Just over six months ago, the story of a Northwest family started gaining national attention. And by mid-January, more than 15.6 million fans of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition knew the story of Jael Kirkwood, a tenacious 11-year-old girl in Port Orchard, Washington, who pleaded with producers to build a mold-free home for her family.
The need for a new house arose after a basement remodeling project at the Kirkwoods' home ground to a halt when the contractor walked off the job. The partially remodeled, poorly ventilated basement provided a perfect host site for toxic black mold growth, forcing the family of seven to find an alternate living location in a Gig Harbor motel.
Just as the biblical Jael took initiative in a defining moment, the daughter of Michael and Dawne Kirkwood did the same. Jael, then 10, started submitting applications to the popular home makeover show.
When her applications appeared to go unheeded, Jael sleuthed out the phone number for “Sweet” Alice Harris, a previous home makeover recipient. Following Sweet Alice’s advice, Jael called the Port Orchard mayor, Kim Abel, for a referral.
Behind the scenes, plans started to form. Contractors, subcontractors, donors and volunteers signed on to assist in a special, top-secret construction job in South Kitsap County.
Finally, in mid-November, the motorcade of designers, film crew and producers made the much-hoped-for “Good morning, Kirkwood family!” door knock.
In a flurry of activity, the Kirkwoods packed their few belongings and visited their home on Spruce Road once more before heading out on a week-long trip to Walt Disney World.
Scientists ran tests to determine the exact threat level the home posed. Volunteers salvaged mementos for decontamination. In short order, the remains of the old, mold-filled house were hauled away and a new three-story house began to take shape. The condensed construction schedule wasn’t without rain interruptions, stress and delayed schedules.
Volunteers, including bus drivers from Auburn Adventist Academy, provided a strong and continuing workforce in a race against time to complete the new gray-colored home in less than seven days. Designers even recruited the Navy to help move in furniture and help with final preparations.
At last a Hummer limousine delivered the family for their “move that bus” moment.
Room-by-room, the family discovered their new home. Praize, 4, fell in love with her Play-Doh room. Zion, 7, spun around her carousel room and declared it a “dream come true.” Michael Orion, 15, zoomed into his go-cart themed room. Burgandi, 17, came home to a specialized music studio.
Large dolphin murals and an underwater theme greeted Jael in her room—host Ty Pennington’s secret project.
Months ago, Michael and Dawne visited a furniture shop to imagine what furniture they’d like in their dream home. They told no one about their wish list. Yet in their new home, designers chose the very dining room table set and master bedroom set the couple had previously picked.
“God could have just given us a house,” Dawne says, “but He also gave us little things. He gave us a miracle.”
A lot has happened since November. Two weeks after moving into their new home in Port Orchard, Michael underwent knee surgery. Daughter Burgandi started studying psychology at Oakwood College. A close family friend died soon after the episode aired.
Countless newspapers, magazines—including a two-page feature in US Weekly—and television and radio stations ran the family’s story. The Adventist Review also prepared a feature on the phenomenon behind Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
“The episode left enough questions unanswered so that people would want to connect,” Dawne notes.
Through the entire experience, the family’s faith remains highly visible. Everywhere they go—from fund-raisers to interviews and the grocery store—the Kirkwoods embrace the opportunity to praise God and encourage people to be open to God’s blessings.
“God’s been orchestrating our story for so long,” Dawne says. “We’re just in awe of what God’s done.”
While the family’s environment changed, this family of seven is essentially the same. They are still the same people, driving the same car and serving the same God.
Speaking for her family, Jael Faith Kirkwood says, “It’s been a real journey.” She corrects herself: “A real faith journey.”