every day, you just want to help.”

Kennedy started making plans for the home in 2007. At first he tried to do everything himself. But after a few months of making minimal headway, he realized the project was too large for any one person to handle, so he reached out to his coworkers at Suffolk Construction.

“Initially, I was hesitant about wanting to involve Suffolk,” Kennedy says. “I didn’t want to force the company to do this. I sent out an email and got a great response. Everyone who got involved was able to add something different to it. Even family members of Suffolk employees got involved.”

With Suffolk and The Weiss School on board, Kennedy and Lemieux spent the next year enlisting the support of more than 60 business partners—from subcontractors and suppliers to architects, engineers, landscapers, interior designers and furniture companies—to donate time and materials to the project. They also received cash donations from nearly 100 individuals and $15,000 from
HSBC bank.

With plans approved and contractors lined up, the Gorenflos bid goodbye to their old home on April 10.

Demo and Rebuild

#The family was on hand as crews began tearing down walls, and it wasn’t long before the children were having a blast and asking to help with more tasks.

“The kids were supposed to take a picture doing some demolition, but they wanted to be very involved,” Kennedy says. “They were taking everything down piece by piece. I think it was very cathartic for them. They were all business and ready to take down the house.”

During the next five months, volunteers and subcontractors worked more than 5,000 hours onsite to give the Gorenflos their dream home. The project cost an estimated $150,000 from the initial planning stage to construction, furnishing and completion.

The day everyone had been waiting for arrived Aug. 31, when the family saw its new home for the first time. A camera crew followed as the Gorenflos went from room to room during the big reveal so the more than 150 people outside could watch the family’s reactions on a projection screen.

“Each child was able to open the door to his or her new room, so it was Christmas morning every time,” Kennedy says.

#A few of the highlights in the Gorenflos new home include a handicapped-accessible layout, a centrally located kitchen, a pharmacy that securely stores medicine, and a backyard with a playground and basketball hoop.

Undoubtedly, none of this would have been possible without the brother-sister teamwork of Kennedy and Lemieux.

“It was really neat to work with my sister because she’s very active in the community,” Kennedy says. “It took me out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing. She handled all the non-construction stuff, and we made a great team.”

Kennedy admits this was unlike any project he had taken on in the past.

“The key is having the resources available to really deliver what you’re planning to do,” he says. “You can’t start something and not deliver. You have to treat it like a real job, but the payoff is enormous.”

After more than two years of planning, the family is settled into its new home and is doing well.

“To see their faces made it all worthwhile,” Kennedy says.