POPULAR COMMUNITY - Renee Wilson never believed "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and the show's star, Ty Pennington, would one day show up on her doorstep.
Seeing him on TV visiting other families across the country and building new houses seemed an impossible reality for her.
And even after the spiky-haired Pennington did appear at the door of the mobile home she shares with her four grandchildren on Thursday morning to announce he was building them a new house, Wilson still had trouble digesting it all.
"It feels like a dream," Wilson said, shortly before departing in a limousine with her grandchildren to a hotel for the night. "I'm trying to hold this together. ... It will just be a blessing. I just won't know how to act. Seeing it on TV is different than being in it. And Ty is so good with kids. I just love Ty."
The Wilsons were among five S.C. families considered for the "Extreme Makeover" show, which awards a new house to a deserving family in dire circumstances.
Renee Wilson took in her grandchildren - Hakeem, 10; Timothy, 8; R.J., 7; and Erica, 5 - about three years ago. Wilson's daughter had abandoned the children, and Wilson didn't want them to be placed in foster care.
"If they got into the system, they were going to split them up," Wilson said. "And where they were, they were being mistreated. This is something God wanted me to do. I'm glad I have my grandchildren."
"Extreme Makeover" location manager Milan Vasic said the Wilsons were chosen because of the family's desperate living conditions and because of Wilson's willingness to raise her grandchildren.
The family had been sharing a two-bedroom mobile home with a sagging roof, bad wiring, leaks, plastic-covered windows secured with duct tape and an outdoor shed where Wilson, who works in the lunch room at Forestbrook Elementary School, washed and dried clothes.
"This show seems to be about everyday heroes and people who have horrible circumstances," Vasic said. "Ms. Wilson stepped up when she was needed."
Production workers, reporters and builders descended on the property off S.C. 90 in the Popular community early Thursday. A dirt road near the back side of Wilson's mobile home quickly filled with production trailers, trucks and friends and relatives of the Wilsons, who had come to congratulate them, watch the festivities and try to catch a glimpse of the show's stars.
Some of the show's designers and carpenters passed a football with the Wilson boys and rode bicycles around the yard while the show's producer and staff spent time inside the home with Wilson, helping her pack. The family departs today for Walt Disney World, another treat the show awarded them. The family will vacation while workers build the house in less than a week and return to a newly built, more than 4,000-square-foot abode, next Thursday.
The production team spent Thursday morning getting to know the family and learning about their likes and dislikes to garner ideas on how they will customize the new house to fit their needs.
"Today we're on a fact-finding mission," said carpenter/designer Paige Hemmis with "Extreme Makeover." "We ask what they want. I'll be doing Erica's room. Problem is, she likes everything, Barbies, trucks. She's adorable."
When asked what they wanted in their rooms, the children asked for their own dressers, Hemmis said. They shared a closet and dresser.
"Anything we give them will be icing on the cake," Hemmis said. "The children were very polite and had manners. They so appreciated us. You feel you're in the right place at the right time."
North Myrtle Beach Elementary school teacher Gail Horton and North Myrtle Beach Primary school teacher Jayson Bendik nominated the family for the show. Both had the Wilson children as students, had grown close to the family and were aware of their living conditions. Holes in the structure allowed bugs, snakes and the cold inside. There wasn't room for the family to eat meals together, and Wilson had to share her bed with Erica.
"I realized there was such a need," Horton said. "They were sleeping on a mattress. She had to hang a lamp upside down to see and had to go outside to a shed to the washer and dryer. She said she would see snakes out there."
When Harry Dill, a partner with Hall Custom Homes, got the call from "Extreme Makeover" about taking part in the project, he "thought it was a joke" until he checked the telephone number.
"It was Hollywood, California, calling," Dill said.
Dill and his partner Clinch Heyward enlisted the help of friends Berkeley and Susan White of Classic Home Building & Design, and together they formed a local team of volunteers, subcontractors and workers to commit to the project.
"Nobody said no," Dill said.
"In fact, everybody was falling over themselves to get involved," Heyward said.
The builders met the family for the first time Thursday afternoon. They scooped up the children and embraced them. Erica was fascinated with Dill's bearded face and kept stroking his whiskers as he laughed.
Crews will work today to clear the property, make it suitable for heavy trucks and empty Wilson's mobile home to prepare it for demolition Saturday.
"I can't wait to come home to a nice house with a lot of room," Wilson said from the limousine. "Everybody will have their own bedroom. ... I would like more bathrooms and more space. I would love me a nice big bedroom and lose myself in luxury in my bathroom."
Hakeem said he's looking forward to a bedroom with bookshelves.
"I love to read 'Magic School Bus' and 'Tree House' books," Hakeem said.
As for Timothy, "a basketball hoop would be cool."