More than 16 million people watched Cyndy Teas and her family on TV last fall, and she still gets phone calls, e-mails and donations from inspired viewers. But it was a simple meal of chicken enchiladas in her new kitchen last winter that made Cyndy realize that ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is, in her words, "more than a show. It changed our outlook on life."
As you may recall, the Teas family was the focus of a two-hour Makeover special last October (reairing this Sunday at 7 pm/ET), which showcased a total face-lift of Camp Barnabas, the Purdy, Mississippi, retreat the family runs for scores of young people with severe disabilities. The remodel, including a three-bedroom home, a bunkhouse and a TV Guide-themed media center, was chronicled in the first issue of the redesigned TV Guide.
While Cyndy smiles every time she opens her gleaming ovens or gazes at the living-room sculpture featuring wooden cutouts of campers' hands, it was the sight of 10 staffers comfortably lined up along her kitchen island to assemble those enchiladas that somehow touched her the most. "To not be crowded in your home, to have a setting worthy of the people who work so hard to help these children, it's truly overwhelming," she says.
"Everything's a little brighter now and a little more hopeful," Cyndy says. "We finally have a place that's as special as these kids are, and they hold their heads higher now."
The children aren't the only ones. When Cyndy and her husband, Paul, hosted 40 staff members for a pre-camp planning session in February, morale was still soaring, Cyndy says. "In the past, we were lucky to find space on the floor for people to sleep. Now we actually hear words like 'cozy' and 'comfortable.'"
The makeover turned out to be a gift that keeps on giving. A third of the new staffers learned about the camp from the episode, and campers this summer come from as far away as Wales. At a recent open house, the camp took in $10,000 in donations. "And we weren't even soliciting contributions," Cyndy says.
How are those media-center chairs and tables fashioned from old issues of TV Guide holding up? "They're indestructible, as perfect as the day [Makeover host] Ty [Pennington] made them," Cyndy says. The TV Guide wallpaper (showing 2,970 different covers), meanwhile, is "everybody's favorite part of the house," she says.
The bigger changes, of course, go beyond the new walls, and one camper in particular benefited from ABC's visit. Cameron, a blind 17-year-old skateboarder who got to hang out with Ty, "is a different person" since the show, Cyndy says. "He was going through typical teenage stuff that's 100 times worse when you're blind. He's ready to tackle life again."
That really speaks to Makeover's most basic goal. As executive producer Tom Forman says, it's "to help people whose needs are more than they can handle on their own."
Tragically, one of the campers Ryan Capps, 17, from Ozark, Mississippi died May 18 from kidney failure due to congenital defects of the spine, heart and kidneys.
"Ryan was too ill to be there for the reveal but got a preview of the finished house and was so excited by the changes," Cyndy says. "She told us later, 'I always wanted you to have a great house. In some small part, because I'm a camper, I was part of making that happen, and I'm really proud of that. It makes me want to live every day to the fullest.'"
This weekend's rebroadcast is being dedicated to Ryan's memory.