January 11, 2012
Knoxville couple who helps single mothers revealed for ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’

Photos by J.J. Kindred

This home belonging to Daniel and Mandy Watson in West Knoxville will be demolished in favor of a new one built by the crew and volunteers of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ Jan. 10-18. 

Mandy Watson, left, holding her adopted two-year-old son Silas, and Daniel Watson, right, address the media in front of their home about being chosen by the popular ABC show to have their home rebuilt. 

Actress Jenny McCarthy, left, has her make-up done in preparation to shoot a segment for the forthcoming ‘Extreme Makeover’ episode, scheduled to air towards next Thanksgiving. McCarthy is serving as a special guest star on the design team. 

By J.J. KINDRED

J.Kindred@theknoxvillejournal.com 

Daniel and Mandy Watson have dedicated their lives to being the best parents they can be to three adoptive children, even sacrificing having biological children of their own.

The couple, who has lived in Knoxville since 2005, both left successful jobs to create The Restoration House of East Tennessee, a non-profit group that provides single mothers with housing and the tools necessary in order to succeed as parents and in life.

However, on Jan. 10, the Watson family were given the surprise of a lifetime, as they received a knock on the door from representatives of the popular ABC show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” informing them that their team of designers, along with more than 3,000 local volunteers, would rebuild their home in West Knoxville.

The episode will premiere Thanksgiving Day as a special during the 2012-2013 season on ABC. Actress Jenny McCarthy will guest star on the design team, which consists of Paul DiMeo, Tracy Hutson, John Littlefield and Jillian Harris.

The foundation of the Watson home was crumbling, leaving warped floors, cracking walls and falling ceilings. The back of the home was sinking into the ground due to the poor foundation. The house contains little insulation and has several holes leading outside from the cellar and bedrooms. With their children’s medical bills and adoption costs, the Watsons haven’t been able to replace the roof but have put a tarp over half the house instead.

"It’s surreal," Daniel Watson said. "Mandy and I have invested a lot of time in children, and now that the community is investing back in our family, it’s extremely humbling."

So was the family surprised when they heard the knock on the door?

"You have some idea it might be you, but you never know until they knock," Daniel Watson said. "We were always hopeful throughout the process, and you have to be. We certainly never knew until they came with a bullhorn. They yell at you, and it’s time to know that this is okay, and that life is going to change."

The Watsons’ mantra, “It Takes a Village,” has helped many single mothers and their children transition to living successful lives both financially and personally. They are currently helping five single mothers and 11 children.

They adopted their children, Atley, 7, and Ava, 6, as newborns from single mothers in the Knoxville area, and Silas, 2, from Ethiopia. Both Ava and Silas were at-risk adoptions. Silas was found abandoned in the bushes, suffering from neonatal tetanus and was near death. He was handed over to authorities when he was only 10 days old.

With all three children healthy, Daniel serves as executive director of the  Restoration House, but also works a second job as a web developer with Sharepoint Solutions. Mandy is a stay-at-home mom, and also helps the mothers who stay at the Restoration House.

"We hope this gives a lot of exposure to Restoration House and the work that we’re doing, and all the wonderful families that we get to work with every day," Daniel Watson said.

"It’s been a whirlwind of activity," Mandy Watson said. "We are just thrilled, excited, overwhelmed and blessed by such an opportunity."

When asked if they thought they had a chance to be chosen after learning “Extreme Makeover” was coming to Knoxville, she said with a laugh, “We did, I’m not going to lie. It was really a buzz of hope that welled up in us. We just felt really hopeful and excited and maybe this is really happening.”

The Watson family is being sent on vacation to St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach, Fla., while their home is being rebuilt. The process, which normally takes a year to accomplish, will continue around the clock for the next week until the home is completed.

Local companies are donating all materials for the build, with Grace Construction as the lead builder on the project. A fund to support the family, which has mortgages on the property, has also been established.

Daniel Watson said he and his family were not nervous about what the finished product will look like.

"We’re fans of the show and we know what to expect," he said. "They do great work, and it’s impossible to do in 106 hours, but we know they can do it. Whatever it is, it’s going to be amazing."

"That’s the most inspiring part of this journey, knowing that there is a community of people, most whom we don’t know, stepping up to give to a family they have not met until today," Mandy Watson added. "To us, it’s the most humbling part."