RALEIGH – Bridget Caulder was clearly alarmed by the news on a recent Sunday.
“You’re in downtown Raleigh?” she said incredulously.
This was not good. It was 3:36 p.m., and the house in Southeast Raleigh – not far from downtown – was far from ready. The call came from her son, Austin, who was in the back of a limousine with the McLean family. The family was on their way home to see their newly renovated house.
But they were not supposed to arrive until 4 p.m. – that was the agreement. The house was filled with people painting, attaching doors, vacuuming. They were going to need every last minute.
“Y’all just drive around a little bit, OK?” Caulder told her son.
Amazingly, when the limo rounded the corner and turned onto Brighton Road precisely at 4 p.m., the home was ready for the reveal – not counting a few minor touches like a missing doorknob here and there and unfinished paint jobs in inconspicuous locations.
The house had been transformed from an embarrassment – by the McLean’s own admission – to a showcase, and it all had been done in three days.
The work was done by volunteers for Designed to Care, a group formed in August byCary businesswomen – Shanna Middleton, owner of Designed To Sold, a Cary firm that stages and sells homes. She recruited and Bridget Caulder, who whorks with her, and Heather Foust of Exterior Spaces, a landscape design firm in Cary.
“We just wanted to do something to give back to the community,” Middleton explained. “This is a faith-based organization. We just wanted to do something to help others. You make money but if you don’t give back, if you don’t do something for others, what are you doing it for?”
The trio decided to form a home-grown version of Extreme Makeover, the nationally televised show in which a team of skilled do-gooders finds families with heart-wrenching hard-luck stories and fixes up their homes. The Brighton Road home is Designed to Care’s first project.
The women found their first beneficiaries closer to home than anticipated; Caulder’s son suggested the McLeans.
Austin Caulder and Van McLean Jr. both attend Enloe High School. Though different races and from different socioeconomic circumstances, the two are best friends.
“I’ve spent the night over his house many times,” Austin said. “His house could really use [the renovation], and they really deserve it. They’re always having people over, giving them food, and they give lots of people gifts.”
Van McLean said he and his wife have struggled to perform routine upkeep and maintenance over the years and admits that his house has fallen into disrepair. Both he and his wife, Terri, are legally blind, though Terri does have some sight. McLean, 61, washed dishes for 16 years and his wife, 48, assembles products for the Raleigh Lions Clinic. Until recently, they provided foster care for a teen-aged girl with Down Syndrome.
“I wanted to make repairs to the house but we weren’t able to do it,” he said. “This is something I dreamed of and prayed for. A couple of months ago my son was telling me that he praying for something special to happen for us, and I said, ‘I’ve been praying, too.’ …When Bridget [Caulder] came and told us they were going to do something special for us, I was overjoyed.”
Designed To Care was able to round up more than 100 volunteers, more than $2,000 in cash donations and thousands of dollars worth of donated labor and materials. Without all the donations, the renovation would have cost between $30,000 and $40,000, Middleton said.
The organization sent the family to a Cary hotel for the weekend and did all the work in three days. On Sunday shortly after 4 p.m., they stepped out of a limousine onto a red carpet that had been rolled out for them.
The family cried and hugged the volunteers as they toured the 1,100-square-foot house, which had renovations in every room, including new appliances and granite countertops in the kitchen, new flooring throughout, fresh paint and personal touches such as a “skate” sign in Van Jr’s new room to acknowledge his passion for skateboarding.
Van Jr. didn’t say much but frequently appeared to wipe tears from his eyes. When he saw his room, he was overwhelmed and ran into his mother’s arms.
Terri was the most vocal.
“I like the colors, I like all of this,” she said. “I just don’t know how to act. Thank you, thank you. I declare, I declare. This is so pretty. This is wonderful.”
A version of this report first ran in the Noirth Raleigh News. To learn more about this project, visit www.designedtocare.org.