As lives intertwine over the years, a neighbor’s greatest gift is simply in being there for us. Neighbors watch out for the kids, bring over some soup, join in the celebrations, and share the sadness. For Beverly Turner, they were there to help when her Irvington home was gutted by fire last September, and they’re the reason she has a brand-new home today. “I am so blessed,” says the single mother of nine adopted special-needs children.
Over the years, Turner, an army veteran who suffers from a degenerative nerve disease, has adopted seventeen children who—for reasons ranging from cerebral palsy to autism to homelessness—were alone and in desperate need of love and support. While some of the older children have grown and moved, the devastating blaze left her and her nine remaining kids without a home.
Immediately after the fire, a neighbor took in the family. Friends, neighbors, and social workers donated food, money, and clothing to help the woman who has helped so many others. Local newspapers and churches appealed for funds.
But the family needed a permanent place to live. The Irvington Fire Department and St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Clifton launched a campaign to petition ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the Emmy Award–winning reality television show, to take on the challenge of rebuilding the Turner house. The process involved thousands of signatures, an extensive application, commitments from city officials and area construction companies, and ongoing communication with the show’s producers. As the weeks of uncertainty went on, Turner found strength in the support around her.
“Even if it didn’t happen, I thought to myself, the ride is a nice one,” she says. “Sometimes, I would be really down, and then one of the people from Extreme Makeover would call….”
Eventually, the show did more than just call. Ty Pennington, the show’s host and carpenter, showed up one Sunday morning at the Harrison Place home in late April with TV cameras and crew in tow. As the family was packed off for a week’s vacation in Arizona, teams of volunteers descended on the house for a massive one-week rebuilding operation. More than 3,000 construction workers, subcontractors, tradesmen, and volunteers worked around the clock, supported by food donations from local businesses, including Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Quick Chek, and Roma Foods.
The challenges of the project, the first in New Jersey for the Extreme Makeover team, were daunting. The house sits on a narrow lot—50 by 124 feet—and close to neighboring houses and a busy, densely populated street. Issues of accessibility needed to be considered to accommodate Turner’s daughter Crystal, who is in a wheelchair and is nourished through feeding tubes.
A week later, with hundreds of cheering people lining the street to welcome them back, the family arrived home. When Beverly took her first look at the house during the “reveal,” her reaction was disbelief.
Whose house is that? she recalls thinking. “It was hard to believe. I was not expecting to see such a thing of beauty. Simply gorgeous.”
A three-story house replaces the burnt-out shell. Inside, everything is new. The kitchen features top-of-the-line appliances and a wide granite-topped island. French doors lead to a large game room complete with cotton candy, popcorn, and snow-cone machines. An elevator now connects all three floors, hallways were widened, and a new central-heating system replaces the old radiators. Front and backyards are fully landscaped.
Aware of Turner’s love of the ocean, the show’s design team used a bright tropical palette throughout the house and items such as seashells and a wall aquarium as accents. The children’s bedrooms are creatively designed to match their individual interests.
Ask Turner what she most enjoys about her new home and there is no hesitation. “I enjoy the fact that my daughter, who is in a wheelchair, can now take a bath safely.” Along with four sinks and two showers, the new second-floor bathroom has a special chair to lift Crystal in and out of the wide tub easily. “I also love my bathroom,” Turner says with a smile, motioning to the large bathroom with the Jacuzzi tub off of her master bedroom.
The children in this house are all too familiar with hardship. Under this new roof, however, they will continue to be a family, led by a warm, gracious, energetic woman who has enjoyed watching them in the recent spotlight. “I love the attention that the children are getting. They’ve always been special to me,” says Turner. “If you just give love, everything comes naturally.”
Joe Marino, president of Century 21 Construction in Clifton, who, along with business partner Jack Morris, owner of Piscataway’s Edgewood Properties, led the makeover operation, agrees. “It’s all about love,” he says. “When you have 500 people working inside that house, shoulder to shoulder, around the clock, and there are no injuries, no arguments, and everyone is constantly high-fiving each other, you know that God built that house.” Marino and Morris have raised money and established a trust fund to cover the home’s future taxes and expenses.
The show aired on May 21, and things have quieted down on Harrison Place. But in a community too often known for crime and neglect, the house remains as a symbol of the love and kindness to be found in a neighbor’s heart.