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Community's gifts overwhelm family

POPULAR COMMUNITY - It was a day of more gift-giving for the Wilson family, who spent Friday doing wrap-up interviews and shooting scenes inside their new home with the production crew of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

H. Neyle Wilson, president of Horry-Georgetown Technical College, and Ron Ingle, president of Coastal Carolina University, presented each of the children with a full-tuition scholarship to either college to be used after they graduate from high school. A framed certificate for each of them will serve as a reminder of the scholarship and will be hung in their bedrooms.

"Every time they look at them, they will know they have a college education waiting for them," Ingle said.

The children, Hakeem, 10, Timothy, 8, R.J., 7 and Erica, 5, were oblivious to the latest contribution Friday morning as they took turns riding on a golf cart with a security officer, who zipped them down the dirt road leading to their new five-bedroom house built in 100 hours on what once was a bean field.

The Wilson family was chosen by the show to receive a new home built by volunteers with donated materials. Teachers at the children's school, Gail Horton and Jayson Bendik, nominated the family.

"It still hasn't sunk in for me yet," said Renee Wilson as she stood in front of her new house Friday morning. "I still can't believe it. It's just overwhelming."

One of the first things Wilson said she did upon entering her new home for the first time Thursday was look up at the high ceilings.

"I looked at the ceilings, and I don't have to worry about, if it rains, your ceiling is going to fall or snakes coming into your house," she said. "Right now, it's still a dream."

For months, Wilson said she feared the roof of her 1965 mobile home would collapse on her and her grandchildren. Heavy rains kept her up at night.

"I would walk the floor all the time," she said. "I didn't let the children know. But the beams were coming down lower and lower."

Wilson took in her grandchildren to keep them out of foster care when their mother was no longer able to care for them. The children's mother apparently came on Thursday to watch the big reveal.

"She was here," said George Durant, the public relations coordinator for the event. "I think when something like this happens, there is a hope that healing will take place, a family will be reunited and things that may have happened in the past will be forgiven and forgotten. How this family works out the dynamics of reuniting is going to be an interesting thing to watch."

Wilson had been unable to spend a night in her new 3,400-square-foot house because crews were still filming for the show, which airs March 25. The family was expected to spend Friday night in the house.

The show won't allow Wilson to share details about the home's interior until after it airs on TV. Her bedroom, she declared, is "beautiful. Everything is nice like I wanted it."

Thousands of volunteers played a part in bringing the new construction to fruition. For example, the Original Benjamin's Restaurant prepared food on site and fed workers and volunteers in the VIP tent, and Furniture and Mattress Gallery in Murrells Inlet and Garden City Furniture donated furniture and accessories. S&W Ready MIx Concrete Co. provided the concrete for the slab and developed a mix that set up in three hours so framing could begin, a mix more commonly used in high-rise construction. They were just a few of the hundreds of local businesses who contributed products or services.

"[One of the designers] came in the store and walked all through," said Bettie Jones, owner of Furniture and Mattress Gallery, who furnished the living room, dining room, children's study room and the master bedroom, which was accessorized in red. "It was an honor."

Jones was able to tour the house Friday afternoon and said she was impressed with the designers' work in each of the children's rooms.

"Each of them have their own space in their room, their own cubby holes," Jones said. "It's a very warm, happy and inviting home. It's just what they need."

Dianne Ray, owner of Garden City Furniture, said the show picked out about $25,000 worth of furniture, not all of which was used in the final design. The store donated bedroom pieces and accessories.

"It was a rewarding experience to see everybody in the community coming together to love and share with a family in need," Ray said. "I think it speaks to how we need to reach out and love each other a little more and try to help those who are trying to help themselves."

The community's support was overwhelming, Wilson said.

"I'm just counting my blessings ... I can't thank you all enough ... Everybody that played a part, I thank from the bottom of my heart."